Stained glass is the product of the ancient art of working with color and
light. For centuries, artists have been using colored glass to tell stories
with pictures in the windows of churches and the homes of important people.
Now, stained glass art is something anyone can make and have in their home.
"Stained glass used to be the art of the elite class, and up until 30 years
ago, the techniques of this art were still a fairly close secret. Now, however,
it's open to everyone," says glass crafter James Roher.
|This piece is called Trajectories 1. It features inlaid copper that
is leaded into the panel as if it were glass. Sheet lead and large handmade
marbles are part of the one-inch zinc frame.|
|Courtesy of: James B. Furman|
Stained glass crafters are people who make designs and pictures by soldering
together carefully cut pieces of colored glass. These designs might be anything
from a window to a lampshade to a terrarium.
"I think the strangest stained glass piece anyone ever wanted from me was
a tennis racquet for the window of the racquet club," says stained glass enthusiast
The process of making a stained glass piece starts with a design on paper.
The design may be one the glass crafters have created themselves or one from
a stained glass pattern book.
The pieces of the pattern are cut out and traced on to different colored
glass. A special tool, a glass cutter, is used to cut out the shapes traced
on to the glass.
Once the glass is cut into the right pieces, the process of reassembly
begins. The edges of each piece of glass are wrapped in a copper foil, the
pieces are put back together and "soldered" -- a special process which melts
the copper foil, causing the pieces to stick together.
"Basically, it's like creating a jigsaw puzzle with glass -- just putting
the pieces together," says Roher.
Stained glass pieces show their truest colors when light passes through
them and illuminates the colored glass. One of the things stained glass crafters
like about this art is that the finished product is always changing.
"Stained glass is dynamic, because it changes with the light of day. A
stained glass window looks entirely different at dawn than it will at 2 in
the afternoon," says Joanie Cunningham.
This is a good type of recreation for people with a steady hand and a lot
of patience. Stained glass work has to be exact, so experts say it takes time
to do a piece well.
"You really do have to be one of those people who likes to pick up a project
and put it down and pick it up again. You can't be the kind of person who
likes to get stuff done in one shot," says Braman.
Experts say $200 to $250 will buy you all the tools you'll need to get
started in stained glass crafting. Here's what you'll need:
- glass cutter
- glass pliers
- a grinder
- soldering irons
- a large flat working table
- a ruler
- copper foil
The cost of a sheet of glass depends a great deal on what color you want.
For example, a yellow sheet of glass might cost $8 but a blue sheet can be
as much as $20.
Stained glass is made by combining sand with potash and heating it until
it reaches the melting point. Then it's formed into sheets. The glass becomes
colored when metallic compounds are mixed with the molten glass. Gold is added
to make ruby, so ruby is expensive.
If you live near a commercial glass studio, they may have some scrap glass
for sale. That will be quite a bit cheaper than buying it by the sheet.
People who really enjoy stained glass build their lifestyles around it.
For example, dedicated stained glass crafters may open their own studios to
sell their pieces or make pieces on request. This business is often combined
with teaching stained glass classes and selling raw materials for this craft.
Other enthusiasts may find a career as a museum or art gallery curator
enjoyable. Or they may decide to study the history of stained glass as an
In medieval times in Europe, you had to be a member of an elite stained
glass guild to make stained glass. Stained glass crafting skills were passed
down from father to son and these people kept the secret of this art guarded.
Thankfully, somebody between the medieval days and today spilled the beans,
and the secrets behind stained glass crafting are open to everyone who wants
"Anyone can learn how to create with stained glass. All that's necessary
to become a good artist is patience and perseverance and a little instruction.
The rest will happen with time and experience," says Stephanie Braman.
There are a number of ways to get the instruction Braman talks about. Stained
glass hobbyists say taking classes is a good way to get off on the right foot
with this hobby.
Community recreation centers, YMCAs, YWCAs, stained glass craft stores
or stained glass equipment suppliers may all be good places to seek out instructors
"The good thing about taking classes is you learn the right techniques
from the beginning, because there's a teacher there. Also, it's a lot of fun
to learn from the ideas of the other people in the class," says Braman.
Depending on where you live, getting stained glass supplies may be as quick
as a trip to the "corner" store, or it could involve a slightly longer process.
To find out if there's a stained glass supplier in your town, look in your
telephone directory under glass. If there's no ad for a supplier, look for
a stained glass crafter's advertisement.
"Try calling someone who sells finished stained glass pieces. They'll probably
be very happy to tell you where to find your supplies, and they might even
give you a few tips," says James Roher.
Never forget to get some inspiration. Experts say taking the time to go
look at the stained glass artistry of the greats is a must for beginning crafters.
"If you have the good fortune to live in a city with old cathedrals or
old buildings, go look at the glass work in them. Once you realize what goes
into a simple stained glass piece, you'll be in awe of what you see," says
Association of Stained Glass Lamp Artists (ASGLA)
The Stained Glass Association of America
International Guild of Glass Artists
Stained Glass Association of America
Great collection of informational resources, crafting tips, photo
galleries, and more
Sarah Hall Studio
Visit this studio that does custom-designed architectural stained
History of Stained Glass
Read the story of its obscure beginnings