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  • Maggie Courtis

Creating a Pattern for Stained Glass

Updated: Jan 12

To achieve success making a stained glass window, start with carefully creating a pattern with a well-planned design. The next step is to create the pattern. Finished sizes, space for lead or copper, and keeping organized are important.


  • The design created on graph paper

  • Plain white paper

  • Card stock paper

  • Carbon paper

  • Tape, blue painter's tape is preferable

  • Colored pencil - red is my favorite color for this

  • Pattern Scissors

  • Envelopes

The card stock and plain papers should be as big as the pattern. If you have to piece together card stock, tape the paper together using one long strip of tape connecting the two pieces of card stock paper along the entire length of the edges that are joined. Don't use only a few smaller pieces of tape placed intermittently with gaps. When you cut out the pattern each pattern piece that is cut from more than one piece of paper needs to be held together along the entire length of where the separate pieces of card stock paper join together.

Create 3 copies (total) of your pattern

1. The original is on the graph paper.

**This is the "master” or the copy giving you the exact size of the finished window. When all of the glass pieces are cut out, the window panel is built on this graph paper. Lining up the border pieces on this graph paper at that step in the process, when you're building the window, enables you to be precise.

2. A copy on plain paper.

** As you cut your glass glass lay the pieces on this copy to keep the organized and see what is completed, what is left to do. If your glass is organized as you cut the pieces it will be in order - you won't have a pile of glass pieces to assemble like a jigsaw puzzle later.

3. A copy made on card stock.

** This copy is cut with special pattern shears to give you pattern pieces.

Assemble the paper and carbon paper

how to layer paper with carbon to create 3 copies
  • Tape the card stock to your table surface using one piece of tape on each corner. If you've taped together smaller pieces of card stock to make one larger sheet of card stock, put the tape side down.

  • Place carbon paper on top of the card stock with the carbon side down.

  • Lay the plain paper on top of the carbon paper, taping the corners to the table.

  • Place another layer of carbon paper on top of the plain paper with the carbon side down.

  • Lay the pattern on top of the carbon paper, taping the corners to the table.

Trace and Label the Pattern

Using the red pencil, trace over every line in the pattern. Using a red pencil makes it very clear which lines you've traced and what is left to complete.

Label each piece with all the 3 pieces of information.

1. Number the pattern, giving each piece a number. The most efficient way to number pieces is to start in one corner and number down.

2. Label each pattern piece with a code to designate the glass used for that piece.

3. Label each pattern piece with a line, which can include arrows, to designate the grain. Glass that isn’t a flat, single color often has a pattern of swirls, lines, or other color variation markings. When cutting glass with markings it is important to have consistency of how those patterns flow through the overall design.

This illustration shows the graph paper copy. You can see the Fitting Line, the outer perimeter of the finished piece, and the Sight Size line. You have the line half way between these two lines, which is the size your glass needs to be.

shows border - both the sight line and the fitting line

The exterior border lines up between the Fitting Line and the Sight Size line on the graph paper when you assemble the window.

When you're duplicating the design on the cards stock, because you are creating pattern pieces, trace over the center perimeter line, the cutting line.

finished and sight sizes are shown

Follow this link to our blog post about sizing your window for more information on these perimeter lines.

labeling each piece with all needed information

Notice there is a notation on each pattern piece with all 3 items of information labeled: number, color, direction of grain. Of course if there is no grain on the glass used you don't need the notations for grain.

When you think you're done, lift the tape from one corner, but leave most of the tape in place. Check your copies to make sure everything looks right before removing all of the tape.

Using Pattern Scissors`

lead pattern shears and foil pattern shears cut different sized channels

Cut the card stock into pattern pieces using pattern scissors. The pattern shears remove a channel, leaving a space for the lead or copper. The channel in the lead came takes up more space than the foil tape.

In this illustration of the cuts made with pattern scissors, the wider space is made with lead shears, the narrower space is made with copper foil shears.

The stained glass pattern scissors have 3 blades enabling them to cut these channels but also making them a bit tricky to use.

the blades of the two shears are sized differently

the shears have a blade the cuts through 2 blades, taking out a channel from the paper

I find it easiest to use the pattern shears by:

  • taking tiny little nips at the paper rather than making long cuts

  • keeping the shears open rather wide with the paper pulled into the fulcrum of the shears rather than keeping the paper at the tip

  • using the shears with the single blade at the top, cutting down into the paper, and the double blades at the bottom

spaces have to be considered for the finished piece to end up square

Why is it important to use pattern shears?

It is extremely important to use pattern scissors specially made for working in stained glass to achieve the goal of using pattern pieces that are sized properly.

Imagine you are setting bricks. The bricks are sized differently. They all line up nicely when stacked close together. But you have to add the grout for the bricks, which is an analogy for the space the lead or copper foil takes. Once that grout is added, taking a bit of space between each brick, the space taken up by the bricks and grout is larger and the bricks don't fit together.

Organizing the Pattern Pieces

As you are cutting out the pattern, sort your pattern pieces according to color. Put all the pattern pieces of each color in separate stacks as you cut. Put each stack of like colored pattern pieces in a separate envelopes, one envelope dedicated to each color. Put all of the envelopes into a large envelope that holds everything without bending any pieces.

Now you're ready to start cutting glass.

Keep the pattern pieces together in their envelopes, sorted by color, and maintain their integrity and this organization throughout the cutting process. You may need to refer to a pattern piece later when you’re assembling the window. Your pattern pieces will serve you best if they are in good repair and if you can find them.


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