How to Make Stained Glass Art: An Overview

Since I have started making stained glass art, I have also attended many markets and art sales where I have also sold my work. At these events, I have been asked many interesting questions – most of them centred around the process behind stained glass.
Here are a few memorable ones:
  • How do you make stained glass? This is by far the most popular and general question.
  • Do you have a mould and just pour it in to it? Not sure what “it” is but there is definitely no mould.
  • How do you make the glass? Which for the record I do not make glass, I purchase the coloured glass in sheets.
  • Do you make these the same way I made my stained glass art project in grade 3? Which of course not as that project involved waxed paper and crayons.
  • Did you use a kit? Similar to the mould in that I am not sure how this would work, but no kit was involved.
And while there are no dumb questions, I did want to write this blog about the process behind stained glass art.
Those of you who know, know that stained glass is a labour of love, there are many steps and none of them are fast and none of them are automated. I use two techniques – the tiffany style / copper foil technique and the lead came technique.

Rebecca Maher selling stained glass at a craft fair / market

Copper Foil Technique of Stained Glass Art

Here is a simple overview of the copper foil style of stained glass art:
  1. Pattern design – I create all of my patterns with a pencil and paper. There are many free patterns online, or you may find some that you have to pay for. Please be sure you are not stealing someone else’s pattern (each pattern represents an artist and hours of work). If you are not sure, it never hurts to ask the artist before using it.
  2. Glass cutting – after tracing my pattern on the glass (I use a light table), I use a glass cutter to score each line of the design. Then I can either break this piece by hand or use grozers / running pliers.
  3. Grinding – a grinder is a wet saw that you can use to finish shaping your glass to ensure an accurate fit for the design. Not all artists use a grinder but I highly recommend it. Also be sure to clean your glass after grinding as lots of residue can be on it that will impact the next step. 
  4. Foiling – you then use copper foil to surround the perimeter of each piece of glass, ensuring the copper foil is centred along each side. A fid is used to ensure there are no air pockets in the foil and that it is properly adhered to the glass. There are three backings for copper foil - copper, black and silver. At this point you need to plan your finish (patina) and match the backing to your finish. For example, if you plan to finish with a copper patina, ensure you are using the copper back foil. 
  5. Soldering – tack (use a small bit of flux and solder) on each joint of the copper foil as well as the frame. This will ensure your piece stays in place as you continue to work. Then you can complete each solder line. Flux must be used so that the solder adheres to the copper foil. Note: you are not soldering the glass together, you are soldering the foil together. You can also add hooks at this stage as they must be soldered on as well.
  6. Cleaning – I use Dawn dish soap, hot water and steel wool to clean my pieces.
  7. Patina (optional) – after your piece is properly cleaned, you can apply a copper or black patina to the project. A piece that still has flux on it will result in a less desirable patina outcome so ensure that your piece is properly cleaned before moving to this step.
  8. Polishing – I use a car wax with carnauba to finish cleaning each piece so that it shines. I also attached faux leather or a chain for hanging at this point.
Stained glass running pliers, grozers and other tools
Now I would also like to point out again that this is a very high-level process for stained glass art and like all art, there are many ways to do each step of the process. I have taken a few stained glass workshops / lessons and all of my instructors (and my dad) have had different preferences and different techniques for each step – finding what works for you is all part of the process and fun. I see / hear a lot of people critiquing each other’s art, processes, etc and I am always reminded of this quote:
“Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
― Andy Warhol
 Stained Glass Window with wooden frame that says the Browns being held by artist

Stained Glass Workshops

Of course, at this point you would have lots of questions about this process and the tools / materials, so feel free to contact me and inquire about my stained glass workshops! Or look in to stained glass classes that are local to you. And again, have fun with it or any form of art you chose!