Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Epic Adventure of Glass

The first Stained glass class I attended was three weeks ago. I met the delightful Lynette Wrigley, author of many books and teacher for the duration of the course. She set us up with glass cutting, simply making lines on the glass to get a feel for the pressure required. Getting the right pressure is key to glass cutting and she began with teaching us the best way to hold our glass cutters. Following that we were given chunks of spare glass to cut, with a clear description of the sound we were looking for. It almost sounds like a tiny zipper and it seems quite incredible that such a small line on the surface will make a clean break.

The next step was breaking it, which can be done in quite a few ways. She showed us techniques using pliers, tapping the underside of the glass and simply snapping it apart with our hands.

Once she felt we were confident with this she handed out patterns. Placing the glass over the pattern we then cut our shapes by following the lines. Whilst we experimented she explained the differences between leaded and Tiffany pieces.

When cutting for leaded pieces the line of the pattern represents the space the lead will occupy.The lead itself is shaped like an I-beam with slots for the glass to fit into. Because of the chunkiness of the lead it can be difficult to do intricate patterns. If you look at traditional pieces you'll see the detail lies in the painting, more than the shape of the glass. The methods of the time were such that the glass couldn't be cut accurately so pieces were chosen for being near enough the shape required.

Because Tiffany uses a copper foil and soldering, it is far easier to do a more detailed pattern with smaller pieces. Fortunately there are techniques to give a Tiffany piece the look of lead, if you want something more rustic.

As I cut and got more comfortable with the pressure of the cutter and feel of the glass I found myself feeling more and more at ease. It's very mindful work and after an hour I'd almost cut the entire practice pattern I'd been given.

This was when Lynette said we were now allowed to begin our own design. It seemed incredible to me that I would already be sketching out my own design when just an hour or so before I had been cutting glass for the first time.

Keeping it simple was the key thing, as it would be my first glass piece. I chose a Plumeria design. Plumeria's are my favourite flower. They represent beautiful tropical places that I have explored and they're often used in the decoration of Buddhist temples. I felt that, because flowers seem to lend themselves well to stained glass, this was the wisest choice for my first design.

I sketched it out to my satisfaction and then Lynette said we could go pick our glass. Her class is in the upper level of a glass shop. An assortment of stunning sheets of glass awaited us below. The lot of us trooped downstairs and followed Lynette around as she explained all the different types, how they were made and what pigments were used. We each selected the colours we wanted for our patterns and carried our fragile load back up to the studio.

As I cut my first few pieces I was marveling at it. Only a few hours before I had never done this in my life and suddenly there I was, cutting glass for a pattern of my own design.

That was three weeks ago. My second class involved cutting the rest of my pattern out and sanding and preparing the glass to be foiled. It was wonderfully methodical work and very mindful. Admittedly, when using the stone block to grind down the edge of the glass I found myself cringing quite a bit. But I have to say, everything else about the process was entirely satisfying.

This week I began with the foiling, which involves wrapping copper foil around the edges of all my cut pieces.

Once this was done Lynette pulled out the soldering irons and the flux. First I squared up my piece, which might have been a little less than square, and 'fixed' it with blobs of solder. I wiped the entire thing with flux, a sort of acid that helps the solder bond with the copper. Then I went to work!
My piece has some lumps and bumps in it and I definitely could have cut the glass better, but all in all it's pretty spanking fantastic for my first ever piece of stained glass.
I don't think this photo does it justice. The light is yellowed and artificial. Even in a room lit with florescent lighting the glass seems to shimmer and dance. I can hardly wait to see it in daylight, the sun shining through it.
It still requires a little work. Some paint, as Plumeria's have a touch of yellow, and maybe smoothing out a few bumps left on the solder. However, I'm entirely chuffed with the result and I'm already thinking of my next project.

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