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Sara Hardin: Stained glass for your garden
This season's guest and giveaway host shares tricks of the trade.
A note from: Up until a tragic round of layoffs this past spring, Sara Hardin worked for me as a writer at Brunette Games. She brought creativity in spades, and the two of us had a grand time collaborating on quite a few projects, most notably Puzzle Villa. Creative types often excel in more than one art form, and Sara’s a great example of that, as she’s since gone on to launch her own thriving stained-glass business. This ancient art is both functional and beautiful, and it’s exciting to see its resurgence. Here’s Sara to tell you more.
For much of my adult life, I’ve been a serial hobbyist. This became especially clear during the early days of COVID, when I was desperate to fill my time with something that would keep my mind—and hands—busy. My graveyard of hobbies from 2020-2022 includes knitting, crocheting, watercolor painting, baking, and half-marathon running. To this day, the tools and half-finished projects from these various leisure pursuits sit abandoned in sad little corners, collecting dust.
Note to self: Lay these poor souls to rest during Spring CleaningTM 2024.
I had embraced hobby-adopting as a quirk of my personality until I took a beginner stained-glass course at The Glass Workbench in St. Charles, Missouri, at the end of 2022. The experience sparked something in me, and I knew from the first class that this “hobby” had the potential to turn into something much more meaningful. My hunch was correct, as just a year later, I’m managing my own small business: Just Peachy Glass, LLC.
Just Peachy is run out of my home basement in a small space wedged between our water heater and washing and drying machines. My husband—whose support even of my fleeting hobbies has always been unwavering—helped me set up a little workshop with a small work surface and storage for my tools and supplies. It’s not glamorous, but it gets the job done!
Now, let’s talk about the process: The two most-used techniques for making stained glass are the leaded method and the copper-foil method (also known as Tiffany glass). I’ve been trained in the latter.
Everything Stained Glass offers a great explanation on the differences between leaded glass and copper-foil glass, if you’re curious!
Here’s a breakdown of what goes into a Just Peachy Glass piece:
Step 1: Cutting the glass
After selecting the pattern and the glass, the first step is to transfer the pattern onto the glass. This can be done in a myriad of ways, but I choose to use a light box to trace the pattern directly onto the glass with a permanent marker.
Then, I use a glass cutter to score the glass along the marker lines. Depending on the type of line, I use running pliers (for long and/or straight lines) or grozing pliers (for small and/or curved lines) to break the glass along the score line.
Step 2: Grinding the pieces
Grinding is essential to make sure the pieces fit together neatly. Glass grinders use water to assist with temperature control (so the friction doesn’t make the glass too hot to handle) and to ensure glass dust doesn’t end up in the air.
Step 3: Foiling
Here’s where the copper foil comes in. Copper-foil tape is meticulously wrapped around each piece of glass and smoothed with a plastic fid. Tape can be backed in a few different finishes, including copper, silver, and black. The color of the backing depends on whether the artist decides to leave the solder on the finished piece silver or if they choose to use copper or black patina. More on that later.
This is arguably the most time-consuming and fiddly part of the process, but it’s also one of my favorites! I will often put on a TV show or audio book and just foil for hours at a time.
Step 4: Soldering
Soldering is when my inner perfectionist fights for her sanity. While I strive for beautiful, seamless solder lines, they’re incredibly difficult to accomplish without patience or ending up with a dreaded heat crack in one of your pieces. Naturally, the glass gets incredibly hot during the soldering process, and it can actually break if you linger on one area for too long. Of course, perfect solder lines depend on keeping all the solder at the same temperature (read: hot). It’s a delicate balance, and the execution of this step has a massive impact on the finished product. No pressure!
Step 5: Patina
For many of my pieces, I prefer the look of black solder lines. This is accomplished with the use of a special chemical that instantly changes the solder lines from silver to black. It’s like magic, and my inner nine-year-old playing with baking soda volcanoes is thrilled by it every time.
Step 6: Polishing
After everything is soldered comes a lot—like, a lot—of cleaning. My preferred method is to use Dawn dish soap and a melamine foam sponge to make my solder lines shine and remove any marker or soldering gunk from the glass. After it’s all lathered up, I rinse it with water and let it dry. Then, I apply a polishing compound that gives the piece a protective layer of wax to slow any oxidation on the solder. The next day, I buff the entire piece with a microfiber cloth and go over every nook and cranny with a toothpick to make sure no residue is left on the glass or solder. The importance of this step cannot be overstated; if any amount of flux (a harsh, highly corrosive chemical agent used in the soldering process to clean and join the metals) is left on the piece, it will result in dull glass and solder over time. Thorough cleaning ensures increased longevity and brightness for the piece you worked so hard on!
Step 7: Admire!
Now, for my favorite part: finally seeing the piece in the sun! I’m constantly amazed by how the colors and textures of glass transform in the sunlight. At this point, many, many hours have been invested in putting a piece together. It’s time for pictures, videos, admiration, and back pats!
Needless to say, this art form has transcended hobby status for me. I love sharing my process and finished pieces on my Instagram page. If you’re near the St. Louis area, you can catch me on December 9 at the Laumeier Holiday Pop-Up Shop! Feel free to also take a look at my website, where you can find a link to my commissions-request form and the occasional ready-to-ship stained-glass piece.
Lastly, a big ‘thank you’ to Lisa for inviting me to share my work with Brunette Gardens!
We’ll be giving away a special stained-glass piece we commissioned from Sara just for Brunette Gardens readers. Who’s eligible to win? All paid subscribers, current at the time of the drawing at 9 am CDT on Monday, November 27.