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Rebuilding 2 Amazing 100+ Year Old Windows

All glass speaks to me - but some creations leave deeper impressions. I was honored to be tasked with rebuilding 2 beautiful windows with deep sentimental value.

Anne's father acquired the windows sometime in the 70's but no one knows where they came from... Anne and her Mom shared memories of them arriving at their home dirty and broken. They even made a move with her Dad to their new house. They were found, after he passed, in one of his cabinets in his workshop. I got the impression speaking with her that he was always going to do something with them - he saw their beauty under all the dirt.

The windows were adopted by Anne in the exact same condition they were in when her Dad got them - maybe a little dirtier and it's possible some more glass broke... The windows were miss placed (you know put in a safe spot - so safe you don't remember where) and feared lost forever. Anne actually told me about them a couple years ago and that they were gone. This spring her husband re-found them in the garage!!

When I received them the metal frame was brittle and enough of the glass was broken or missing and they swayed when moved. The red glass in the center - I thought it was 100% opaque! I couldn't figure out who and when made opaque red glass...

Jasmine and I worked together - I did the first couple pieces while she watched then she joined me. See, the lead came (the metal striped between the glass pieces) was in such bad shape that we were able to pull with our hands and break it off most of the window. Normally you would have to cut or "lift" the came to save the glass. On the stubborn pieces I used a came knife to cut through the came and peel it off the glass. We saved every little piece even the broken ones!

We laid all the glass out and were amazed - we could completely rebuild half of the large window (one repeating pattern) and what was left made a slightly smaller window in the same style.

At this point we had no idea what we were going to create. We weren't sure how much of the glass was savable. We carried all the glass upstairs and it sat for a day while I figured out the best way to clean it. Not only was there decades of dirt but the glazing putty was stuck to the edges and stuck tight! At some point in one of the window's life it lost a 5" x 5" panel of glass and a very badly done repair was made with thin regular window glass. I still have no idea what they used to 'seal' the replacement in but they smeared the gray stuff all over the adjoining pieces.

We were blessed with a beautiful day and Jasmine and I filled tubs with dawn and a hot water outside. We scrubbed with a nylon bristle brush and scrapped at the putty with a plastic fid. Jasmine polished the glass with a microfiber cloth. There were a couple pieces (the ones with the strange gray fix on them) that had to be carefully scraped with a knife and then buffed with my secret weapon (sorry not telling) As we worked with the glass it became obvious the window was older than I thought. I could see tell tale details in how the glass was made - it was not modern. I have no way of replacing any of it.

Some of the glass would have to be cut to fit the new design and one of the clear pieces surrounding the floret needed to be replaced. There was only one piece of glass large enough the make the cut. Don't worry - it was successful.

We use the copper foil method - next up was the soothing task of wrapping each piece in foil and burnishing it. Normally foiling is just a step I have to do. But not on this project! I thoroughly enjoyed studying each piece and thinking about the history and where the window might have come from. What kind of house it was made for. I love history. As I worked I made a few observations. This was when I figured out that the red glass is actually semi-opaque!!

The thickness of the glass varied greatly over just a few inches (this is problematic for foil work) and then I remembered something I had heard years and years ago. An old wives tale about how glass is actually a liquid and if you look at the old stained glass windows you could see that the glass had "moved down" and was thicker on the bottom. (Glass is a solid - it doesn't flow down in the window) The craftsman understands the weight and balance - the thicker parts were placed down intentionally.

The gorgeous green glass was extremely wavy on both sides and the glass rocked when I burnished it. The curved cuts were made out of the thinner sections of the glass sheet so that they were easier to cut. 

Finally I was in awe of the original creators cutting abilities. The cuts weren't all that accurate (they don't have to be in leaded work) but the edge that was left was clean and without chips and sharp spots. They were straight down! Jasmine noticed right away when we were dismantling the windows that they didn't use a grinder on the edges like we do. This isn't unheard of leaded work, even today, so I didn't think too much of it until I got to spend all that time foiling each edge. I bet you will never guess how many inches of foil it took... 604"!! Yep, I had to measure LOL

Next up - soldering! We have a small studio so I only had room for one panel at a time. I started with the smaller one... I squared it up and even used my pins (I'm a rebel and try to skip this step usually) I used a lower heat setting because the glass is old and it's been thru a bit already and honestly I have no idea what it can take. Soldering was as nerve wracking as cutting the only big piece of clear! It took longer and more patience but I got thru it successfully. Then I switched to the larger one - no issues! I finished the windows off with a zinc border and added reinforcements through it. I selected a hanging method that lets them cut the loop and file it if they want to have them mounted in a wood frame at some point.

Finally the windows were brought upstairs and gently cleaned and polished (the worst time to break a glass project is when you're all done and I've done it) and jack chain was added to hang them.

The night I completed the windows I laid awake for a long while thinking about how old they really are. Who made them and what style are they? They are both from the same residential home - the original larger window was in the wall exposed to the elements. I believe that the smaller window was actually placed in a built in cabinet door. I will probably never be done researching these windows but as it stands I believe them to be created about 1915 - 1920 and made in the Strongly Geometric style.

When Anne received the windows completed she said she wished her Dad was here to see; this is what he would have wanted done with them. The biggest shock for her was the vibrant beauty of the green and that the clear glass sparkles like new and as you might have guessed we both cried a little. We got them done in time for Father's Day. Anne surprised her Mom with one of the panels - both women have hung them in their front windows and (can you guess) more tears - just writing this causes me to well up.

Thank you Anne,

Cheryl