The process of fused glass is a long process that is often misunderstood. The process begins with design, design not only includes the actual drawing or cartoon of the final piece but color choices, fusing schedules, multiple fusing and final slumping where applicable. After many hours from start to finish each one of a kind piece is signed on the back by Coleen Goralski.
Once the design is drawn the pieces are hand cut from large sheets of glass and edges are ground to fit the design. Next the piece with all its layers are placed in a kiln to be fused into a ‘flat’. The ‘flat’ may need multiple firings in the kiln for the desired effect. Time in the kiln is on average 8 hours with temperatures upwards to 1490 degrees fahrenheit. The ‘flat’ typically has three layers of glass for the first firing. Once fired, if it is acceptable to the artist, it is then slumped in a mold if a plate, bowl, or vase is desired. Molds can be purchased or created by the artist. Slumping time in the kiln can take another 8 hours or longer if using a ‘drop out mold’. A drop out mold must be watched carefully! Think of a drop out mold as a donut shape, a flat is placed on top of the donut shape which is elevated and when it reaches optimum temperature the glass flows like a thick liquid through the hole. The reason it must be watched closely is because if you let it go too long all the glass will fall through the donut hole and you will have a blob of glass on the bottom of your kiln!
One misconception about fused glass is that any glass can be used and mixed making it a natural medium for stained glass workers. This however is not true, glass used for fusing must have similar if not the same ceo (coefficients of expansion) or the glass can crack during the fusing process or have stress fractures not visible to the naked eye which will result in breakage at some later point. It is impossible to tell the ceo of glass unless the manufacturer specifies the ceo of each type of glass.
Frits (crushed glass of varying sizes), powders (glass ground into a powder) and stringers (like spaghetti only made of glass) are just a few of the other materials that can be added to a fused piece. Pieces can also be sandblasted or etched and then fused. Flame workers or also called lampworkers have the option of creating their own shapes and colors in the flame with strips or rods of glass. The design options and added materials are numerous and give the artist many creative materials to work with. Dichroic glass is another popular option in fused bowls and plates, you can read more about dichroic glass here
All the fused glass items Coleen Goralski creates are food safe but hand washing is recommended. I have been running an experiment in my dish washer with a fused piece and it has not suffered any harm whatsoever, however all dishwashers are different and there is only one brand of glass used in this experiment. Due to the annealing process fused glass items are generally quite sturdy items! You can be confident that purchasing a fused piece for yourself or as a gift will last a lifetime and become an heirloom piece in your family.