Beautiful stained glass patterns first popularised as lampshades by Louis Comfort Tiffany at Tiffany Studios were originally each handmade from individual designs. Crafted from cut glass into the shapes of swirling flowers, dragonflies or spiders in webs, the glass pieces were welded together and hung on a heavy lead base. Today, stained glass craft-persons and amateurs can follow any number of patterns available at craft shops and online to make one of these stunning pieces.
If this is your first time attempting a stained glass project, you will either need to buy glass-cutting and soldering materials or take a class on stained glass at a local art studio or craft workshop and work there on your project. Starting out by making a Tiffany lamp, in either case, is a rather impractical project, which will probably need to be supervised closely by an intermediate or professional stained glass craft-person. Perhaps buy yourself some glass, glass cutting tools, copper foil, a soldering iron and solder to start out, and try something small that you can hang in the window. Plants, fruit and insect shapes are advisable projects to start with, since these are the kind of shapes you will find in Tiffany patterns. Work your way up with mission-style stained glass lampshades, as they will follow similar conventions for making the shade, but the glass pieces tend to be more standardised and structurally shaped. This is a good intermediate phase before attempting a Tiffany lamp.
Look for craft merchants who sell kits for making Tiffany lamps with pre-cut glass pieces and the corresponding vase caps and bases to construct the lamp. In this case, the soldering and foiling might be your only task, which will be enough of a project if you don't have much experience. Otherwise, the help of a professional glass cutter is strongly advised when completing your pattern and cutting the glass. This is the most delicate part of the process, and error is likely.
Once you have mastered some small shades and are confident in your own or your partner's cutting ability, find yourself a Tiffany pattern or, if you are an artist, ask the teacher at your studio to help you design one yourself. Study the designs produced by Tiffany Studios, and other work of the Art Nouveau period, until you have a clear idea of the what you want on your lamp. Reference other stained glass lampshades to get creative and mix-and-match until you invent what you are looking for. Take extreme care to ensure accuracy when tracing pieces of a pattern. A light box can supply you with enough light to see the pattern underneath the paper or cardboard upon which you trace it. Cut out your own shapes and pieces to create the look yourself.
Creating the lamp
Using the small shapes and pieces of the pattern you have copied on paper or cardboard, cut the glass, foil it, and place it together, making sure each piece touches the next. Solder the pieces together before carefully washing and drying them. Line the glass flat, in an unfinished circle, and tape it together with masking tape at the top and bottom. Pull the glass up and into the position of a lampshade when it is still malleable. Solder the bottom of the lamp evenly before soldering the top and intermittent seams. While the shade is still standing up, remove the tape gently. Depending on the type of lamp you are making, follow your pattern's advice on installing the vase cap that will match the lamp base.
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