Cumbria Crystal is definitely a hidden gem of the Lake District.
Based in Ulverston, they are the last manufacturer of luxury crystal in the UK, and are famous for producing world class hand-blown cut glass and cut- lead crystal.
Unknown to many locals, Cumbria Crystal have blown glass that has been used by James Bond in Casino Royale, and provided all the crystal to populate the decorative tables of Downton Abbey. They supply many internationally known clients such as Bentley, Rolls Royce, several Royal families and all the British Embassies worldwide!
Cumbria Crystal have always welcomed visitors to learn about this 2000 year old craft, recently introducing workshops to let visitors experience the variety of glass making and blowing skills first hand. A chance to really learn how specialised the skill of glass blowing is.
We were excited when Chris Blade, CEO invited us to visit the factory to try glass blowing for ourselves, sharing that it can take15 years for a glass blower to develop the finesse to produce crystal to their first class standard - and we can see why!
We were booked in for the bauble making experience and to make a paperweight. We were really excited to have a go after watching the artisans at work, but also a little hesitant, as it was clearly dangerous! But Clare, our tutor was so kind and really put us at ease, she guided us through the process by first demonstrating and explaining each step, and then helping us create our own.
We got to choose what colours we would like in our paperweight and applied the fragments of coloured glass to the 1200C crystal on the tip of the blowing iron, a hollow steel pipe on which the glass is formed. We then followed the process of heating and shaping the glass by constant rotation and using the unique tools of the trade. We were shown how to puncture the molten glass with a sharp pointed tool to create artistic bubbles in the glass, and then surprisingly used wet newspaper to shape the paperweight!
It was a lot of fun, although constantly and steadily rotating the blowpipe in order to keep the glass an even shape, while simultaneously using the tools was definitely challenging! Clare rightfully pointed out, “it’s multi-tasking, like trying to pat your head while rubbing your tummy!” erm… but with 1200C molten glass included!
The bauble experience was slightly easier as it involved using less crystal, but this time we had to blow down the blowpipe to create the hollow shape of a bauble. This was harder than you think! Once the bauble was finished, Clare artfully created a loop on the top of the bauble using molten crystal so we could hang it decoratively. Both the bauble and the paperweight were placed in the huge kiln overnight to cool down slowly without cracking.
If that wasn’t enough, we then had the opportunity to try cutting crystal on a diamond lathe.
Now this requires a steady hand! Diamond cutting is where you carve into cold glass to add a decorative finish. I was shown how to use a diamond cutting lathe and guided through the process of gently applying pressure to create decorative indentations & patterns in the glass. We found the activity quite therapeutic, although I think we will need a bit more practice before we can carve a straight line!
The experiences at Cumbria Crystal are fascinating, it was really nice to try something completely different and new. It gave us detailed insight to the craft and we walked away with a real appreciation for the art-form.
We would strongly recommend a visit to any locals or tourists in the area, what a spectacle!
Glass blowing is truly mesmerizing to watch. If you’d like to try it for yourself, and have a look at the full range of experiences and tuitions available please visit their website, or call +44 (0)1229 584 400:
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