Friday, 6 April 2012

Stained glass windows

Without wishing to sound too much like TV's Kirstie Allsopp, I've always been envious of those who use their imagination and creative skill to make something amazing and useful.
Even more so those who put their talents to good use and make a living out of their crafts.
One such is Emma Blount who has been designing and making stained glass windows from her Streatham Hill studio for the past 16 years.
The 44-year-old, who trained at Roehampton University in Barnes, south-west London, is one of few artists practising this centuries old craft in the UK.
"It's very specialist and there are not many of us, so it's quite competitive when it comes to bidding for commissions," she says.
"It's very time consuming both in terms of designing and making the piece and sometimes hard work physically but it's a beautiful art form and the end results are stunning."
Commissions can be anything from making something for a house's front door to designing and creating a huge window in a church.
Although her "bread and butter" is domestic work, including doors and windows, she also loves teaching people the art and holds regular courses from a studio in Wandsworth.
Lasting 10 weeks, the classes cover design, template making, glass cutting, leading, soldering, glass painting and ultimately taking home a piece you've made.
I've always wanted to have a go so Emma very kindly invited me to her studio for a crash course.
I was a bit dubious I could create something in a couple of hours but Emma is a good and patient teacher and gave lots of encouragement.
"Glass making is a skill," she says. "There are some who will pick it up quicker than others but with a bit of coaching and help it can be done by anyone.
"I love teaching people because it's great seeing the sense of satisfaction everyone has at the end of the session. The sense of accomplishment of creating something special is lovely and it gives everyone a real buzz."
So, without further ado Emma kits me out with an apron and sets about giving me the low down on what to do.
The first thing was to have a go at cutting pieces of glass with a special glass scorer. This wasn't as easy as it looked especially when it came to doing curves.
Despite Emma airily insisting that cuts were an occupational hazard, scoring the glass and then breaking it with my hands required every ounce of concentration - and courage! To begin with I was sure I'd end up slashing my fingers and see blood everywhere!
For thicker pieces of glass you can use a pair of pliers to break it but there is definitely a knack to breaking it at the right point!
Once I'd got the hang of it, the next stage was to get some paper and design a picture and use it as a template. Emma suggested something small and simple using four pieces of glass.
Secretly I was a bit disappointed as I'd had visions of creating something rather bigger and more elaborate but undeterred I did as suggested and drew a square with four different sized shapes.
I chose red, yellow, turquoise and blue glass, each a different texture and thickness, and then set about cutting them to size using the template as my guide. This proved a bit more tricky and was quite time consuming but despite one or two disasters I managed to fashion them in to the right shapes under Emma's expert, and encouraging eye.
When the glass had been cut to the right shape it was time to fit them into strips of lead.
After putting on the required mask and gloves - essential to protect against potential lead dust - Emma showed me how to stretch the lead and then cut it to size with what looked like a metal spatula. Surprisingly it was quite pliable and relatively easy to cut.
Thicker lead is used for the border and thinner pieces for the insides.
Fixing the glass into the lead channels was very fiddly as the pieces of glass had a habit of moving about. However, with a bit of effort, I managed to get them slotted into position and ready for the joins to be soldered and then cemented.
After a couple of hours work I was able to stand back and admire my efforts.
Despite never being that artistic at school, my glass square looked pretty good for a beginner with Emma even saying she thought I had "natural flare"! Praise indeed!
Although a bit rough around the edges, I have to admit I was pretty chuffed and it's certainly whetted my appetite to do some more.
And my square? It's hanging up in my kitchen window!
If you would like to have a go, Emma's classes cost £250 for 10 weeks and start on Monday, April 16 at Juno Glass Ltd, 46 Lydden Road, Wandsworth, SW18 4LR. Each class lasts for three hours.
Visit for details.

No comments:

Post a Comment