The single most important supply any stained glass artist is always seeking is a perfect pattern. Whether it’s making a suncatcher as a gift, a window for your home, or a custom piece for someone else, you always start with a pattern. Since most of us aren’t artists in the sense that we can draw our own designs, we need some help in this area.
By now you have probably discovered the myriad free patterns available on the internet. A quick search for “free stained glass patterns” turns up thousands of possibilities. But what if you don’t want to wade through thousands of possibilities just to find one specific pattern that will suit your needs? Here are a few ideas for finding a perfect pattern or making your own.
Check Your Local Stained Glass Studio
Since my husband and I opened our studio, we have offered a low-cost pattern creation service to our customers. Since Jim is an artist in the classic sense, he is able to take a photograph or even a vague idea and convert it to a stained glass cartoon (the official term for stained glass patterns). If you check in your area, you may find a similar service at a local studio. We even create one free pattern for anyone who takes a class from us.
Stained glass studios generally have some free patterns to give away. For example, Spectrum Glass Company produces a newsletter which contains several full-size stained glass patterns, and sometimes has project directions for fused or mosaic glass work, too. They distribute them through local stained glass stores.
There is also a gold mine for stained glass artists which is available to all of us for free: it’s called your local library! Check yours for books containing stained glass designs (they will be in the craft section). Remember that patterns for quilts and other crafts are usually adaptable to stained glass work as well. Most public libraries participate in an inter-library loan system, so check with the librarian about how to easily get books from other libraries, too.
Once you find a good book, make copies of the patterns you like (even if you aren’t planning to use them right away) and keep them in a pattern file for future use. My “file” has turned into a huge storage box which I have filled with file folders, each having a different theme (Florida patterns, angels, birds, etc.). Be sure to start out with some organization – it took me almost an entire day to sort and organize my “thrown in” patterns a while back. Now I set aside time each week to properly re-file patterns I have used. Remember to check your files whenever you need a pattern for a new project.
Ask others. If you know other glass artists, ask them about their designs and patterns. Try stained glass forums, etsy groups, and others. There are many other glass artists willing to share their work, or trade for something you have created. Also ask your local stained glass studio if they sponsor a glass guild or other group in which glass artists share ideas and encouragement.
Create your own stained glass patterns.
I know this sounds hard, but try these ideas to make the process simple. First, take a look around you. There are all kinds of shapes and sizes (like circles and squares) which you can convert to beautiful stained glass patterns. I make hearts, snowflakes and abstract suncatchers using this technique. I even trace the some of the shapes (like circles) using items I have in the studio, or a stencil purchased in the Dollar Store. You can also use nature: trace a leaf, photograph an interesting building, press a flower, then adapt them to make a pattern.
If you need a specific picture for your pattern, go to www.yahoo.com and locate the search block. Just above it is a list which includes “image.” Click on “image,” then type in the picture you want (like “cat” or “hedgehog”). This will produce a variety of images of that very thing. Choose one you like and adapt it to create a stained glass pattern. When you find a picture you like, put it on your light box and trace the outline using thin tracing paper. Divide it into pieces to form the pattern.
Remember things like logos and cartoon characters are copyright protected. Don’t use them unless you get permission from the copyright holders.
One of the best ways to create your own pattern is through your own pictures. Take photos of things you want to create in glass. Scan them into your photo editing program and make a pattern. There is a great tutorial for converting all your pictures and photos here.
If you are creating a lamp, you face special challenges. But there is a wonderful free site to help you get the proper angles and sizes. Make your own lamp patterns at with this tool.
I have heard some artists say they found patterns by searching coloring books. These are inexpensive and have outlined pictures for a child to color. There are probably some that will work, but most of the ones I found were far too complicated to convert to a glass pattern.
A few final tips:
No matter where you find your patterns, don’t hesitate to be creative. Take elements of several patterns and combine them to make new designs. Use the wings of one butterfly with the body of another. Let your creative energies flow. If you need help formatting your pattern to a specific size, check with a local blueprint company. They do a fine job for us.
When you convert pictures to patterns, be very careful about your lines and connections. Make pieces in shapes and sizes you can cut. Don’t leave huge, long strips of glass as sky-break it up with clouds. If you need help with this aspect of pattern-making, your local glass studio should be happy to assist you.
Have fun creating just the right pattern for your specific needs.