Lead for Stained Glass

My mind is still racing with possibilities, but spring-time has well and truly arrived and is distracting me with a vengeance.  

Good weather lures me out of the workshop and onto long dog walks in favourite local haunts like Hosehill Lake and Wokefield Common. The greenhouse beckons, reminding me that we are now definitely into seed sowing time, especially vegetables and there’s digging to be done at the allotment. It’s my Granddad’s fault. As a child I was enchanted by the long veg plot running the width of his garden, the greenhouse that was akin to Crystal Palace, well at least to a five-year-old, and the musty potting shed with strings of onions hanging by the door, home-made wine gently fermenting on shelves and lots of lovely old gardening paraphernalia. 

Anyway, on to what I think of as the really traditional bit of what I do, using lead. 

Lead for stained glass is H-shaped to accommodate the glass, and when it arrives is so soft and pliable, I find it hard to believe it can hold anything together, let alone become part of a strong, solid structure. It comes in long, coiled up strips and glows with a tempting lustre, inviting me to create something on a grand scale. 

Think big windows, a myriad of colours sparkling jewel-like in the sunlight, not just any old window but windows on the scale of churches, no, cathedrals! It’s so tempting but, back to reality. Large in terms of stained glass windows involves things like steel support bars and installation, which is not really my thing. I marvel at how these things were achieved on a grand scale in medieval times with the available technologies. No convenient electric kilns, ready-made paint formulas available off-the-shelf, temperature controlled soldering irons, or notions of health and safety. I mean, medieval women even used to wear lead as make up, seriously!

Using lead as a way of sticking bits of glass together is a far cry from the gentle process of applying copper foil which I described before. It’s demanding. This I had forgotten by the time I had by light-bulb moment and embarked on my journey in glass art. It is not the sort of thing you can do while drinking a cuppa.

I have a lead vice, which is supposed to hold the lead while it is gently stretched to give it tension. All well and good, but in reality the lead slips, so it’s a two-man job, a real tug-o-war with me holding it in place at one end and my son pulling for all he’s worth at the other. It’s one of those ‘what would the neighbours think’ type moments! 

Then it’s a question of making sure I stick to the plan and end up with something the right size and shape. Funnily enough, I find creating a circle easier than a square or rectangle. I cut each length to measure, easing my half-moon shaped blade through the core, a process of applying strength, but gently so as to not warp the lead. Slowly but surely, my design comes together, piece by piece, glass then lead, hammer horseshoe nails into the board to hold it in place, check the size and the shape again, add another piece, and so on until the last length of lead is secured in place and I am ready to solder. 

Then the sound of birds filters through the gap in the workshop door, tempting me outside to admire the primroses and Lenten roses flowering their hearts out nearby. This year, I am resolved to fit in as many as possible of all the other things that get in the way of my art. But then, resolutions are made to be broken!  

By the way, the Open Studios Insight exhibition has been postponed until September. The piece I intend to submit has been finished, but now I have more time, I may change my mind and create something else….


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