Wednesday, February 26, 2014

79, Front Door, part 10, Leadlights, part one.

Much searching was done to find a suitable design for the leadlight panels. In keeping with the Victorian style, (and much to my wife's disappointment!), I felt that the pattern had to be kept to a more basic 'geometric' theme. From what I was able to establish, the more flowing floral patterns didn't begin to evolve until closer to the Federation/Edwardian era, some 20 or so years after the period 'my place' is modelled on.

Of all the designs I shortlisted, the entry sidelights on the Presbytery at St.Monica's, in Footscray, (a building which had already given me much previous inspiration), seemed to provide the best example of what I was searching for. Elements of the pattern also recurred in many of the other windows I had considered. Interestingly though, it also seems to me that all the upper glazed panels in this doorway, were made at a later date, judging by the patterns and glass colouring. 
The narrowness of my panels precluded anything too fancy or elaborate. Painted stained glass pictures were also considered, and even though they were used in the door frames of "Foynes" and "Eastcourt", I discounted their inclusion for the same reason, along with a reluctance to research, learn and master yet another new 'skill'!.

One thing that was obvious from the outset, was that the design would need to incorporate a number of rondels, the spun discs of glass, for a more authentic look. Initially I didn't envisage this being an issue of any concern. However when contact was made with a local supplier, I was rather taken aback at the quoted retail price of about $25 each, which didn't include the extra 10% for GST. The figure that was reached, when that number was multiplied by the 36 of them which I required, was way over the top and far above what the budget could be stretched to. Many more enquiries were made and the cheapest price I was able to locate came in at a much more reasonable $13, (including GST). This supplier however, had very little in stock and a very limited colour range.
The other problem I found was that the smallest size provided from any of the suppliers was 60mm, and they ranged upwards from that. 24 of the rondels I required however, were to be about 40mm in diameter. I followed all the leads I could procure, contacting every glass 'worker' in the region, in an attempt to find someone who could possibly make them, to no avail. (A special mention though, to Laurie at Nudibranch Glass, your help was much appreciated). The best that could be offered was an attempt at forming them by slumping. I figured that if it was possible to make them like that, I could have a go at it myself.
Initial heating of clear glass, using my gas torch, until it 'flowed' seemed positive, however, when I fragmented some red glass and attempted to melt the pieces back together into one, this was the result!;
It became quite evident that there were sciences involved here which were beyond my level of expertise!

Further investigations ensued and I began to look further afield. Enquiries were made OS, to the U.K. and the U.S.A. to find a source for a reasonable price. I was surprised that no Asian suppliers could be located, given the amount of other imports that are produced there. After the exchanging of many emails, I had success with an English company, Tatra glass. They were very helpful and supplied me with the 36 rondels for a shade over $200 Au, including shipping. On receipt, I was surprised to discover that they were very thin, about 2mm. All the others I had seen seemed to average about 3-4mm. I am led to believe that previously, the glass used in early English leadlights was also this thin, so it may be normal for them over there. The colouring in the glass was very dense, so if they were any thicker, they would probably have been too dark.

The downside of the deal was that very little padding was placed in the bottom of the package and 4 of the green ones, which were obviously first into the box, were shattered in transit. Their delicacy, being so thin was probably a major contributing factor.
Receiving no response from my email to the supplier in an open effort to obtain replacements, alternatives were sought. 

A couple of green bottles, pulled out of the recyclables, had there bottoms removed to see if they were suitable. As can be seen however, they seriously lacked the right look.
Trying to make best use of my time, having a couple of weeks leave, attempting to get as much of the windows finished as possible, I reached a point where I could not continue on without them. I was a bit annoyed at having to make a trip to Melbourne to find replacements.

After two ports of call and parting with $72, I returned with four more that were a little darker, but looked pretty good when viewed in the shop. They were about 70mm in diameter however, and after grinding them down to the required 50mm and fitting them in a panel, they appeared nearly black. The contrast was going to be too great with the originals, even though they were in separate panels.
A second trip was then undertaken, this time with more success. In the above photo, an original 'pommy' rondel is the third one along. The almost black appearance of the first replacements is obvious on the right. In my defence, they did have a lighter tone before the thinner perimeter was removed and the lead was wrapped around. The first one is a sample, procured during my initial searching months beforehand and the second is one of the final replacements, purchased at the same place as the sample, with the same label at $13 each. It was obviously from a different batch and was a far closer match thankfully, as the first showed more tinges of yellow. This was the reason I didn't initially source these as replacements.

