Blown glass ornaments began as a family craft tradition in Germany. Today, machine-made ornaments are common, but nothing matches the craftsmanship and charm of blown glass.
The first blown glass ornaments were made in Europe in the 1800s. Christmas trees began to become quite popular in the middle of the 17th century, and as a result, the making of blown glass ornaments became a cottage industry. Peasant families in Germany would work together to create and sell ornaments, with the father of the family doing the glass blowing, and the other family members painting and decorating the ornaments. At first, the designs were quite simple, with basic ball shapes being most popular. Over time, craftspeople began to get quite creative, making the ornaments in various shapes, and decorating them with bits of fabric, ribbon and bird feathers.
Basic Ornament Techniques
There are many techniques that can be used for making beautiful hand-blown glass ornaments. The beauty of this art form is that every piece is unique, and there are so many ways to achieve different results. A glass artist can make a basic blown glass ornament by gathering molten glass on the end of a blowpipe, and blowing a simple sphere. Sometimes a torch is used to heat the glass, although most modern glass blowers used furnaces to melt the glass into a molten state. After the sphere is cut from the pipe, it is annealed, which is the process of cooling the glass slowly to room temperature so that it becomes stable. After painting, a metal hanger is attached.
The old glassmakers of Germany would typically coat the inside of the ornament with a silver nitrate solution to add sparkle. The outside of the ornament can also be painted with glass paints. Color can be added during the blowing process by rolling the molten glass ball in crushed, colored glass before and during blowing.
Advanced Ornament Shapes
Simple spheres are only the beginning. Glass artists can also shape the glass with tools during the blowing process, or by blowing the glass into molds, allowing them to create anything from blown glass heart ornaments to shapes as elaborate as little houses or animals. These shapes are then usually hand painted, creating unique and beautiful ornaments to grace your family's tree.
While there are now techniques for creating machine-blown glass ornaments, the artistry and skill that goes into hand blown glass makes for truly unique, one-of-a-kind pieces, which will surely become treasured family heirlooms.
Glass blowing instructions for safety need to be the first thing on the mind of every glass blower, as serious injuries can result from mishaps with molten materials.
Hand blown glass art is a popular collectible today, but centuries ago glass was made in secret and reserved for only the wealthiest people.