The art of stained glass making dates back at least to medieval times. It combines a range of craft skills with the skills of the painter. To many it evokes ancient church windows, but it is actually an important artistic discipline that has survived throughout the centuries intact and largely unchanged, though the colours and designs used by stained glass artists today would astonish and perhaps even delight their medieval counterparts.
Sophie Lister Hussain, who features as the mentor in the fourth episode of Mastercrafts (BBC2, Friday 5 March, 9pm) is a talented stained glass artist who grew up on the Isle of Anglesey, off the coast of North Wales – a primary influence in her early artistic development. “My earliest memories are of my grandmother. She taught me to knit and to sew and the combining of a multitude of different materials. She also instilled in me the self discipline to strive to do my very best with anything I made.”
Sophie is fascinated by all types of glass work, but especially her own specialism of stained glass.
“The majority of my work is stained glass. It’s always etched with acid or painted with kiln firing paints, silver stained or surface decorated by sandblasting stencil work; a combination of any or all of these techniques can give a detailed and rich texture to the surface of glass. Sandblasting gives glass a frosted appearance, and can be used to shade areas of clear glass; painting can be done in many different colours straight on to the glass, and etching produces a range of interesting effects, melting away the surface of unmasked glass.”
After the client is happy with the design, the making of the glass follows the same procedure each time. “First I measure the window frame – this has to be done accurately. Then the designs are enlarged to a full sized working drawing. Any indication of glass paint, silver stain and etching is marked, drawn to scale and even sketched on to the cartoon.
“A cut line drawing is taken from the cartoon, which shows each and every piece of glass. The lines indicate the heart of all the leads, lines that glass cutters know should not be crossed. When the glass pieces are ready you ‘lead it up’ – start fixing all the pieces into their positions using a lead knife, pliers and horseshoe nails.”
By the time that the glass is fitted into the leads, the windows soldered and cemented, the old frame amended to fit again, or the new frame securely installed into the building, then the finished glass can finally be installed into the frame.
For Sophie it is not technique but personality, drive and enthusiasm that really transform a stained glass window into something unique and important.
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