It’s amazing how you can live in London for absolutely bloody ages and think you know about every cool thing going, and then, out of nowhere, you find out there’s an ice climbing wall hiding in Covent Garden, or a flying trapeze school in Hyde Park. Or a glassblowing studio in London Bridge.
Yes, a glassblowing studio. And you’re allowed to have a go.
London Glassblowing is really half studio and half art gallery, and if you’re in the area and interested in jaw-droppingly pretty things you should pop in. In the back, burly men in leather aprons lift gobs of molten glass on long poles, skilfully sculpting them into mindblowingly beautiful works of art with kilns that burn at temperatures up to 1200C. (That is not a typo. I foolishly wore a cashmere jumper and nearly sweated my eyeballs out.) You can just walk in any time and watch them work – they even have chairs set out – and there are homemade mince pies and glasses of mulled wine going.
They run full-blown (aha) workshops all year round, but, at £450 a day, it’s not the kind of hobby many people can really pick up on a whim. However, as part of their Christmas Open House event, they’re doing mini sessions where you can make your own Christmas bauble under the careful tutelage of one of the resident artists. I had a go myself, and although I was utterly terrified of dropping the thing and burning my leg off, I think I did quite a good job! You start by dipping a long, hollow pole in a pool of liquid glass…
The molten blob is then rolled in tiny shards of coloured glass.
Rinse and repeat.
Once the coloured glass is all melted down, you can roll it out on a metal table like a sausage, which squishes all the colours out into lovely swirls.
You must keep the rod turning at all times, because the consistency of the glass is a bit like honey and if you stop twirling it then it just splodges off. And nobody wants burning hot glass splodging all over the shop willy-nilly.
And then – the scary bit – you put a bit of WET NEWSPAPER into your hand then you rest the HOTTER THAN THE SUN PIECE OF GLASS ON IT. And it doesn’t burn. Here’s my tutor Bruce keeping it casual, but I was shitting my britches in a very unladylike manner (not pictured).
With a bit of pinching, rolling and blowing (obv), the glass blob becomes a beautiful round bauble, the physics of which I don’t totally understand (but I kind of like it that way, because then it just seems like magic).
Bruce made this beautiful moody sunset piece but I wanted to make mine look like a dragon egg. It took two days for it to cool down (!!!) so I went to pick it up at the weekend and it’s beeeautiful. I’m so proud of it I may as well have birthed it myself. (Is this what motherhood feels like?) Sadly I don’t think I’ll have a chance to get a tree up this year as we’re preparing to move house, but we’ll be getting an absolute bobby-dazzler next year to make up for it. I may stick some wings and googly eyes on it so it can take pride of place at the top, as a particularly gluttonous little angel.
Top glass artist Peter Layton and his team of resident artists have all made some Christmas decorations too, which are available to purchase right away:
If you’re looking for some high-end gift inspo, the art on display is also all for sale. My favourites are these beautiful blown perfume bottles, which start at around £180.
And the future homeowner in me has utterly fallen in love with this big green dish.
The gallery is open every day from 9am, but if you want to try your hand at blowing a bauble you need to prebook yourself a space. Sessions are running on 2nd and 16th December (find out more here).
London Glassblowing, 62-66 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3UD
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.