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Metcalfe nursing student turns lockdown hobby into lucrative business

Three months after watching her first stained glass how-to video on YouTube, Allie Johnston launched Sunshine Stained Glass.
Stained Glass artist/owner Allie Johnston.

What began as a pandemic hobby is quickly turning into a profitable side business for a young nursing student in Metcalfe.

Crafty by nature and restless during another lockdown, Allie Johnston began teaching herself how to make stained glass in May by watching videos on YouTube.

In just three months, she was good enough to sell her work and take commissions for personal portraits.

“I was able to pick it up quickly,” Johnston explains with understatement. “It seems that everyone picked up a hobby during the pandemic. I was attracted to it because I was tired of being inside. I wanted something I could do outside. I like working with my hands, working the glass and metal. And I love the results; the way it hangs in the sunlight and transforms a whole room.”

With support from her parents, the shy 20-year-old U of O student cleared out a shed in their backyard, converted it into a studio, and started making stained glass panels, teaching herself how to cut and grind glass, mould and solder lead.

By August, Johnston was good enough at designing glass panels, jewelry and garden stakes. She created a brand name, Sunshine Stained Glass Art, and started posting her work on Facebook. When she saw the enthusiastic reaction to her work, Johnston began rethinking her plan to limit her stained glass ambitions to Facebook posts and Christmas presents, and stymie those offers to buy.

“When I saw the feedback I was getting from my family and friends, I knew that this was something people wanted,” she says.

Commissions started rolling in for stained glass portraits of loved ones, and at a recent Metcalfe Night Market, Johnston sold everything; more than 30 pieces, priced between $25-$150 a piece.

Not bad for her first market.

“I was getting so many orders I was overwhelmed, I had to pull back. I've had so many people tell me the stained glass brings me so much joy to look at this in the window, it helped me to keep going.”

Johnston's work is elegantly simple with strong natural colours that glow in the sunlight - things like red cardinals, yellow tulips, blue hummingbirds. She turns glass into jewelry, sun catcher panels, spinners and garden stakes with flowers, pressed flowers, geometric window hangings and 3D glass birds. Each piece can take as long as six hours to make. Eventually, she wants to build up her skills to do full windows.

“The way they shine and reflect the light is mesmerizing,” she says.

She's currently working hard to finish her line of nature-inspired sun catchers, garden stakes and jewelry for the Metcalfe Night Market, on August 18, between 5-8 p.m. Johnston will be one of 45 vendors selling local and handmade wares.

“It's all I've done this summer. I work until I go to bed. It's therapeutic. With music or a podcast playing, I can spend the whole day out here.”

She's teaching her mother and sisters how to make stained glass too, so they'll be ready to help fill Christmas orders which are already piling up.

“I want them to be ready.”

Johnston's going to continue operating Sunshine Stained Glass as a sort of pop-up business, making new products and appearing at county markets, special events and online until school begins and life returns to normal.

“I know this will always be something I do,” she says. “I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. I'd rather work than do anything else, because I love what I do.”

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