The very first product line that molo commercially released, float glassware will celebrate its 10th Anniversary this May at ICFF, where it debuted in 2004 with float tea lantern + float tea cups. This also marks the 10th Anniversary of the molo studio, which continues to grow today, as it did a decade ago, from the experiences and designs of designer / directors Stephanie Forsythe + Todd MacAllen.
Todd MacAllen recently visited the studio where float is crafted. Located in Železný Brod, a small, picturesque northern Czech town, the studio that first produced Forsythe + MacAllen’s float design still continues to handcraft the entire line of glassware today. As the production of each glass illustrates, the clean lines of float hide the impressive combination experience, skill, and eye for detail needed – rare even in this region of the Czech Republic filled with world-renowned glassblowers.
Float is made from water clear German-made borosilicate glass. Purer than standard glass, borosilicate expands and contracts very little in response to changes in temperature, resisting thermal shock and allowing float to be used in both very hot and cold conditions. A high melting point and low coefficient of thermal expansion also means that the glass can be worked very precisely in local areas, important in the production of float’s form.
“During the design of float [Stephanie and I] were looking for ways to enhance the experience of common daily activities… As with most things we design, a confluence of ideas and inspiration came together. We were drinking tea daily and found inspiration and delight in our Wilhelm Wagenfeld glass teapot.
We began studying the methods and tools that scientific glassblowers use to make precise, one-off lab ware in glass. As we learned about the cylinders of glass that are used as a starting point in the crafting process, we specified standard tube and wall thickness dimensions and put further attention into maintaining as much of the purity of this original form as possible.” – Todd MacAllen
The handwork of several glassblowers is required to craft every piece of float, beginning with cutting full lengths of Schott borosilicate glass tubing to workable lengths (borosilicate glass was invented by Otto Schott around 1900). The glass is scored with a diamond tipped tool then flash heated, causing a clean break along the score. The razor sharp cut edges are then rolled through intense flame, melting them slightly into a soft, rounded edge suitable for drinking.
To create the hallmark rounded hemisphere base of float, the open lengths of tube are then put onto one of the many lathes in the studio. Working with a graphite (or sometimes wooden) paddle, rotating glass is heated to a moldable temperature and folded inward to close the end. On another lathe, the closed base is again heated while air is blown into the form; by controlling the flow of air alone, precise hemispherical bases are expanded.
To be able to heat and maintain control of the borosilicate glass requires complete focus and an intimate knowledge of the material that comes only with countless hours of work and practice. All the glassblowers working in the studio have a meticulous eye and careful hand.
The hemisphered glass tubes are next attached to another open length of tube, creating the base of float. Both lengths are mounted on opposite sides of a lathe and slowly brought towards one another as it spins. The edges of the glass are again carefully heated, allowing them to fuse together as they come into contact.
Fusing of float, and any work with large sections of glass, happens on the largest lathe, controlled by the studio’s master glassworker. Conducting an orchestra of machine, glass, air, flame, and momentum, complex glassworks are created to exact specifications. Every action must be timed and performed perfectly. This lathe is also where the second wall of the tea lantern is added (an insulating vacuum between these two walls is later created and sealed during the process of lampworking).
Float tea lantern requires further intricate details which are added by lampworking. Another of the studio’s master glassworkers does the precision lampworking by hand. With a handheld torch and implements, spouts and lids are formed, and the vacuum between the double glass walls is created and sealed. Finally, with a concentrated torch, a pattern of four symmetrical holes is melted through the base (these holes allow air to circulate to tea lights underneath the lantern).
While the form is completed, many stresses remain in the borosilicate glass from differences in temperature. To relieve these stresses on the piece, temperature must be equalized across the form through annealing. This process is critical to long-term durability of the glass. float is slowly moved through a kiln, where the entire piece is brought up to its stress-relieving annealing temperature, after which the glasses cool evenly to room temperature.
Molo’s fritted glassware requires two additional steps. First, a fine glazing mixture of glass is applied to the exterior of the forms, giving the crystal clear glass an even, fog-like translucence. Fritted glasses must then be annealed again, this time binding fritting to the glass.
Stephanie Forsythe and Todd MacAllen designed float as part of a study to create simple and beautiful objects from only a single material. Beginning with the ritual of tea, their initial float tea lantern + float tea cup designs have expanded into a family that evokes qualities of light, warmth, fragrance, taste and touch.
The family of float glassware is available for purchase at molostore.com.