Earlier this year we featured a new collection of vases, called Ruutu, designed by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Iittala. With a watercolor-like palette and simple, geometric shapes, the vases give an almost false sense that they’re easily made, which couldn’t be further from the truth. After learning that it takes seven craftsmen a total of 24 hours to handcraft one vase, we had to find out more about the incredibly painstaking process. So, for this month’s Deconstruction, we get the low-down on the time and skills required to produce each vibrant piece. Take a look.
Drawing by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec
Image research / mock-up of Ruutu for the study of watercolor overlap
First tests in Iittala factory
Analyzing first tests of Ruutu
The parison maker takes the first parison from the kiln where the molten glass mass is around 1450 Celsius (2600 Fahrenheit). As you can see, there is very little glass in the first parison.
More glass gathers are taken to the parison depending on the size of the product. The layers can be clear or colored, all colors in Iittala manufacturing are in the glass mass and taken from the kiln containing the respective color mass by a very specific recipe. Iittala is known for its colored glass and the laboratory holds recipes for several thousand glass color shades.
Air is blown into gathered glass to keep the air bubble inside. (The mass needs air inside for the manipulation of the mass and for the blowing stage)
The hot mass is worked evenly before more layers of the hot glass mass are added to the pipe from the kiln.
The blowers work on the mass, making sure the mass is even and the ready for the mold. To make the mass perfect and fault free for final blowing it is shaped manually using wet wooden tools and wet paper. There are always several men in the blowing area, working the mass in different stages, so that there is a steady flow of pipes with perfect mass for the master blower to do the final stage: blowing the mass into the mold that makes the shape for the product.
Please note: For the average size of one Ruutu vase, it requires a glass blowing team of 6-7 craftsmen, 12 work stages, and about 10 hours. In addition, there are 2 parison makers, 3 blowers, 1 carrier, and 1 extra. Supporting functions include: quality inspection, grinding, and packing.
Pre-formed glass is put into pre-heated mold by the master blower, who is the most skilled and experienced of the blowers. The mass is blown inside the mold filling it; walls of the mold are giving the shape of the vase.
Glass is a mysterious and challenging material. With glass, you get only one try in blowing, the hot glass cools down and gets hard quickly after which it is either acceptable or rejected. The blower needs to have a very precise technique to blow the glass mass even to all the corners of the mold in a way that the mass is very even and as thin everywhere.
The blowers say that the hardest part in blowing is not only to blow one product to be perfect but to blow one after another after another of precisely the same quality. All products that are individually handcrafted of a very challenging and fast material need to look the same. Iittala glassblowers are all extremely skilled and experienced, they are the very best blowers. All blowers have their own “handwriting”, and therefore blowers are specialized in different products. For example, the technique of a very good blower is not necessary right for Ruutu, but perfect for another product. Some blowers are specialized in free blown forms, others in blowing to mold, etc.
The blown vase is taken out of the mold and the blower checks the piece and loosens it from the blowing pipe. The piece cools down (500-600 °C / 900-1000 °F) and a carrier brings the piece to the annealing kiln, where the glass products are cooled down slowly to room temperature. Glass gets its final color in the annealing kiln. In annealing, glass tensions are formed during shaping and are released by slowly cooling the product according to a time – temperature cycle calculated from the glass composition and thickness of product.
After annealing, the cold working is the final stage of the product: extra glass is cut away from the edge of the vase and it is ground and polished. Sharp edges are rounded with various polishing bands. The vase is washed and again quality inspected before labelled with the familiar i sticker, packed, and shipped.