Repairing our little gems of Domestic Stained Glass

Stained glass is the term usually used to describe highly elaborate painted church windows and domestic leaded glass is generally called leaded light. However now there are occasions when stained glass is used to great effect within a domestic setting. 
In 1840 the Gothic Revival was just beginning with renewed interest in all things Medieval. Very soon the Arts and Crafts movement were promoting the use of leaded lights in a domestic setting and this was usually around the front door. These panels most usually depict floral motifs and natural forms. Some stained glass in the more grand houses, had painted detail too such as birds or local scenes depicted in roundels. These days we take this form of decoration in domestic architecture very much for granted in buildings of a certain age. Of course being a stained glass artist myself, I am still excited when I am asked to work on these little historic gems! Lead cames have a life of approximately 100 years so its no surprise that there is a steady stream of front entrance panels in need of some tender loving care and expertise. A recent project I have worked on is just one of these beautiful windows dating from the 1890’s. 

Taped to avoid falling apart

The door had recently slammed and as the lead was very weak the centre had ‘popped’. There was a risk of the whole painted bird roundel dropping out and so, as I was unable to get to site for a few weeks my customer took the sensible decision to apply a sticky tape to the inside and out to protect it from falling! 

A comprehensive rubbing, much like a brass rubbing.

Once in the studios my first jobs were to remove the tape and to take a rubbing of the panel. The lines represent the centre of all leads and I use this as a guide to cut new pieces of glass and to lead the panel back together. On this rubbing I made notes on the lead sizes, the position of the strengthening bars and the sizes.

Taking apart the old lead

Then I started to carefully dismantle the stained glass. There were some previous repairs and also a few badly broken pieces of glass. I wanted to retain as much of the original glass as possible but in some cases this was out of the question. I was able to source glass of the closest possible match for these areas. 

All glass cleaned and new pieces cut

Once apart I can recut any badly broken pieces and clean the glass ready for leading.

Leading can begin, note the traditional horseshoe nails used to hold the glass and lead together in progress.

I lead the panel together using leads of the same width and profile as the original. Then I apply a tallow flux to each joint in preparation for soldering.

Tallow to act as a flux for the solder

I use a gas soldering iron for soldering my stained glass. The electric soldering irons are great for a hobby and for copper foil work but when faced with acres of leaded lights to restore I need the constant heat from a traditional iron. Standing waiting for the electric iron to re-heat is not an option in a professional studio! I show the iron here with a yellow flame so you can see it but usually I have it on full with a hot blue flame.

My treasured glass iron!
When the panel has been soldered I can then cement it and give it a final clean before soldering on the copper ties. We use these to fix it to the bars withing the door as added strength.
Then we fit the panel and it is back to its former glory. Hopefully it will be good and sturdy for another 100 years or so (door slamming not recommend!)
And the window is in.
Sparkling and looking great.

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