Sunday, 5 August 2012

Stained glass - getting ready

I am about to do something I always thought foolish in others.  I am going to go on a short course hoping to leave it with an object I want to keep.  Normally I arrive and try all the techniques rapidly, aiming to get an understanding of the principles of any craft.  Making stuff comes afterwards, when you understand the limitations and possibilities and have time to think about how desire and skill can interact to produce an outcome.

I have booked on a two day stained glass course in the Malvern SWORCS summer school.  I have wanted to try stained glass for ages, just being put off by the need for the wrists to work adequately to cut the glass.  I am hoping that, with the aid of a wrist brace, good tools, and some help, I will be able to do enough to enjoy the session.

I have a need for a stained glass piece.  Our living room is overlooked by a balcony, and it would be useful to keep something on the window sill that blocked this view without blocking our view or the light.  I have a pot of snapdragons I got from the farm shop yesterday in that position - it gives colour and shape but isn't too intrusive.

So, planning ahead.  Looking at the kind of stained glass pieces one can buy at craft markets I suspect my aspirations will be too high - I don't want a tile shaped piece made of three blobs of colour.  I'd like to have a piece at least 30cm high, and something I am happy to look at everyday.  I have been looking at the photos I took of reflections and ripples in the canal basin in the spring, and have been working on designs based on this.

There is a form of quilting called stained glass, where you lay fabric pieces on a background and stitch in place using black bias binding.  Each piece has to connect to the others.  I thought if I rustled up a quick one of these I would get some ideas for the glass piece.

I started with this photo:

I then drew a sketch and coloured it in with pencil crayons.  I liked the shapes but thought that the intricacy and number of shapes would make the project impossible.  I simplified it and coloured in with felt pens.  Some of the plain pieces I lightly stippled - imagining textured rather than coloured glass. Frank Lloyd Wright used stained glass pieces where a lot of the glass was clear so that the view wasn't obscured, and I am aiming at something like that.

I started cutting little bits of bright fabric out of the old hand-painted ties I have, but the silk was too slippery and hard to control.  I switched to some cotton sheeting I dyed a few years ago.  This seemed appropriate for the colours.  The rather livid colours I had available needed a foil, and I found a small piece of what looked like black hand dyed fabric at my local sewing store, and a mottled pale blue for the background.  I used some fine wrapping paper to take an outline and used this to cut out the shapes in the fabric.  I didn't pin or tack, so  a loss of precision occurred at this step.

I should have course have been more careful.   I should have ironed the fabric first.  I should have numbered the pieces, or at least laid them out one by one on the drawing so I knew where they went.  I piled them onto the drawing, but having to tidy things away in the middle meant that I ended up not being too sure where all the little bits belonged.  I used the drawing to position the larger pieces,and then placed the others where they seemed appropriate, and to fill large gaps.  At this point I lost sight of the fact that these colours were part of a real scene, and each piece should have been connected back to a real object.

I started stitching these bits together, just layering the slips of colour on the blue fabric.  After a while it started bunching so I cut out a piece of thick felt ( some fabric they use for making tennis balls, got from the artist scrap store during Wimbledon) and this made the fabric easier to manage. I stitched pieces on, I stitched between pieces, imagining they were pieces of glass that had to be held together.  I forgot about the image, and lost the vertical and horizontal nature of ripples and reflections.

I don't think much of this piece.  It is rough, flawed, and doesn't look very interesting.  It has lost the ripple effect because I thought of the black lines purely as holding lines and not as image.

This little project has made me think a lot about how the line, colour and space need to be managed in stained glass. Rather than thinking of colour first I need to think of line and then infill with colour as needed.  From that respect it was a very useful thing to do.

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