handbuilt rhubarb forcing pot

Perhaps you’ve heard me talk of the rhubarb pot, that essential of the Victorian kitchen garden, and one of those beautiful objects that functions so simply to extend the growing season. Forcing rhubarb to reach for the light, warming and protecting it to set it growing earlier, and producing a fine, sweet, early fruit – this is the purpose of a rhubarb pot. Looking elegant in a walled garden is a fine off season occupation. When I saw the other potters handbuilding giant pots, I had to try making one myself.

patting

Enormous thing. It will shrink by almost a quarter as it dries, mind. Mine is unconventional not only in being handbuilt, where most rhubarb pots are thrown or cast, but it is also singular in using white clay, where terracotta is traditional. Still, it ought to do the job, or at least be sculptural. Let me show you something of the technique I learned.

press

The trusty press.

pressed

After wedging the clay, and adjusting the height of the press to a good thickness, say, half an inch, the clay is flattened in the press.

compressing

A rib is used to compress the clay on both sides, to smooth and strengthen it.

slip

As with any handbuilt thing, scoring and slipping connects the pieces – wide slabs that we slice and stand up and curve to meet. Any repairs later can use paper slip. Wonderful fortifying stuff, just wet clay with paper soaked til fibrous, not unlike papermaking.

applying

Just a slight overlap is connected. Scored, slipped, pressed, then worked smooth. Applying the next piece to the outside makes the thing wider; to the inside curves it in. Many of the potters built the piece half way up, then flipped the entire thing and worked on it that way – but because a rhubarb pot is entirely open at the base, and only curves in at the top somewhat, I left it.

bat

Knocking the clay into shape is one of those most gratifying tasks. It is amazing how much shaping can be done with a bit of brute strength and courage, as the clay doesn’t simply move but compresses. This bat is wrapped in twine to discourage the clay from sticking to it while it is the consistency of cool butter.

dart

I still needed to remove some clay with darts, work redolent of dressmaking. By this time I was standing on a step stool to reach into the pot, turning it on a lazy susan.

muriel

Isn’t it a wonderful process? I adore the wheel and must be torn from it. Yet somehow this technique felt more compelling than a coil pot, and the proportions are fascinating to me. Consulting with my friend and mentor, Muriel, the potter at Winter Creek. I’m so lucky to study with her. She talked me through the most wonderful bit of throwing, to make a handle for the lid.

You might like to watch a Victorian thumb-sprinkler being thrown, another fascinating bit of historical pottery.

stoneware candlesticks

Learning to throw all kinds of things on the pottery wheel is a joyful thing! One of my greatest delights was to learn to make useful, beautiful, ornate candlesticks. These form the first part of my new collection for appleturnover, a series of handmade tried & trues.

stoneware candlesticks

Over the last couple of years I’ve found my rhythm, making them. I center a base of clay on the wheel, and pull 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. I love the concentration required, meditative and therapeutic.

stoneware candlesticks

I’m inspired by ornate, baroque forms, and a pale and muted, aged european sensibility. I’m playing with variations in shape with these, and different sizes, like chess pieces, the queen, the pawn. I’m particularly fond of the elegant way that beeswax drips off their curves.

stoneware candlesticks

These are stoneware candlesticks, fired hot, with a smooth, matte glaze that I’ve been told looks a bit edible, like a glaze of icing on pastry. 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 winter. Not a bad state to be in, really.

stoneware candlesticks

I’m throwing them in the local studio along the winding road through the forest surrounding our cottage. 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?

stoneware candlesticks

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p>Have a look at the new collection of stoneware candlesticks and other tried & trues in the shop.

carding wool

We’ve had a series of early autumn afternoons that were just right for sitting out on the porch, drenched in pale sunshine, and doing some handwork. I’ve been carding wool.

carding wool

This is a bit of local fleece, already washed by a friend. It’s full of woody bits, so carding outside is perfect as it sends them flying. I love the action of pulling at the fibres, with the carders brushing in opposite directions, large arm movements and strong ones. The sound! Therapeutic. And a workout, the pleasing, destructive-productive kind, like wedging clay or hammering hot iron. Then small movements, with the carders paired handle-to-handle, to roll up the fibre again, all clean and brushed out in beautiful alignment, ready to spin, or full, or needle-felt, or stuff into some kind of wonderfully useful thing, which is what I’m doing with it. Speaking of ready to spin, I’ve set up the old spinning wheel I’d brought from England, I want to show you very soon.

You might like to read about our experiments in dyeing wool with plants, too.

potter’s case

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.

potter's case

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.

potter's case

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.

potter's case

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.

potter's case

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.

ceramic candlesticks

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.

ceramic-candlestick-s.jpg

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?

I hope to finish the bases for the turned wooden candlesticks very soon, I shall show you.