On Saturday I went with a WI friend for a fabulous day at Alma House on a workshop making a stained glass nativity. Alma House is our WI federation’s office in Ripon.
We were all very different levels of experience, one lady had made a stained glass panel at Denman College before, my friend Theresa had done a workshop on stained glass birds at Alma House last year. I’d never done anything like this and really didn’t think I would manage to make a whole nativity in a day…
Our tutor for the day was Rachel Poole, she was great, she had prepared us all a box of equipment which include one piece of glass already cut out, this was either Mary or Joseph. These two shapes made the templates for all the figures, our neighbour had the other one so we could swop templates, basically it was a kneeling person and a standing person.
First lesson was how to cut glass, I didn’t find it easy scoring the glass along a wavy line, and trying to break it ‘like a kitkat’ was somewhat scary!! Luckily the next stage was grinding the edges, this neatened off all the bits I cut badly and allowed me to add curves where I’d missed them off completely!
Whilst I was waiting to use the grinder, Rachel suggested I looked for some glass to make a stable, I found a small circle in her box, but I then cut a circle shape for the back, I was particularly pleased with this one, I actually managed to cut an OK circle!! This photo from the internet shows the technique pretty well.
The soft lead was wrapped around each piece of glass, that was quite satisfying as you could see it starting to come together. The heads are made from glass nuggets which are rounded on one side and flat on the other, Jesus had a tiny one and the lambs head is more opaque. We arranged all the pieces on our boards so we knew we had everything the right way round before moving on to the last part, soldering…
I’ve never done any soldering before, it was quite scary to start with! We worked in pairs again, one holding and the other soldering, you certainly had to trust your partner as the heat coming off a 1000’C soldering iron an inch or too from your fingers is pretty intense! We both kept having to remind each other to add tallow, a beef wax without which the solder won’t stick. It was fascinating watching the solder move, a bit like mercury, I still don’t really understand how it doesn’t break the glass just from the heat.
Once the basic figure was soldered we could add the extras, such as shepherds crooks, crowns for the kings and a halo for Jesus, these are made from silver wire and Rachel had shaped them already, all we had to do was solder them on. I fancied a star on my stable too, Rachel gave me a length of silver wire, I decided to make it a shooting star so I would have enough contact points to secure it, so I bent a five pointed star with a long tail that curled round at the base, this gave me several points to solder.
Solder cools almost instantly, and once the sets of figures were soldered together at the front they could be bent round so the group would stand. We then filled in the back of the join with more solder.
I am well chuffed with my nativity, as well as amazed that we all completed a whole set, three kings, three shepherds and a sheep as well as Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
I think this was one of the best workshops I’ve done at Alma House, Rachel was great, she kept it fun whilst making sure we were safe, she was patient and an excellent teacher.
My nativity is on display on my fireplace and it can stay there until after Christmas now, you don’t get the effect of light through it but it is safer up there and I can always put some Christmas lights around it!