I blame Morton S Gray.
Writer Morton runs a blog where guests are invited to share what they do when they’re not writing.
I guested recently but couldn’t choose the topic – apart from the odd dog walk I don’t do a great deal when I’m not writing. To be fair, having written an 80,000 word novel in just over 3 months, there hasn’t been an awful lot of spare time lately!
Like a lot of people, my life shrank quite a lot during the various Lockdowns and restrictions. However, when I realised I hadn’t ventured out of the house (and not even into the garden, my excuse being we’d had a really wet spell in Devon) for nearly a week, I needed to do something. It was affecting my mental and physical health. I was being social – but only on Zoom and social media, and wasn’t getting nearly enough physical exercise.
So, when I saw the light catcher making workshop advertised, I booked a last-minute space without giving myself a chance to back out.
I’ve known Sue for a while now and have bought quite a few of her pieces. I have two beautiful hearts, an ammonite and a few Christmas decorations. I’ve also bought her work for presents. I absolutely love this art form.
So much so, that when I was casting about for an occupation for my new hero, I made him into a stained glass artist. There are lots of videos on YouTube for research into making glass art and they are useful up to a point but nothing beats doing the thing for gathering research on smells, textures and the total experience of what you’re trying to write about.
My hero makes stained glass as in the video but, for various reasons, he’s been making smaller items like the ones I would learn how to create on the course.
Feeling nervous, for a variety of reasons, I went along to a local crafting centre. Greeting me at my place at the table was all this equipment!
One of the things I miss about teaching is the art and crafts I used to do with the children, and I love a bit of gear, so excitement started to quash the nerves. It helped that I knew Sue and that the other women there seemed so nice.
We began practising cutting glass, beginning with straight shapes. The pen-like tool is a glass cutter with a diamond nib and an oil reservoir. Choosing a shape, we used templates. Sue explained the greater the accuracy at each stage, the better the end result. How I wish I’d listened to that advice!
I struggled with this glass cutter so moved onto a pistol shaped one which I found easier to use. Once the glass is scored, it’s snapped using grozing pliers. This was immensely and surprisingly satisfying and the group decided it was because we’re always told not to break glass as it’s a) unlucky and b) dangerous. Speaking of health and safety, we wore visors whenever cutting the glass as the shards can end up everywhere.
We moved on to curved shapes – much harder! I kept forgetting to cut in a straight line and tried to follow the line of the shape. Once the rough curved shape is cut it can be sanded using a sanding sheet or, better still, using the grinder. The grinder has a water fountain which absorbs any particles flying about. I loved using it as I could feel the shape becoming smoother and less ‘nubbly.’ For me, the sound when using the sanding sheets was like chalk on a board. Eek.
The next step is to use the Tiffany copper foil method. Invented by Mr Tiffany to use when making his lamps, this is where the shape will begin to bind together as a finished form. Copper foil is stuck around every edge and the pieces are placed together in the way you want.
Then flux is dabbed on the corners and solder is applied to the same place. More flux is painted over the copper foil joins and more solder is spread to fix the shapes together. I wasn’t aware of the flux (a chemical) smelling but it did make me feel quite woozy. Or it could have been the unaccustomed concentration required – it’s hard work learning something new! And obviously, the solder smelled (and was) hot. I really enjoyed the soldering, so much so I was told I was a little heavy-handed!
All that’s needed then is to attach a hanging loop which is soldered on. Easier said than done – you really need three hands for it. We made practice pieces to work our way through the entire process and I had a go at an angel.
She’s pretty good as long as you don’t look too closely! She’ll go on the tree this Christmas.
In the afternoon we moved on to making a more complicated item and I chose some beach huts. I’d seen beach huts in Sue’s online shop and loved the look of them. How hard could it be? I’d already conquered making an angel! Read on …
After a clean and a polish, here’s the final result. I had to have some help from ‘Miss’ when putting the beach hut components together as I hadn’t cut them accurately enough and there were gaps. Back to the grinder to create that perfect fit. I also lost track of which piece was going where and ended up with a blue hut and roof when it should have been red. Ah, the best laid plans. Remember needing to pay attention to the details?
The basic techniques aren’t too tricky but you have to be dextrous and have good hand strength. You also have to have a mind which likes details and take your time. It’s not something which can be rushed. My downfall! I‘m Miss Rush-it-and-Bodge-it. To make anything as lovely as the stuff Sue produces takes hours of practice.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. I learned a new craft, came away with two (fairly) beautiful objects and spent the day in the company of some really interesting, funny women.
I’m lucky in that I have a crafting workshop near me (I’m tempted by lino cutting and felting next) but check out what’s available in your local area. I can heartily recommend it.
If you want to find out more about Sue’s stunning work, which is exquisitely beautiful, check out her selling site here:
As for the research, did it help? Of course it did. Actually doing the thing you’re describing adds all those senses of smell, taste, feel which can’t be obtained from watching YouTube videos. The ‘zip’ sound when scoring the glass is a tiny detail which I’ll definitely use.