As I already mentioned, I was unable to buy rondels in the sizes needed, being 40 and 50mm. All were 60+mm in diameter, so a lot of grinding was needed. It wasn't long before my fingers were suffering, cut and bleeding from holding the sharp edges, a solution was needed. After a bit of exercising of the old grey matter, the answer was the V shaped plywood holder, shown in the above picture. With angled steps cut into the inner edges it worked a treat, needing no refinements and my digits were able to heal!.

The 24 blue rondels, being smaller, took the most work, obviously evident with this 'before and after' photo.

Being a bit rusty as it has been quite a number of years since my last leadlighting efforts, I thought it might be prudent to take photos of the panels prior to soldering, should I make a horrible mess of them!

The four side panels were tackled first and with them out of the way, the transom sash panel was tackled. It was intended, from the outset, that this would include the house name.
Our property sits at, what was, the back corner of a much larger farm which was owned many years ago by my Aunt and Uncle. It was accessed from Vickerys road, which was named after them, and backed onto my Grandparents farm, 'Flaxbourne'. It was purchased it when the couple were newly married. The marriage subsequently failed in the 1950's and the farm was sold, the grandparents also selling up about this time and retiring to Torquay.

Much subdividing later, the original farmhouse has long gone and I know of no photos of it. The only clues are in pictures such as this, of my Aunt and very young cousins, taken on the verandah in 1947, showing it's very rustic nature. Daffodils now annually mark the site, the only tangible evidence of it's existence.
In memory of my family's connection with the area I felt it fitting to perpetuate the name 'Claremont', the name bestowed upon the farm, prior to the time the 'Vickery's' lived there, and carried on by them.

How the name would be worked into the panel was another topic of discussion for quite some time. The length of the name and the smallness of the panel ultimately precluded it's formation in leaded form. The letters would be way too small. My favoured method was to apply it in gold leaf, which is then backed and outlined with black paint. Anita, my wife, though had other ideas. She feared that the 'blobby' look, when viewed from inside, would look terrible. That idea was then dismissed.

Scouring my photo collection, I came across this image, taken of a shopfront in Sorrento. It shows an etched panel, fitted into the leadlight panel over the doorway and we both liked and agreed on this style. The next question was how?!.
Googling the topic, I found that this sort of work was historically done using hydrofluoric acid. It is very nasty stuff and no clues were available on how to get my hands on some, so to speak!. After much more browsing, I managed to procure a couple of kits containing 'Etchall', a non acidic etching cream, very cheaply off eBay.

Once I had it, I done a few tests. It was very easy to use and the results were very sharp, although I thought the etched surface was fairly smooth and lacked real definition. For fine lettering of glassware it would be perfect, but I thought that for doing the background on a large panel it would look too soft.
For the artwork, I had done the design in my CAD program and engaged the services of a signwriter to cut out the adhesive lettering. (Thanks Maty, job well done!).  He questioned my method, in order to supply the correct vinyl; "was I going to sandblast it?".

That had me thinking and I remembered a cheap gun I had purchased many years ago and put away, giving it up as a bad joke. With nothing to lose, I dug it out and began playing with it. Serious problems were still evident, not being able to sustain the sand flow. As purchased, the sand was drawn up via a suction tube which I never found successful. I had cut the tube short so the gun could be inverted and the sand gravity fed. This only worked marginally better.

What had me smiling though, was that the texture it produced was eminently more suitable for my purpose. It had a much rougher, more glittery texture. This had me investigate further and I was fortunate to be able to procure some commercially supplied, proper 'blasting' sand. I found that this worked almost flawlessly in the gun. It appeared that the cause of my problems was the various self sifted sands, which I had been trying, were all too 'sharp' and they clogged in the tube. The test sample above, next to the cream etched 'A', certainly boosted my confidence. The section across the top, including horizontal line, was blasted harder, at close range to test the strength of the vinyl. It was penetrated a bit, as can be seen, and the shade of the texture around it is slightly darker.
Testing over, it was the moment of truth. I only had one 'stencil' and if I mucked it up it would be a number of days before I could get another.

To say I was happy with the result would be a gross understatement!. For continuity, the same oak leaf design, as used on the door panels, was incorporated, as can be seen.
Many people have already questioned the date selected. From my research, I have found that historically, when buildings were 'dated', the year of the physical application of the date was apparently used, as opposed to when the building was started, completed or otherwise.
The big problem now was to keep it looking this good while it was fitted into the panel!.