Stained Glass Pattern Making

Stained Glass is one of many dying arts. However it is making a come back. Designs can be traditional, modern, abstract or realistic. Learn how to create your own designs for stained glass. The Do’s and Don’ts, and what needs to be considered when drawing up a pattern. Leaded or copper foil panels can be fitted directly into a wooden frame or enclosed within a double glazing unit, in effect triple glazing a window. Free Hanging pieces can also be made, such as Sun-catchers, mirrors, wall decorations, clocks, candle holders, and many more.

Before you start a pattern it is a good idea to be aware of some of the restrictions that are specific to working with glass in either the leaded or copper foil methods. When your pattern is complete, and ready to be made feel free to contact me via my website details of which can be found at the end of the article

  1. Try to avoid a cross roads (X) or lines that go straight across from one side to another in your pattern especially for copper foil as this would be a weak point in the finished piece. (this is not so important for lead work, and many traditional patterns do include these shapes, but it is still better to be avoided if possible).
  2. Try to avoid internal right angels (or sharper as in the letter V). as the glass would most likely crack spreading from the point of the right angle. Therefore there needs to be line running from any points (similar to the letter Y).
  3. Try not to do a pattern with too much detail. This is especially important for leaded work as if the pieces of glass are too small, they will not be seen because of the lead. Think will the right glass add the detail for me.
  4. The more detail there is, the larger the piece will need to be. This will not necessarily make the piece harder to make, unless it is very large, then handling the large sheets of glass can just make it plain awkward.
  5. Some of the pattern will be lost due to it being covered by the lead or copper foil (a larger amount will be lost when using lead than when using copper foil). the amount lost will depend on the thickness’ used. For a piece A4 size, 8 or 10 mm lead is sufficient but thicker lead my be required for larger pieces, or for round the edge. Rather than detracting from the pattern, it can be a feature in a well planned pattern.

Things that you will need for pattern making include: Paper (lining paper is useful as if it gets wet when the piece is being made it will not disintegrate), tracing paper/acetate, pencil, marker pen, ruler, eraser, ruler and or tape measure depending on size. A true stained glass designer is able to create a pieces using a variety of methods. These include:

  • Creating a pattern to match existing panels or windows.
  • Creating a pattern from photo’s.
  • Adapting existing patterns.
  • Working from an idea.

Before starting the pattern for a fitted piece the size needs to be determined, the best way to do this is to use 2 methods.

  1. Measure the opening to tight fit (the are a behind the beading that the glass will fit into) across several points, height and width.
  2. Place paper over the area and draw round the area of tight fit.

Using both of these methods ensures that the pattern will be the right size and shape (the opening may not be truly rectangular or square) Next it is a good idea to draw a line 5mm in from 2 sides (this allows for ease of fitting and a little bit of room for error when the piece is being made). straighten up the remaining 2 sides.The pattern can the be drawn within the interior lines.

Creating a pattern to match existing panels or windows

Is the place where the new stained glass piece going to go the same size as any existing ones? If so the easiest way to created a pattern would be with tracing paper, or to do a rubbing (as when you were a child doing leaf rubbings) If not:

  • Take photo’s of the existing panels so that you know what you are working to.
  • Draw a grid to scale over both the photo and on the paper the pattern will be drawn on, (this could be simply 2 lines to divide into quarters, or a grid with more lines depending on the detail) this will help keep the pattern to scale and details of the pattern in place.
  • Keep in mind the new piece may not be the same shape and pattern details may need to be stretched or squashed
  • Start to draw the details of the pattern in, using the gridded photo for reference.

Creating a pattern from photos

Artistic licence may need to be used for colours, shapes and backgrounds.

  • Print out the photo as near to the size wanted as possible. If the photo can not be printed to the exact size. Draw a grid to scale over both the photo and on the paper the pattern will be drawn on, (this could be simply 2 lines to divide into quarters, or a grid with more lines depending on the detail) this will help keep the pattern to scale and details of the pattern in place.
  • look at the photo with a critical eye. What detail can be missed out (whether textured or patterned glass can add it, i.e. as for fur in an animal).
  • Trace over the lines that will be kept with a marker pen.
  • if the highlighted sections conform with the restrictions of working with glass, if not then add any extra lines that are needed, or alter shapes slightly.
  • When happy with the pattern trace over the altered image and the pattern is finished.

Adapting existing patterns

Pattern books can be very useful but there may be certain aspects of a pattern that you don’t like, or may just want to alter. This may be especially true for free hanging pieces as the shape can be altered by missing out sections from the edges, or interest added by missing bits out from the middle (try not to weaken the piece make sure that each bit has at least 2 points of contact). Alternatively extra pieces can be added for greater detail or interest.

  • Photo copy or trace the pattern
  • Place tracing paper over the pattern and draw over the aspects that are wanted, and changing any details that are required.

Working from an idea (this needs the greatest amount of drawing skill)

It may be a very detailed and specific idea (I like the view from my garden which includes a view of Criffel, with the trees and the fields) or vague (i.e. I like hills and sunsets). In the first instance it would be advisable to take a photo to work from. Whereas in the second instance a little more questioning may be required (do you live close to a specific hill that might have inspired you, if so then it could be advisable to include the shape of the hill, if not just a general hill shape may be fine to use.

  • If the piece is a fitted piece follow the guideline lines mentioned earlier. For free hanging decide on the size.
  • Roughly sketch out the design, until you are happy with the way it looks
  • View the design with a critical eye to see if the design fits in with the restrictions. Asking a 2nd person to view the design (telling them what is needed) can be a good idea, as aspects can often be missed.
  • Alter anything that needs to be altered.