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Stained Glass

4 March 2013 | Category: Stories | Author: Clare

Stained glass is a steep learning curve.

Like anything new it is a cacophony of noise in your brain.

It is a lot of frowning, straining, cursing, cutting, foiling, soldering.

It is deep frustration, punctuated by moments of delighted idiocy at what you are creating.

At it's very core, it is the ability to work with glass.

I found cutting accurately difficult at first. Misunderstanding the medium.

Glass does not behave as wood does. It has different social graces.

I am unsure why we endeavour to lean on our previous experience when we wander into the realms of something new; we dive into the ocean and expect our intuitions from land to serve us well in that unknown aquatic environment.

Luckily I was subject to some expert tuition.


Stained glass begins with learning how to draw an effective pattern.

Sadly, that requires the knowledge of what is and is not possible in the arena of cutting glass.

Numerous times as your project continues you smack right into your unconscious ambition, and re-design, re-define, re-work that original idea.

I had not realised I had become trapped in my understanding of wood, even with that in its infancy. And was projecting that education onto everything my hands came in contact with.

But once I finally realised I was working with something new; once I relaxed, and accepted my immaturity in the field, and allowed the subject to teach me, as opposed to attempting to impose my unrelated lessons upon it, things improved.

Glass will fracture along the score line you have made, but it cannot be coaxed out of that trajectory.

Glass cannot be easily cut in concave shapes, though convex you can achieve fairly easily.

It will allow you the courtesy of sharp, clean lines, then stubbornly refuse to break in anything but coarse angles, and obnoxious shards.

It is an exercise in patience. But God knows, I was in need of one of those.

The coolest thing about this material, is that by nature, you can throw together a kaleidoscope of colours, and different kinds of glass.

Blues, greens, purples, orange. Some smooth, some shiny. Some iridescent, some transparent.

As quickly as you throw together an undistinguished blanket of pieces, you can throw together a dazzling tapestry of differences.

So.... stylistically, you can stamp yourself whole-heartedly on the project. It would be impossible not to leave your singature in the sizes, shapes, colours and contours; the decisions you made along the way.

Once you have a cluster of pieces, jostling for position on a design drawn somewhat ambitiously in hindsight, you have to decide how to join those pieces together. There are two methods.

You copper foil, encasing the edges of each piece in a thin band of copper, allowing the solder to stick. Or you wrap the pieces in lead.

Of course the latter is the traditional method for making stained glass. The former, is a much newer, neater version of the same thing, for smaller finer work.

I went with copper foil.

For some reason, like lights on a Christmas tree, the foil gives much needed definition to the design.

You go from a collection of broken pieces, to an image your mind can start to embrace, or grapple with. It is interesting, by defining parameters you introduce clarity. The frailties of the human mind.

The foiling process is a little ungracious in that it highlights any of the small discrepancies, errors, and poor cutting that plagued the earlier part of the process.

Once you have your pieces, wrapped and ready to put together, any anomalies stand out boldly, like the tear in a drywall sheet, or the chip in an otherwise well laid floor.

You grimace and coerce the criminal element, but there is limited give to glass, if any at all. The only hope is that by changing an alignment here, or shuffling a little there, you might diminish those air gaps to digestible tolerances.

But I feel obliged to tip my hat to the art at this point. Given each of those wee pieces is independent, if one of them really refuses to play ball, you can simply cut a new one.

If it is easy to screw up with glass, it is at least easy to try remedy the problem. The same cannot be said of drywall, joinery, or myriad other mediums.

And herein lies another benefit.

On the positive end of the attribute spectrum, working with glass provides instant gratification. This is a real bonus for something that acquaints you very quickly with the parameters of your capability. Bumping immediately into inadequacy generally renders you somewhat deflated, but with glass, the output is so breathtaking, that it is more than capable of bolstering your spirits and carrying you beyond that inevitable disappointment when trying something new.

For me there was always something intriguing about stained glass.

There is a mysterious kind of fascination with deliberately breaking something that in our regular lives we try so hard to protect. You wince silently at the anticipated reprimand for smashing a material we consider valuable, fragile.

But you realise as you piece together something new from the ashes of something else, that despite the carnage you leave behind; despite the myriad off-cuts, angles, the ugly mess that accompanies the whole process. Despite all of that, you look down at your hands, and see that you are making something beautiful.

It is reassuring somehow; that when you are surrounded by chaos, when you look around at nothing but fragments, it is possible to slowly put them back together; making something bonnie out of complete disaster.


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