Monday, January 18, 2010

History Lesson: The Blue Window

So, after seeing our first lamps at House on the Rock, which, by the way, were listed as being "far superior to original Tiffany lamps" (more about that later), we decided to try our hand at stained glass.  We never gave a thought to making shades; we merely wanted to try to make a window.

Not having any tools or knowledge of what to do, I armed myself with library books on the subject, which were helpful, but also rather daunting.  Reading about something and then actually doing it are two different things.  I was intimidated.  Carl wasn't.  Carl doesn't get intimidated, he dives in and makes stuff happen.

By the way, did I ever mention that Carl and I are two very different people?  I am by nature a pessimist with a capital P and Carl is an optimist with a HUGE capital O.   He is also a perfectionist, which adds another P to the mix...however, I digress:

We took a stained glass class through the tech school in 1980.  Every Tuesday night we trekked to Black Creek to the elementary school for two hours.  We felt so old, for most of the people in the class were retirees and we were 22.

The teacher taught us the rudimentary basics:  "This is your glass, this is your glass cutter.  The line you cut is called a 'score'.  You score the glass with a steady, not too heavy, hand and then you break the glass along the score line. It should break where you want it to, if you do it right.  If it doesn't, try again."  Okey dokey.
Pretty basic.

He was a nice enough man, but Carl wasn't too impressed with his technique.  "If your cutting isn't too accurate, don't worry too much.  You can always fill in the gaps of your project with solder."  The way I was progressing, most of my project would be solder (which really cuts down on light transmission, by the way!) but Carl had other ideas and being a perfectionist, no gaps were allowed.

We found out soon enough most of the folks in the class were returning students and the reason was largely because the teacher had a glass grinder and they didn't.  After scoring and breaking glass, there's usually some rough, sharp edges on a piece which can be smoothed away with a diamond headed wheel on a glass grinder.  The downside of the tool is it's expense, around $300 back then, which is a pretty stiff price for a once in awhile hobbyist.  So, all week long the students were cutting their glass projects at home and then bringing it with them to class where they stood in line for the lone grinder.  Needless to say, the line for the grinder was long. We really didn't want to mess with the retirees, especially when they were armed with sharp glass, so we kind of hung back and only ground one piece to give it a try.

Since grinders were and still are fairly expensive we didn't know if we'd really enjoy glass enough to justify the purchase.  So, back to the drawing board.  Carl had an old motor at home which he retrofitted with a replacement diamond head bit and after adding a table for the water to sit in and other details, we had a grinder of our own.  It weighs in at around 50 pounds, so throwing it in the car for class every week was an endeavor, and it is very noisy, but it works.  We still use it to this day, though we do have another purchased grinder, too.

We graduated the class somewhat and then headed home to work on our own.  Carl's parents wanted three stained glass windows for their new house and another couple wanted a small custom panel for their home, so Carl set to work on them and did a beautiful job.  They were all done in lead came which is one method of doing large panels; the other method is copper foil which is used for panels, too, but also the preferred method for stained glass lamps. 

Carl was doing great with the glass, so then feeling I was missing out,  I decided to give a small round window a try.  I didn't have the confidence necessary to make a window the 'right' was a half-hearted attempt at best and one fraught with tears, even.  I wanted to pass Carl's inspection process which was rigorous, and was failing mightily.  I suddenly felt as if I were back in high school home economics sewing class again, being the only student with a patch on her garment due to a failure to install a zipper correctly and after 14 tries, ending up with a mess.  (My home ec teacher suggested I take a shop class instead as it was apparent I may be more suited to working with hammers.)  By the way, I did learn to sew, around ten years after high school, and I even enjoy it now, go figure.  I'm a slow learner.

So, my first window/suncatcher was a cob job, looked awful, and when it finally let loose from it's suction cups where it hung in the dining room window and hit the floor, causing 50% breakage, I was glad to toss it out.  Carl fished it out of the junk and it still sits in a box in the basement.  (Carl cannot throw anything away, you see.) 

The next attempt at stained glass was a joint effort and one that nearly ended stained glass as a hobby for us.  We started on the infamous (to us) Blue Window.  Simple enough, about 30" x 24" and floral with maybe around 150 pieces or so.  We started out with Spectrum glass which is a machine-made glass and very easy to cut.  I could cut alright, but I was lacking in the perfection area again.  I would cut and grind a piece but there was always something wrong with it, usually too small or not this or not that and Carl would send me back to the drawing board.  Finally, after remaking one piece over and over, and still meeting with criticism, I threw in the towel.  Stained glass is very expensive, and I was ruining it.   I was childishly discouraged and couldn't see the difference between what I was doing and what he was doing, so I quit and since the window was supposed to be my project, so did he.  The poor Blue Window sat stalled on the work table in 1980.  

We had other things to attend to; we were both working full-time,  the boys were born, we started gardening and I started sewing and stained glass was a reproach to me since I felt I'd failed.  The Blue Window haunted me whenever I sat in church and gazed at the beautiful stained glass there.  Little children and stained glass and lead don't mix too well, so that was my excuse for not taking up the hobby again after I quit working to raise the boys.  But as children all do, they grew up.  And the Blue Window was still there, mocking me.

By now it is 2006, and I came across some catalogs on stained glass supplies and saw a glass cutting bandsaw advertised.  Hmmmmmm....maybe with this tool I could get something done.  So, another $400 and we had a bandsaw.  The saw is a very useful tool, but definitely not the answer to anyone's stained glass dilemma, by the way, and the blades are so expensive (around $75 a piece) and, unfortunately for us, brittle.   But I had just spent way too much on yet another tool for this darn hobby to just let it sit, too, so I got gutsy, continued to work on my glass cutting techniques and Carl got a little less picky and finally, after 26 years, the Blue Window was done.

There it is, below.  Not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination and lacks attention to color, but something that hung over my head almost three decades was finished and gave me the courage to try another and another and grow in this craft.  So, that's how it started.


Cathy said...

Were we in the same Home Ec class? I still have nightmares about that jumper I tried to make--yikes!! Even now, I can barely sew on a button....

Karen said...

I wonder if we were in the same class? Oh, I'm glad you had the same experience! (Well, not glad, per se, because it was a downright awful time, wasn't it?) I swear that class contributed to my first ulcer!