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Commissioning Ecclesiastical Stained Glass Windows
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By Garth Evans, Recclesia Stained Glass

As producers of commissioned stained glass, the studio at Recclesia is often asked where to start with the commissioning process. The process of commissioning a window can be quite overwhelming and a little daunting – but don’t worry, we’re here to help and have lots of clients who will testify to how easy and enjoyable we make the process! As a starting point, we have put together a point by point guide to commissioning your new window.  

     A contemporary commission at the St Mary’s RC Primary School Chapel, built 2010.

Put some thought into what first prompted the commission
In an ecclesiastical environment perhaps it is a memorial with an inscription or perhaps an opportunity is presented by a repair/remodelling program. If you are a member of the church committee (PCC or Fabric Committee perhaps) try to establish a brief which will clearly convey your ideas to prospective studios. Think about involving your local community in coming up with ideas for themes – you would be amazed at how much talent is hiding in your congregation!
Write a brief
The subject matter of the window will sometimes be determined by the location, existing windows, a particular theme, or simply the whim of the patrons – but whatever the case you also need to think about budget. There are costs throughout the various stages, which include preliminary concept, detailed design and subsequent translation of the design into the cartoon (the full size drawing of the window). Create a list covering essentials, (the ‘must haves’) and the ‘desirables’ (the ‘wouldn’t it be nice if ...’).  What theme are you looking for: biblical; personal or local? Is the window going to be symbolic and contemporary or a traditional scene? Are there existing themes and styles within the building that you would like to continue, or at least complement? Are there windows somewhere on the planet in a style you would like to emulate? If the commission is part of more extensive re-ordering work, incorporate the full scope of works into your briefing document so that everyone has all the information.
Select your studio

The selection of a studio is much the same as for other trades where recommendation is often hard to beat. If you do not have ready access to a list of studios, the internet can be very useful and should also give you examples of the studio’s work and most usefully a number of reference sites or previous clients who will provide a testimonial. The best way to choose a studio is to go there and look around. All good studios will allow you to do this if you
give them a call!
Commission the design process
Most studios will provide concept sketches free of charge, but most will charge a small fee for the production of the final design. Concept sketches are quickly drawn, rough sketches to put across initial ideas, whereas the final design will be an actual representation of the window. Templates of the window aperture will be taken at this stage.
Bottom out the design

 A typical vidimus

A small design (technically known as a vidimus) will be prepared with colouring applied and the lead lines marked. The designer will take into account the client’s ideas, the structure of the window, the nature, colours and even the size of the glasses available. A wide range of glasses are available at an equally wide-range of prices! The exact position of the lead which holds the glass in place is part of the calculated visual effect. Don’t worry about asking for changes – most designs evolve over several revisions. Once finished, the final cartoon will be submitted to the client for the design to be signed off.
Get permission
Depending on your organisation and the size or significance of the project, there may be a number of approvals that have to be obtained, possibly at different stages in the life of the project. For instance the Church of England or Wales will require you to obtain a ‘Faculty’. Once granted, some Diocesan Advisory Committees (DAC) may require a project to be overseen by their art and architecture panel members. Getting approval granted can be a difficult and long-winded process but any good studio will be able to help you with the process by providing all the necessary documents, which will include a detailed specification of the proposed window. Don’t get jaded by the process – it is worth all the paperwork!
Commission the window
This is the exciting bit and puts the design into production. A deposit usually in the region of 40% is usually payable, but as with any contract, terms and conditions should be negotiable between the parties and payment profiles can be established to suit both sides.
Stay involved

All good studios will try to involve you in the process of making your window. Studio visits are a must for anyone commissioning a window. Take a camera and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Put up some photos of the studio process in your church to keep everyone up to date. Some studios will even let you help make a section of your own window if you ask nicely enough!

Works in progress

Installation day
After a long process of design and production, installation often takes relatively little time at all. Make sure you let everyone know the installation date – you will be surprised at how big a crowd this can draw. Most churches have a service to dedicate or celebrate the installation of the window on completion. You will also be presented with the inevitable final invoice for payment!
Recommend the studio
Most stained glass studios get a significant amount of business through word of mouth and referrals so if they have done a good job, let people know!


Recclesia Ltd specialises in the conservation and restoration of churches, listed buildings and ancient monuments. Acting as principal contractor, our team has over forty years of experience in specialist works to some of the UK's most outstanding buildings. 

To find out more about Recclesia click here
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