Stained Glass Window Design Process


CustomWindowI used to be afraid of the design phase of a commissioned stained glass project. But now it is one of my favorite parts. I spend way more time on it than I should, but it is because I get totally lost in the design process. I have tons of books that I use for inspiration as well as searching the internet. An image search is a great way to get color and design inspiration. After I’ve filled my head with images and ideas, I draw my design using a program called GlassEye. This again takes way more time than it should because I am forever tweaking the design. Knowing when to stop can be the hardest part.

Before I actually start drawing a design though, I meet with the client. Sometimes clients have an idea of what they want. Sometimes they don’t. Often clients ask for flowers and humming birds. And I will admit that my own first stained glass piece was indeed flowers and a humming bird. But there are so many more possibilities. On occasion, I will work off of a pattern on a piece of fabric in the room. That was the case in the stained glass window pictured above. The clients wanted to obscure the outside view but let as much light in as possible. Their window treatments had a leaf pattern that I used to frame the window on a trellis.  Sometimes the client wants something traditional and neutral. In that case I usually recommend different types of clear textured glass and some beveled glass. The piece I am working on now is inspired by a sunset photograph that the clients loved. They also love the bright colors associated with New Mexico. This was a really fun piece to design.

Stained Glass Design TemplateAfter the design is approved by the client, it’s time to make the pattern templates that I will use to cut the glass. To do this I lay down some poster board. On top of that I put a layer of tracing paper. Next is a layer of white paper followed by another layer of tracing paper. The final top layer is my computer pattern. I trace over all of the lines of my pattern. Then the bottom poster board layer is cut up to make the templates that will be traced onto the glass. The white paper layer will be used as my layout piece. This piece goes on my workbench and the window will be built on top of this piece.

Once I get past this necessary step, the fun really starts. That’s when I get to start cutting out the glass.

4 thoughts on “Stained Glass Window Design Process

  1. chaniarts says:

    you need a light box.

    i draw my pattern directly on paper. you can get 36″ wide x 100′ rolls of paper in the teaching supply places. cut the glass by placing the pattern on the light box, then the glass on top of that. if the cover of the light box is thick enough, you can cut directly on that. otherwise, draw the piece lines on the glass, remove, and cut on your bench. you then have the large pattern to build the panel upon.

    before i got a light box, i used a glass dining room table. put a large floodlight on the floor aimed up. i’ve also taped the pattern to my sliding patio door and used sunlight coming through the door.

    on glass that is too dense or dark to see the lines, then i put a sheet of paper over the pattern on the light box, trace that one piece, cut that out, and use that for a single piece pattern.

    this saves you a LOT of time, you don’t need multiple copies of the pattern, you don’t have cut out all the little pieces of cardboard, and aids in quickly cutting the glass.

    for obscuring glass, a very light sandblast works well instead of using patterned glass. you can also then blast a like pattern onto the glass. i made a large window screen with a desert scene for someone trying to obscure a bathroom window like this.

    • Margot says:

      What you are describing is the English method of cutting glass. That is actually the way I first learned to cut glass. I don’t have a light box, but for all transparent pieces of glass I placed the glass over the pattern and cut. In my opinion, this requires more skill to get accurate cuts. The time I save cutting the pattern is offset by the time I spend grinding. When I cut using a template I have minimal grinding time; sometimes just grozing will do the trick. I still use the English method on occasion. I figure someday I will be as good at that as cutting with a templates. For the piece I am working on now, however, all of the glass is opaque.

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