Have a hot time with glass blowing at D.C. GlassWorks in Hyattsville

David Wilson blows air into a tube to expand the hot glass during an open house at D.C. Glassworks in Hyattsville. The studio offers lessons and workshops.
David Wilson blows air into a tube to expand the hot glass during an open house at D.C. Glassworks in Hyattsville. The studio offers lessons and workshops. (Evy Mages)
Thursday, December 16, 2010; 5:22 PM

Where is it? 5346 46th Ave., Hyattsville. www.dcglassworks.com . 301-927-8271.

When is it? Try your hand at glassmaking during the studio's open house and sale Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Classes are available by appointment (e-mail classes@dcglassworks.com).

How much is it? The open house is free. You pay only for the glass objects you make: $45 per item for paperweight, ornament or drinking glass instruction; $75 per vase or bowl.

What do I wear? Long sleeves, long pants and closed-toe shoes are advised.

In a small garage, down a side road near the railroad tracks in Hyattsville past roof and sheet-metal contractors, custom truck body shops and window-repair businesses you may be surprised to discover some colorful and delicate holiday gifts.

You can't just walk in and pick out a bauble like you would at a department store. You'll literally have to sweat over these beauties to get them right.

At D.C. GlassWorks, you can learn the art of glass blowing and make a vase, a drinking glass, an ornament, a bowl or any glass object you dream up. Sign up by yourself or go with friends; anyone 14 or older can take part.

"This is a place where people can do whatever they want. People can take it wherever they want," said instructor Chris Stever. Translation: You can walk in with no knowledge of glass blowing and walk out with an impressive, one-of-a-kind vase.

An instructor guides you through the process. You stick a long iron rod into the furnace and roll it to collect the molten glass. Then you pull it out and roll it in pigment to add color.

Now you're ready to blow into the rod to stretch and shape the glass. Here, the skill lies in finding the balance between hot and cold: If the glass is too cold, it won't yield to pressure; too hot and it slumps on the rod, unworkable. To maintain the right temperature, you have to work quickly, heating and cooling the glass by moving the rod in and out of a furnace. Once the glass is the shape that you want, you clip it off the end of the rod with giant shears.

Instructors work with you one-on-one, and they'll let you take as much initiative as you want. Because they're so passionate about their craft, you're sure to catch their enthusiasm.

"It's so interesting when [the glass] is in the process, before the finished product," said Stever, who has been a gaffer, or glass blower, for five years. "It's a lot of fun."

Blowing glass also involves a lot of heat. The furnace that holds the liquid glass is kept at about 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. The iron rod is cool enough at the top that you don't need gloves, but many of the instructors wear goggles to shield their eyes from the intense heat.

Even standing in front of the furnace, in this casual garage atmosphere, you'll have a chilled-out time.

- Moira E. McLaughlin

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