Hands-On Workshops for All Levels in PA
Glass looks so peaceful and dainty to gaze at — but the process of glass making is a fiery and dangerous quest! During my recent tour of Touchstone Center for Crafts in the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh, we actually got to try our hand at making glass beads… with burning TORCHES! Let’s see what the process entailed.
An Expert Glass Making Instructor
Our instructor for the glass bead-making workshop at Touchstone was the famed Joy Knepp: a glass making expert who started her career as a K-12 art teacher! (As a middle school English teacher, myself, I love seeing the ways that educators’ passions expand into new ventures.) Joy has been a glass and jewelry creator for over 16 years now, and her level of skill is… well just look at this necklace she created, below.
How to Make Glass Beads
Now on to the bead-making. Joy flipped on the fiery torches for us, explaining safety protocols and placing goggles over our faces. Then she showed us how to select wide rods of glass that would become the base of each bead. Below, Colin is demonstrating how to melt the rod, and then wrap it around the stick that creates the hole in the center of the glass bead. Dramatic!
Making the Bead Designs
Once you have the single-color base of the bead, you need to pick a set of skinny glass rods of various colors (modeled by me, below, whilst wearing a dress from my friend’s clothing company). You then melt those rods in the torch and dot or smear them along the bead. It’s trickier than it sounds, as the small rod sometimes gets stuck, and if you don’t turn the bead continuously, it starts to melt off the stick…
A Dream Glass Making Studio
Through this entire glass bead-making workshop, I marveled at how lucky we were to be in such a world-class studio (just as the blacksmithing workshop we toured at Touchstone knocked my socks off). Gaze, below, at how neat and deeply well-equipped this room is!
You NEED a Good Instructor for Glass Making
As a teacher, I’m used to being the one who’s guiding others. It was a lovely change, therefore, to have the shoe (or rather, glass slipper) be on the other foot in this glass making workshop — a realm in which I am very much the amateur. I got to experience the feeling of flailing (“Agh! My glass rod is dripping and also sticking to the bead and I can’t get it off!”) and then the relief of being expertly saved by Joy’s calm and knowledgeable guidance.
We MADE These Glass Beads?!
Checking out our completed beads, above, I can’t believe that a glass novice like me was able to create such beautiful works of art — and all in less than an hour! I’m not kidding when I say Touchstone’s crafting workshops are for ALL levels. My level in this field was decidedly “Zero” before walking through those doors.
More on Decorative Glass Art
Now, while I’d never made glass beads before this workshop, my passion for glass art has poured forth for years, now. If you’d like to slide down this rabbit-hole of crystalline color with me some more, do check out my giant round-up of glass art around the world, which includes such gems as the Chihuly glass museum in Seattle, the Corning Museum of Glass, and the stunning crafts gallery and glass paperweights in nearby Ligonier, PA.
Glass Making Bead Love
One of the big takeaways from doing this glass bead-making workshop at Touchstone Center for Crafts was that it’s worth it to stretch your comfort zone and try something that seems a little scary (aka, flaming torches and molten glass near your fingers). Even while I was making the beads, I was thinking, “I can’t do this. These will never turn out.” And yet… below, behold the glorious fruits of our (well-guided) efforts!
Thank you to Joy and Touchstone for making this experience possible, and I urge anyone in the southwestern PA area of the Laurel Highlands to check out their workshops. Oh, and if you like Joy’s beautiful beads, you can buy her work at her Etsy store, here. If you’re near Touchstone, make sure to also check out the stunning caves at Laurel Caverns, and grab a meal on the mountain-view porch of the Historic Summit Inn. Enjoy!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!