This past summer (2019) I was fortunate enough to advance my glassblowing hobbyist skills by attending a class at the Corning Museum of Glass in NY. Each summer they offer loads and loads of classes, each tackling glass from a different angle, such as torch work, flat glass, sculpture, beginning glassblowing as well as a few classes taught by world renowned masters.
That was the type of glass class I signed up for, an advanced glassblowing class taught by Davide Salvadore, where he would share his methods and techniques on making murrine and cane as well as how to pick those components up and make something out of all that work.
One of my favorite demos of the entire week was when Davide made this merletto glass vase, assisted by Kenneth Gonzales. The demo actually fell over two days, as the first few steps were actually to make the color threads in the vase, all white in this example. After the cane was pulled, then later, the actual vase could be made.
Merletto, meaning lace in Italian, is a technique in which white cane is used to create a very intricate and somewhat organic pattern in the finished piece by utilizing an optic mold or fin mold and lots of twisting and combining of all of the white canes.
Roughly, and overly generalized, here is how you go about making a merletto glass vase…
The first step is to pull white cane, which is achieved by gathering clear glass over white glass, heat and shape appropriately, and pull the large mass into thin cane.
After that white cane has cooled down, it is clipped into short pieces, maybe six inches long each, and laid out in a pattern alternating with clear cane. All of these pieces are picked up again on a clear gather of glass, shaped and heated, and then pulled again into thin cane.
But instead of being simple white cane as in the previous pull, the second pull results in twisted white cane, which will be used to make the merletto vase.
If you watch the video I created while in Corning, you will see each of the steps I am briefly describing here.
Once you have your twisted white cane pulled, that also gets clipped into thicker pieces of cane, but still around 6-8 inches long, depending upon how large of a finished piece you are hoping to make.
Those pieces of twisted colored cane are then heated back up, hot enough to stick to each other but not so hot as to melt into a puddle and lose their shape and definition.
Those hot cane are then picked up on a bubble and gently melted into the surface before blowing the entire piece into a fin mold, similar to an optic mold, but with a little different pattern and end result, creating an oval shaped piece with bulbous ridges all the way around.
Those ridges are then reheated and twisted, usually at the marver, but could also be with hand tools and turning at the bench. By heating and twisting the entire piece, the ridges that were created with all of the threads of white cane are being folded over on each other and then stretched and rotated all around the piece, resulting in the distinctive pattern that is known as merletto glass all across the world… see below for a detail picture!
After establishing the merletto pattern in the hot glass, all that is left to do is shape the entire vessel, nothing to it, right?! Unless you have just the right cane on hand for this style of work, then you may be looking at a few days from beginning to end to complete a vase like this!