Glass-making has been around for ages – quite literally since before the Bronze Age, that’s a few thousand years ago. Although some of the most famous glass in the world comes from Murano (a series of islands in the Venetian Lagoon in Italy), glass-making can be done anywhere – including Hong Kong. To find out more about the art, junior reporters Natasha Lau and Sarah Niu headed to a studio called Some Thingsss, in Kowloon.
The woman behind the glass
“The study of the different types of materials, understanding the process in the creation of glass ... that’s the sort of thing that interests me,” said May Lee, the founder of Some Thingsss.
The name of the studio, Lee says, comes from the idea that you can make things by hand. At her studio, Lee hosts workshops and encourages people to try their hand at glass-making. Why? Because she wants to shed more light on the different ways that glass can be made.
“Glass-making isn’t all that easy to do here in Hong Kong,” Lee said. “But I want people to know more about the techniques. So as well as glass-blowing [the traditional way that glass can be shaped], I also teach lampworking.”
Lee started her own business around three years ago, after discovering that she loved making things with her hands. After researching the different types of glass and the methods that can be used to shape it, she then began holding workshops so that other people would be able to discover the same joy that she feels when creating things.
“I want people to be able to make all the things that they can imagine in their minds,” she said.
Our own glass-making workshop
We decided that we wanted to create little polar bear and panda figurines. We used hand torches to heat up glass rods of different colours and thickness. When the glass became red and soft, we wound it around the mandrel – a thin metal rod treated with a releasing agent. This formed the heads and the torsos of our bears. We melted glass onto the bodies and worked them into faces and limbs by sculpting them with tools. This technique, which originated in 14th century Italy, creates a “wound bead”.
The trickiest part came when we had to create the eyes, because it required precision. We had to use black glass fibre, and soften it into a bulb. Much like when you paint with a brush, we needed to hold the rods like pens and draw beady little eyes and noses on our figurines. But because the glass has to be soft before you can add the features, we had to rotate both our pieces in the fire. It was harder than it sounds – if you don’t keep turning the glass evenly and steadily, it goes out of shape and droops towards the ground.
The facial features had to be painted on quickly – hesitate too long and the material cools and solidifies before you can finish. After adding the faces, we pulled the rods away from the figurines and severed the wispy strands in the flame of the hand torch, trying our best not to apply too much pressure to the still-warm glass. The polar bear came out of this stage with a slightly lopsided face.
We then used a flat blade and tweezers to shape our bears’ ears and feet, then we placed them in an insulated box. This ensures that they can cool down and solidify properly. Once that was over, we removed the mandrels and were given the option of hooking our bears onto either a bookmark or a key chain.
It’s a thumbs (and paws) up from us
We had a fun morning making our own glass bears. The Some Thingsss studio is big, bright, and a relaxing place to work in. The shelves of the studio are full of glass accessories and ornaments that have been made by Lee’s students – from ornate glass jars to tiny patterned beads.
There are many innovative workshops in the industrial buildings around Hong Kong, and this one is no different. Lee’s glass-making class is fun and unique, and with any luck, we might see glass-making become more popular in the city. If you’re on the lookout for an interesting day out with your friends, or an unforgettable date, then we definitely recommend May Lee’s glass-making workshop!