Kitengela Hot Glass (Kenya)

How it is made

  • A Studio amidst Wild Animals and a Glass Wonderland

    "Turn left at the Zebra's". This is how you find your way to Kitengela's studio, situated right next to the Nairobi National Park. The studio itself is located in a red-brick dome that has over 1000 glass-stars setin its ceiling, accurately mirroring the night-sky and is surrounded by a garden filled with sculptures and living designs.

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    The Raw Glass

    All glass that is used at Kitengela is recycled from factory-made glass, which makes it more challenging to work, as it was conceived for a machine, but contributes to a smaller environmental footprint. Plain scrap window glass, for example, is melted into a classic aqua.

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    The Furnace

    The name furnace derives from the Greek word fornax, which means oven. The furnace is used to heat glass at extremely high temperatures. It contains a tank of molten glass held at 1200°C. Supplementary heating is obtained from the 'glory hole' - a gas fired tube.

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    Melting the Glass

    The recyclable glass is put into a tank, a container that can withstand extreme temperatures, and the glass is melted at around 1200°C into a bright yellow hot mass. This is mostly done overnight so that the glass is ready in the morning when it has achieved the right texture and pliability.

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    Dipping the Blowpipe

    To prepare the actual step of blowing the glass, the glass blowers start by performing a dance of fire. Only then they dip the preheated tip of the blowpipe into the molten glass, which is "gathered" onto the end of the blowpipe in much the same way that honey is picked up on a honey dipper.

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    Marvering the Glass

    The glass is now rolled on the marver, which was traditionally a flat slab of marble, but today is more commonly a thick sheet of steel or other resistant material. This process forms a cool skin on the exterior of the molten glass blob, and shapes it.

  • Blowing the Glass

    Now the craftsmen can blow air through the pipe into the glass, creating a bubble. This step of inflating the glass is critical and requires finesse and precision to avoid deforming or bursting the bubble.

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    Shaping the Glass

    Once an air bubble forms inside the glass, it is finished inside a steel container that bears the distinct, round shape of the glass. Two glassblowers work together to perform this step, one blowing the glass and another holding the steel container.

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    Switching sides

    To prepare for the creation of the mouthpiece, the glass needs to be opened. As a first step, another smaller piece of glass is heated on a stainless steel rod - called a punty - and stuck onto the other side to grasp it.

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    Cutting the Glass

    Once the glass is securely attached to the punty, the glassblower utilises a knife-look alike tool to cut the glass and open it.

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    Reheating the glass

    To be able to shape the mouth piece, the craftsman reheats the glass for which he uses the glory hole, which keeps the glass above 1000°C.

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    Shaping the Mouthpiece

    To give it its rounded, delicate shape, the craftsman rolls the glass and shapes it at the same time with an iron tool whilst the glass is cooling down.

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    Annealing the Glass

    Once the creation is done, it is placed into an annealing oven to slowly cool the glass from 520°C to room temperature over a period of about 20 hours. This step is crucial, as it keeps the glass from cracking or shattering, making it resistant and durable.

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