Glassmaker Emmy Palmer finds inspiration on the beaches and seascapes close to her Plymouth home.

Every Tuesday evening, glassmaker Emmy Palmer goes with a friend to a ukulele class near Tinside Lido on Plymouth Sound. She explains: “Our tradition is that we do something afterwards on the seafront. We might walk along the Hoe or go to a waterfront pub for a drink.

“The colours of Plymouth inspire me in my work – I love to see the beautiful blue lido and the dark, moody sea, with the green scenery behind it. In the summer we’re always there at sunset and see the silhouette of Smeaton’s Tower against the oranges, pinks and purples of the sky.”

This eye-pleasing colour palette is reflected in Emmy’s sleek glass vessels, which were showcased recently on BBC1’s mentoring programme, Make It at Market, much to the delight of viewers who have since deluged her with orders.

Plymouth has been inspiring Emmy for two decades, beginning when she came to study at the Arts University in 2004, where she took a degree in applied arts, specialising in glass blowing.

Her passion for glass started simmering a few years earlier at the V&A in London, when she and Andy, now her husband, saw the Rotunda Chandelier, a colossal blown glass installation by Dale Chihuly, the celebrated American glass artist, which hangs in the main entrance hall of the gallery. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s amazing!’ From then on, I knew I wanted to be a maker,” she remembers.

Despite being small in stature, she instantly took to the demanding art of glassmaking alongside her mostly male classmates. “Glass is just beautiful as a material, the clarity of the colours and the way that light goes through it.

“I really enjoy the physicality of glassmaking too – I love the heat, the speed, the skills. And that it’s a real challenge and harder than anything else I’d tried, including large scale metal and wood pieces.” For her graduation show she spent time at the Barbican, the city’s old port, looking in depth at the nets, creels and lobster pots of the fishing boats.

“I also looked at my family’s history with knitting – my Mum, my Nana and my Great Nana are and were all amazing knitters and crocheters, my Great Nana could crochet a huge blanket in a couple of days, while my Mum can knit a jumper in a day!”

Equally knitting mad – she crochets Christmas decorations and knits dolls’ clothes for her daughters – Emmy came up with a unique idea. To combine her two creative passions by knitting a small ‘net’ out of copper wire then encasing it in blown glass. “I had a lot of ugly, wobbly blobs initially. It’s a very physical process, but it’s a technique that I’ve mastered.” These dynamic pieces are called Del Mar (or ‘of the sea’) vessels.

“The colours of the Del Mar range are taken from seaweed I found on Plymouth shores. You’ll find orange, red and bright green seaweeds in the water and mixtures on pebbly beaches which keep their colour because it’s damp,” remarks Emmy who often goes to the south Devon beaches with her family, which includes water-mad dachshund Missie.

“My little girls are water babies and we love to bodyboard and to make sandcastles and dig mermaid pools. We walk all year and we beachcomb, picking up sea glass, little bits of ceramic, shells and cuttlefish for my daughter’s pet African land snails.”

Emmy’s Pips – her standard range of glass vessels which come in another glorious spectrum of colours – are also drawn from the marine world and were conceived not long after the Del Mar design. “They were inspired by the teardrop-shaped bubbles that you see in seaweed, but don’t have wire inside them.

“For the colour palette I wanted really pure, dense colour that reflected the hues I saw in the Devon scenery, from the landscape to the seascape. They’re a joy to make, so simple, a bubble that I warm then pinch and pull, really satisfying.”

A few years after she graduated, Emmy spent eight years away from her glassmaking practice while she looked after her young family, by then firmly settled in Plymouth. But just over a year ago, itching to get back to it, she saw a request on Facebook from a TV production company asking for crafts people for a new BBC series about turning crafting dreams into reality – Make It at Market, presented by The Repair Shop’s Dom Chinea.

Emmy recalls: “Glass has never lost its magic for me and I’d just started back at glassmaking a few months before. I sent an email with some photos of my Del Mars and Pips, and videos of me making them, and six months later joined 35 other makers at the National Trust’s Stoneywell in Leicestershire where they filmed the series.’

Her mentor on the programme, Allister Malcolm, the resident glass artist at Stourbridge Glass Museum, was wowed by Emmy’s talent and gave her great advice on how to build a business, including commissioning beautiful photography for her website, investing in sustainable, recyclable packaging, launching a social media presence, and approaching galleries to sell her work. “The experience was awesome. I think without it, I’d be very much doing the same thing, but at a really slow pace. The programme gave me a real boost.”

Now she works out of Teign Valley Glass Studio, near Bovey Tracey in Devon, spending two to three days a week creating her own work and assisting in making some of the studio’s own standard wares. “I do the cold and the hot work there and everything else at home. In a whole day I might make 15 Pips and six Del Mars, having prepared the copper knitting for the Del Mars beforehand.”

Once pieces have been blown, they are placed overnight in a lehr oven, a kiln that holds the glass at a constant temperature then cools it down slowly until it reaches room temperature, so that it doesn’t shatter. Afterwards Emmy cuts each piece with a diamond saw and polishes them up to a high shine using pumice.

Throughout the week she nips between home, close to the Tamar river, and the coast to top up on inspiration. “I wasn’t brought up by the sea but it just feels like home. A perfect day for us would be spent down on the beach from morning until dusk, taking a pack-up lunch, and building sand castles and finding shells and driftwood. Every time I go to the water it feels like the right place to be.”

Feeling creative? Meet another artist inspired by the coastline here.