Home > Craft Topics > Craft Introductions > Stained Glass
The techniques of making stained glass have changed little.
Medieval artists worked laboriously to create huge jewelled pictures which
decorated the holy buildings and their kaleidoscope of brilliant and
shifting patterns filled the congregations with awe.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, demand for
stained glass was still great. Artists set up studios all over the country
and almost every new Victorian house had some sort of decorative glass
panel. William Morris set up a studio which began producing unusual
windows, both for churches and domestic use.
In the USA, Louis Tiffany experimented with new and different
types of blown glass and produced a collection of lamps.
Today, churches and cathedrals still commission stained glass artists to create new designs and to restore ancient windows. With the return to more individual styles in public and domestic buildings, there is a greater interest than ever in stained glass.
Stained glass should more accurately be called coloured glass
since the ‘stain’ refers to the yellow silver nitrate ‘stain’ made
popular during the fifteenth century. Various types of glass and colours
are available in a number of finishes including streaked, ‘seedy’
(glass with hundreds of air bubbles in it) or textured finishes. A special
white glass that has been flashed with a thin coating of colour is also
available. This enables the craftsman to remove areas of colour by etching
The colour in all stained glass is designed to have light
filtered through it. This means the effect of the light source through
different colours is a major consideration when choosing a design.
The first stage in the process is creating the design and
deciding on the colours. The lead lines form an integral part of the
design and these also have to be taken into consideration from the start.
The design is usually
done in the form of a drawing or
watercolour painting. It helps if the colours can be planned accurately
and the effect judged.
The next stage is to convert the painting into a back and
white full size working drawing, known as a cartoon. A tracing is then
taken as a pattern for cutting the individual pieces of glass, taking into
account the width of the leading.
Traditionally glass was cut with a diamond, but now it is
usually cut with a tool called a cutters wheel which has a rolling steel
or tungsten carbide
The traced paper pattern is placed on a light box, a piece of
glass in the required colour is positioned right side up on top of the
shape and the outline is scored with a glass cutter and then pressed out
by hand or with special ‘nibbling’
When all the different coloured pieces are cut, they are
built up into the complete picture on a large sheet of plain clear glass
using plasticine to keep them in place.
The pieces are then joined with strips of lead called cames
which are H-shaped in section to enclose the edges of the glass. These
strips can be cut and moulded (they are quite pliable) to follow the
contours of the glass and, once everything is in position and held by
glazing nails, the lead is soldered.
To make the complete panel waterproof, a special ‘cement’
mixture is forced under the edges of the cames with a stiff brush to seal
the joints. The glass is then cleaned with whitting – a powdery
substance that dries out the cement, making it easy to remove any surplus.
Often a special substance is then rubbed on to the solder to darken and
blend it with the lead.
Sometimes, for fine detail and for 3-dimensional items such
as lampshades, the edges of the piece of glass are wrapped with copper
foil instead of lead and then joined with a fine line of solder. The
copper foil is not suitable for pieces that are exposed to the elements.
Another technique which is used for work to be viewed from
one side only is glass appliqué. This involves sticking coloured glass
closely together onto a sheet of plain clear glass and filling the gaps
between them with grout.
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