lampworking necklace

Why Lampworking is Like Sailing

by Lyn Foley on January 14, 2008

lampworking necklace

Probably the most difficult thing about sailing around the world was getting started – throwing off the dock lines, as it were. And lampworking was the same way – day one was so scary.

Propane tanks on our sailboat provided cooking fuel for our stove and oven. And lots of sailboats had them, – I personally knew of two boats that had been BLOWN UP by propane leaks that ignited. So, when I sat down at the torch to learn lampworking, and was told that the first step was turning on the propane, and lighting it, I was not a happy camper. My hands shook so much I could barely flick the cigarette lighter, and by the time I did get a spark so much propane was in the air that my torch lit with a whoosh, and I jumped out of my chair.

I settled back down, picked up the mandrel and the rod of glass, put the rod into the flame and of course, the glass popped. I’d merely already forgotten the first instruction from the teacher : “Flash the rod in the high end of the flame a few times to warm it up – that way it won’t pop”. The popping glass only made me shake more. What was I doing here? But gradually the glass on the end of the rod begin to melt, and I remembered to heat my mandrel like Molly had instructed – and I actually got some of the glass to stick (temporarily) to the rod before it dripped off. Ah, that was the next part – I had to turn the rod while winding the molten glass onto it. Something else I wasn’t potentially good at – a joke in our family went, “Well, you know Lyn – she loves to talk, but she can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.”

So, turn the mandrel, heat the mandrel, heat the glass, melt the glass, wind the glass onto the rod, turn the mandrel, let gravity help you, don’t get the glass too hot, move it back higher into the cooler part of the flame, keep turning, keep turning – and soon you will have something on the mandrel that vaguely resembles a bead.

And eventually, even that first day at the torch, I became so mesmerized with the flame, the glass, the melting, the turning, the watching, the looking, the listening, really, to the glass, that I realized I was “there”. Or maybe forgot I was there and just “was”. I had no idea what the teacher Molly was saying, or the other people in the class were doing – I lost all sense of time. I was just there with the glass, creating.

And that is what hooked me – being there. And that experience is what got us around the world by sail – being there, moment to moment, with the wind, the sails, the water. Because sailing demands paying attention. If you aren’t in the moment, the sails will flog, you’ll hit a reef, or hit another vessel, or be dead in the water – or worse, yet, just plain dead.

And lampworking is like that – if you aren’t in the moment, each moment, the glass will drip, you’ll pop the glass all over the room, you’ll end up with a big ugly blob – or, worse yet, you’ll just be burned, badly burned.

I loved my nose into the wind, watching the sails pulling just perfectly, the telltales flying, the rhythmic rise and fall of the bow, the sound of the wake under the hull, the sight of the horizon, the paths of the clouds. On the best of days, it was bliss. And in the worst of weather, when it was far from bliss, when it was a fight to survive, it was still the best of times, because I was, by necessity, so alive, so in the moment, to moment, to moment.

I love the colors of the glass, how they change in the flame, take on the molten glow. The turning, turning of my hands is almost automatic now, the sweet spot of the flame a friend, the little puff puff of my oxygen concentrator a soothing rhythm. I love watching the colors flow, the patterns shift, the dots of glass spread, the stringer lines bleed and react, color to color. On the best of days, when I am in touch with the nature of the molten glass, I flow along with it, and am lost to the rest of my life – problems disappear, noises recede, I see only the flame, the glass. The ends of my beads are perfect, their shapes just as I envision. And even on bad days, the days when the glass seems to have a mind of its own, and I can’t figure out what language its speaking, I am still there, moment to moment, so alive.

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