How to make stained glass: Steady hands and confidence are essential

Gemma Tipton offers a beginner’s guide to taking up a new cultural pursuit

Whether you’re transported by church windows or seduced by Harry Clarke’s masterpieces, James Earley has illuminating views.

Earley? That rings a glassy bell

“The family ran a stained glass studio,” Earley says. Set up in 1864 as Earley and Powell, it became Earley & Company based at 1 Camden Street, now the J D Wetherspoon Keavan’s Port hotel. “The rose window at reception was the original entrance to the business. Sadly, the studio closed in 1972. At its height, it employed over 100 people and had the largest stained glass viewing gallery in Dublin.”

Is stained glass all ecclesiastical?

No, though an awful lot is. Earley, who also works in graphic design and graffiti, cites artists, including Niamh O’Malley, working with stained glass. On the religious side, William Earley, James’s great-granduncle, has stunning windows at Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin.

Can anyone do it?

“It is very similar to all artistic media. There are entry levels, from the keen hobbyist up to artists, and studios that realise large-scale, bespoke works.” See if you have a feel for it with craft kits, from painting, cutting and gluing, even to a small microwave kiln – which obviously suits the jewellery end of things. There are courses around the country, from evening classes (see, for example, to the National College of Art and Design, to studios offering workshops. Inquire at your local arts or craft centre for information.


Then I can start to do big windows, right?

Not quite yet. It’s a rich field, with lots of variations, and a huge range of skills to master. You’ll need to discover the difference between antique, cathedral, streaky opalescent, wispy, dalle de verre, waterglass and Tiffany glass. Then there are the essential tools of the trade including, according to Earley, a glass cutter, grozing pliers, lead-cutting knife, lead cane, flux, solder and soldering iron, and horseshoe nails. It ain’t cheap, so make sure you’re definitely into it before you start acquiring.

You’re losing me

Come back! It really is lovely. Earley enjoys “the contemplative and meditative moments when I’m engrossed in the conceptualisation and creation of an artwork. It’s very grounding and cathartic.” Then there’s the experience of seeing your work in situ, which Earley says is mesmerising. “Up until that point, it has mainly been on the fitting bench or on a light box. The resonance of tone from natural light illuminating stained glass is unparalleled.”

I’m all for mesmerising catharsis, what skills do I need?

“If you’re the organised, technical type that has an artistic inclination, I think that’s more than enough to get going,” says Earley. “A steady hand, confidence and conviction when cutting glass is essential.” The rest, he says, “comes with time and hands-on practice”.

And can I make a living at it?

Yes, if you’re good. Currently working with the Patrick Kavanagh visitor’s centre in Monaghan on a stained glass and mural project, you’ll find Earley’s glass at spots from Dublin’s Devlin hotel to St Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School. Commissions tend to come from people contacting him via his Instagram and website. He is also collaborating with the brilliant hand-cut crystal people, J Hill’s Standard, while continuing with his large-scale mural work and studio art practice.

Lose yourself in Harry Clarke’s The Eve of St Agnes on permanent exhibition at Dublin’s Hugh Lane, see Niamh O’Malley’s Gather at Temple Bar Gallery and Studios until April 30th, seek out more around the country with David Caron’s Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass (Irish Academic Press) as your guide, and find James Earley’s work on Instagram and online at

Gemma Tipton

Gemma Tipton

Gemma Tipton contributes to The Irish Times on art, architecture and other aspects of culture