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Crafting with Glass

We’ve talked about a few of the fancy types of glassware you can find at estate sales: carnival glass, with it’s colorful iridescence, milk glass, with its creamy opalescence, Pyrex, with it’s versatility and strength, the crafty things you can do with Mason jars...you get the picture.

These items make frequent appearances at estate sales.

But we can’t overlook the simple, basic glassware. Clear vases, classic wine glasses, and assorted jars fill tables and cabinets at estate sales, and are often sold at extremely low prices. The original owners usually hold onto it because it just seems a darn shame to throw them away.

And it is.

New uses for these simple dishes are found every day. Newly-engaged couples, for example, are now grabbing up estate sale glassware, from spherical bowls to mason jars to create inexpensive and Pinteresting wedding decor. Don’t have a big, life-changing event coming up? That’s okay. There are fun and easy ways one can spruce up their home or office with upgraded glassware. These are just a few favorites.

Etch it

Etching is the perfect way to personalize a centerpiece, or turn an inexpensive glass into a sentimental memory, whether it’s a vase to hold an anniversary bouquet, or wine glasses to toast a holiday, graduation, or night with the girls.

You can get etching cream at most craft and hobby stores, but be very cautious with it. The bottle we bought came with no instructions, only warnings. So many warnings.

So this particular project, which, frankly, should be done with gloves and safety glasses, is not one to do with children. You don’t want to touch the etching cream. Or breathe in its fumes. Or look at it funny. Or talk bad about its mother.

So yeah, it’s kind of scary, but it's easy, and the results are elegant and permanent. 

You can pick up stencils at any number of craft, hobby, or department stores, or you can create your own. I made mine using removable adhesive vinyl so it would create a strong seal between it and the glass. The cream will etch any glass surface it touches, so you want to be sure the stencil is pressed tightly to avoid seepage.

But because I didn’t leave much excess vinyl around the outside of the stencil, I added a layer of painters tape as well. Depending on the shape of the item you’re etching, the cream can get runny, so the tape will help protect the glass if you’re working with something that is susceptible to dripping—round things, for example, like wine glasses.

I applied the cream with a paintbrush, which I threw out as soon as I was done.

Depending on who you ask (since, like I said, there were no instructions), the cream should be left on anywhere from one minute to one hour. We went with a conservative 10 minutes, rinsed the goo down the drain, and voila!

(According to the company, rinsing the etching cream down the sink will not harm your drain pipes, but you might think twice before sending it down a ceramic sink, because it can affect the shine. The representative suggested using a utility sink or a plastic container to rinse off the cream, and then flushing the water left behind down the toilet.)

If you’re not comfortable using a substance with so many warnings, you can always seek out frost enamel paint for a similar effect. It might be less permanent, but you make up for it with color options. And who doesn’t love colors?

Paint it

For this, you’re going to want a vase or bowl with a mouth wide enough to fit your hand. I’ve heard tales of people rolling a vessel around to allow the paint to drip down smoothly to cover all sides. But the paint is thick, and moves slowly. I don't know about you, but I don't have time for that nonsense.

So pour a reasonable amount of enamel paint into your glass, take a paintbrush, and coat the inside. Get a good, strong layer going, but keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time around.

I chose white because I recently wrote a post about milk glass, and am enamored with it now, and thought creating my own milk-like glass would be fun.

And it was.

Put your creation into a cold oven, turn it to 350 degrees, and bake it for a half hour. But before you do, make sure you wipe off any excess paint from the outside or the rim of the glass. Anything that gets baked on will be incredibly difficult to remove.

Let the glass cool completely, then repeat the process.

If all goes well, no more than two layers will be necessary, but there’s no shame in three. You do you.

In addition to the white vase, I tried another in blue, and am thrilled with the results. I can’t wait to try more.

Make it a mercury

Mercury glass was popular in the early 19th century and then again in the early 20th. Mold-blown, double-walled, then lined with a silvering agent (not mercury...usually), this style can be found on vases, candlesticks, and maybe most popularly—certainly most sentimentally—Christmas ornaments.

So when I came across one of these glass Christmas trees like everyone’s grandmother used to have, I knew what I had to do.

Armed with a can of “looking glass” spray paint and a bottle of water / vinegar solution, I went to town. Before I sprayed anything, I put painter’s tape around the plastic plug on the lid, to avoid making it difficult to open in the future. I then sprayed the mirror paint all over the tree. After allowing it to dry for a minute, a sprayed the vinegar solution, and then took a towel and blotted the solution off. I did this three times to achieve the look I wanted.

There are some people who will tell you it’s best to do this to the *inside* of a glass rather than the outside. But because of the nature of this piece—clearly it was meant to hold hard candies until they become old and inedible because even when they're fresh they’re unappetising (sorry, Grandma)—I wanted to keep the inside free from paint. You know, just in case someone’s feeling brave.

There are, of course, myriad other ways to upgrade your tag sale finds. Craft stores are lined with a variety of spray paints that will create different effects. Just like with teacups, you can make the right-sized glass into a lovely candle. I’ve heard tales of alcohol inks creating beautiful colors and patterns on an otherwise ho-hum glass. The possibilities are limitless—remember that at your next sale.

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