The earliest known manmade glass is in the form of Egyptian beads from between 2750 and 2625 BC. My interest in art glass (more commonly known as stained glass) doesn’t go back that far, but it goes back more than a few years. I have always loved the way sunlight brings stained glass to life. About a decade ago, I decided I would take a couple of classes on how to create with stained glass. I found, to my amazement, that I could do it and do it well.
I can’t teach you how to do stained glass in this blog post, but I’ll show you part of my process and at the end of this blog you’ll find links to places where you can learn a lot more.
Working with stained glass you need a few tools and a flat surface. (It helps if you don’t mind glass splinters littering the area you’re working in!)
One of fun parts of doing a stained glass window, is picking the pattern. (If you’re really talented, you can design your own pattern – my talent covers construction, sadly, not design.)
Once you have the pattern, then you must choose which style of construction you’ll do: leading, foiling, mosaic. Then you must decide which glass to use. This is not as easy as it sounds. Do you want Full Antique Glass (made using antique methods), Semi-Antique, Machine-made Antique, Cathedral, Opalescent, or Glue-Chip. The machine-made glass comes in different textures. And don’t even get me started on the colors that are available.
With the patten and glass chosen, then you choose how large you want this project to be. You have a couple of copies of your pattern made to size.
Crafting the Pieces
There are several ways to transfer the pattern to the glass. If you are using Cathedral (transparent) glass you can put the pattern under the glass and cut to the pattern. You can cut the pattern out and trace it. Or you can cut the pattern out and glue it to the window. Each of the methods of transfering the pattern require that you cut the the glass a little differently to ensure that you keep everything to the correct size. Additionally, the type of construction (type of cane, copper foil, or grout) requires that the glass is cut to leave a specific amount of space between each piece.
I learned to cut the border pieces of the window first, so that you maintain the size and shape you desire. Note that I have a second copy of the pattern beneath the glass so I can continually check size and be certain of placement.
Putting the Pieces Together
Once you’ve cut out all the pieces then you must use either lead cane (relatively soft extruded lengths of lead with channels that hold the glass) or adhesive-backed copper foil so you can solder the pieces together. I prefer the more fluid look of foiling for a pattern with lots of detail like this one.
Once each piece of glass is wrapped with foil, you use flux and solder to solder the pieces together. (Sorry, I don’t have a picture of me soldering). To give the piece a finished edge you can use lead cane or a metal cane.
Then, just step back and admire it. This picture is from inside the kitchen with full sunlight hitting the window. (between the sun and my cheap camera, the green hill she’s sitting on looks orange :p)
There are a number of reasons that I love constructing with stained glass. Putting together a stained glass window is very similar to working a jigsaw puzzle, a favorite passtime of mine. And for a long while, I thought that was all there was to it. Of course, it wasn’t. Because while creating suncatchers and nightlights are quick and fun, what I love doing is constructing windows. Why? Because windows tell a story.
Do you see other parallels to writing or storytelling?
Links to learn more:
- At Spectrum Art Glass (a manufacturer of art glass) you can read about whether glass is a liquid or a solid.
- Learn more about the history of Stained Glass at the Stained Glass Association of America.
- Read about the types of glass at Warner Stained Glass.
- View some of the most beautiful pieces of art you can imagine at Aanraku Glass Studios.