There’s a wonderful pottery studio deep in the highlands, down a winding road that leads through the woods. I’ve begun throwing pots on a wheel there every week. Clustering round the wood stove, sharing cups of tea with some lovely potters, is very good too. I’ve so craved this work since I studied in England. I want it to be a permanent, regular practice. So, I pulled out my beloved old travel case, battered and stained from years of art materials at school, and fixed it up as a pottery toolbox for my devotions to clay.
Clay tools are such appealing things, and a vintage suitcase is just the thing to organise them. There’s something about claiming a spot for tools and materials that is so affirming of any endeavour. The writing desk makes the writer, and so on. I think so. Like hanging a musical instrument on the wall, it is a declaration of commitment.
I find that I am better at keeping a thing tidy, and using it often, if I think it is beautiful. With a bit of leftover milk paint, I stained the fabric lining from a loud red to a quiet grey. No doubt it will all be pleasingly clay-spattered soon enough. The make-up mirror puts me in mind of train journeys and face powder. Perfect for checking one’s reflection after a muddy day on the wheel.
I’ve tucked my plaster sprigs and stamps into a pocket of the new potter’s case, and a linen apron, given to me by a lovely English potter, folds neatly on top.
Quite important to leave space for tea, and for tins filled with snacks! Look out for images of my ceramic work soon, here, on instagram and other friendly places – I’ll be stocking my own, new studio shop.
First I threw a large plate onto a wooden bat, which is stuck to the wheel with clay. The plate is wired off but left on the bat to dry to leather-hard. I cut and played with the edges to scallop them, I love it! Then I centered the plate upside-down on the wheel. I scored a circle, and made a coil of new clay to fit, then threw the pedestal up off the plate with that clay. If you use too much water the plate will turn to mush, so it is a tricky business.
I ought to have let the piece dry upside down as well; it fell somewhat, but is still charming.
The children and I made spelt angel cakes, using my grandmother’s trusty sifter to get it as light as possible. I couldn’t find any icing sugar that was certain to be pure, so we decided to use whipped cream, sweetened with stevia to ice it. I coloured some of the cream pink with a bit of juice from raspberries. This is my first rather squishy experiment with a cake-decorating tool. Rosettes, how nice!
My grandmother’s old cake stand carried one cake, and mine the other. I’m quite pleased with how the stands act like a plinth to a sculpture, adding a bit of ceremony to match such a treat as a birthday cake. Served with homemade raspberry lemonade in my grandmother’s extraordinarily fancy collection of china, it was a proper tea-party!
p>(Update:Now you can special order a cakestand from appleturnover’s lakeside studio – just write me a note!)
Maybe you’ve noticed by now that I become quite beside myself with joy at learning to throw all kinds of things on the pottery wheel. One of my greatest delights last winter was to learn to throw candlesticks.
At first my attempts were a bit wobbly, then a bit stodgy, but after a few tries I found my rhythm. As you can see, I simply centered a base of clay on the wheel, and pulling it up very narrowly. The trick is to keep a finger tucked in the spinning top of the candlestick, once delicate fingers have formed that shape, to steady it as the undulating forms below it are pinched. Otherwise it tips and collapses. These are stoneware candlesticks, fired hot, with a glaze that I’ve been told looks a bit edible, like a glaze of icing. Combined with the intoxicating scent of my children’s hand-dipped beeswax candles, we should be a bit ravenous for honey and cake all through the autumn. Not a bad state to be in, really. What do you think of them? I’d love to make some more ceramic candlesticks, perhaps in the local studio in the cove that we’ve begun working in, where they fire earthenware. My children still want me to make an old fashioned candleholder with a curved handle to carry around. Perhaps they imagine themselves walking around with an open flame, wearing Dickensian nightshirts?
Although I have several projects on the verge, none are quite finished to show you. Boat-building is almost done, and I was delighted to get the proper foot for free-motion quilting on my antique singer. A few ceramic pieces have been bisque fired, but must wait through the spring break to be glazed. Even the earth seems to be just bursting, almost there, tiny green leaves dotting the hedges. So, an almost-finished project.
I may have shown you my first jug, I’m ever so proud of throwing this one. I love it for wooden spoons but I may swap them for daffodils now that the hundred-odd bulbs I planted in the autumn are beginning to bloom.
I came across a gorgeous jug and got it for a fiver at a country fair a year ago. I have been dreaming of making one inspired by it, ever since. I love its flamboyant curves and the elegant handle. My tall girl loves to fill it with her lemonade and edible flower concoctions. Just now it is holding more utensils that I must keep out of cupboards, where the mice still reign.
A raw clay jug, finished today, a study in reference to the country jug. It is a little more reserved and its spout was a struggle, but I think it should serve us well. One can never have too many pitchers, particularly on beautiful spring days like this one. Such a week of illness we’ve had, I’m keeping it simple as I’ve been devoting lots of time to helping the children feel better, and eating good, cleansing food. I hope to have some finished things to show you in April. In April! Have a lovely weekend.
(Update: If you loved these pitchers, have a nose around the shop, or if you’re in Victoria, BC, come by the lakeside studio & shop to see my latest work.)
Not so long ago I came across a beautiful Victorian garden tool, simply constructed out of terra cotta. A thumb sprinkler, fascinating object. Like a closed bell, with perforations on the base and a hole at the top, the thumb sprinkler is plunged into a bucket of water to fill, then the thumb-hole is covered. Held over a batch of delicate seedlings, the sprinkler releases droplets just perfect for wetting the earth whilst leaving growing plants undisturbed. An antiquated spray bottle. Not unlike my droplet decanter in design. Clever! I told my dear pottery teacher Katrina about it, and being amazingly wonderful, she made one for me, and one for you. Would you like to see her throw a Victorian thumb-sprinkler on the wheel?
Settling the clay on the wheel; bringing the clay up and down twice over; centering; widening; opening up; compressing; bringing the wall up; compressing the rim; pulling up; compressing; pulling; collaring; soaking up water; wetting with slurry; closing in; refining the shape; coning in; clearing the slurry; cutting in; wiring off.
The finished, perforated, glazed and fired sprinkler. I’m using it to care for lettuces & seeds in my greenhouse.
Katrina Pechal makes absolutely gorgeous, textured work with volcanic glazes, completely unlike the beautiful Victorian sprinklers she made for us. She also teaches, with astonishing clarity and delight, wheel-throwing in her Forest Row, Sussex studio to adults and children. I love studying with Katrina.
From the beginning of September I’ve been studying wheel-throwing once a week in the next village. Pure joy. Half a year later I’m making things I’m pleased with and excited to use in the old cottage. Would you like to see?
These pieces were slipped in white before a biscuit fire and glazed again in white. They’ll be fired once more, I have high hopes that they’ll come through this last step beautifully. This image of my stoneware was made with the enchanting Instagram, which I’ve grown very fond of, with its nostalgic filters and squared frames. I take pictures of everyday making and occasional adventures with it, if you’d like to follow appleturnover. I love to see the amazing images people are making.