Tag Archives: pottery

Souvenir Makes No. 4: A Swedish Christmas

26 Jan

Yes, I realise that, 3 months after returning from Scandinavia, I still haven’t finished blogging about it. However, I’m faring better than when I promised you I would post some articles about my Scottish road trip, and I didn’t complete the tale until 9 months later. My tardiness is slightly improving!

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Despite not completing my Scandinavian saga yet, I thought I would show you that my little Swedish dala horse cutter (which has already come in rather handy for festive baking) was put to very good use this Christmas – to make clay tree decorations.

The ubiquitous little wooden horses hail from the Swedish town of Dalarna, and are a national symbol which dates back to the 1600s. The most common dala horses are painted red, with a white, green, yellow and blue harness, but I read that you can find horses in a variety of colours, with each local area producing the wooden ornaments in their own special design.


I had enough clay to make seven, and I decided to decorate each with a different pattern. I used a tiny star cutter, which I bought to use in my pottery classes, although I think it was originally a cake decorating tool. I was able to attach the stars carefully to the surface of the piece, using a paintbrush and a bit of slip.


When the designs were finished, I used a dowelling rod to pierce a hole in the top of each one, so that I can thread ribbon through when they are finished. I left one of them sans piercing, as I am toying with the idea of starting a wall display of dala horses in my bedroom, and this is going to be the first one.


Given that each horse was only half a centimetre thick, I expected they would dry fairly quickly… not so! I patiently waited 2 weeks before the items could be fired in the kiln – then I set to work on painting the little creatures.

I tried to keep the colours to the traditional palette of red, white, green, yellow and blue, although I found that the poppy red and dark, galaxy blue appealed to me the most! I think it’s fair to say that none of the horses conform to the traditional dala design, but I am happy with the way they have turned out – especially the ones with the raised stars across the surface.

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One of our family traditions is the giving of a set of baubles each year. My mum, my brother and I each give a bauble to each other, so that no matter where we are in the world, we have matching Christmas trees. Over the past few years, I have been making a bauble for each of them every year, as well as one for myself. This year, my new sister-in-law Kate got involved with the family tradition, making a beautiful set of perfect crochet snowflakes! I can see this tradition running for years!

Finally, I come to the bauble I made for myself. I really loved the star designs, but for my own bauble I wanted something that reminded me of my wonderful adventure. I’m sure you can guess which one that would be! I painted mine, simply, with a blue blackground and a solid yellow cross, to depict the Swedish flag. My flat is so small that I don’t actually have a Christmas tree, but you can see my Swedish dala creation, hanging proudly on my aloe vera plant in my living room. I can’t wait to, one day, have him adorn a beautiful Christmas tree, which I’m sure he will do for many years to come.


Road Trip to Royal Worcester

20 Jan

I’ve been spending quite alot of my time travelling up and down motorways for work recently – I usually work in Yorkshire, but in the past few months I have also had a few projects in the South West of England. Although the long drives on congested motorways have left much to be desired, it’s been great to have time to explore a different part of the country.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been taking pottery classes for the past few months. A tiny proportion of readers may actually think I am slowly improving at pottery…but the jury is still out on that one!

Anyway, on a recent trip to Bristol, I had the chance to visit the Royal Worcester museum on my way back to sunny Doncaster. Royal Worcester ceased production after nearly 260 years in 2009, but some of the finest works have been put on display at the Royal Worcester Museum, which stands on the site of the original factory.  I thought a visit might give me some pottery inspiration, and I would learn a little bit about design trends and production methods.


Whilst I was there, there was a presentation by one of Royal Worcester’s professional ceramic painters. Ken Russell. As I visited on a quiet afernoon, I took my opportunity to ask Ken lots of questions, and he did his best to answer all of them!


Ken was working on some very intricate painting on teacups and saucers. He explained that the plate was fired then gilded, and then he needed to use a resin to painstakingly build up dots across the piece, which could then be painted when they reached the desired height.


Ken explained that the glaze used would sit proud on the resin, giving the exquisite texture on the piece, but without the resin, the colours would not have any height. There were so many stages in completing a plate, and Ken explained how the process needed huge amounts of focus and concentration, as one mistake could mean starting the whole plate from scratch again.


The pattern that Ken was imitating was from a famous Royal Worcester collection called the Dudley Service, which was made for the Countess of Dudley in the 1860s. The original set was so admired that a replica was made soon after, for the public to view. This replica set was on display at the museum, and I was amazed to see how fine the porcelain work was – when a cup was held to the light, the porcelain was so thin that the portrait painted on the outside was illuminated!


Given the concentration needed, I decided to leave Ken in peace and have a look at some of the other exhibits. The items on display were beautiful, intricate, and faultless. Although I have no realistic hopes of ever being able to produce a pottery item like those on display, I was at least able to get a few ideas for techniques I could use in my evening classes.

I especially liked the neat beading around the top edge of this pot (above) – this would certainly be something I could incorporate into an item. I also thought the Japanesque tea service was interesting, with its lozenge-shaped cups and saucers and raised flowers on the surface.

However, my favourite item of the day was a small, novelty tea pot, which Ken suggested I check out. This little teapot was produced by James Hadley in 1882, and is based on the characters from a Gilbert and Sullivan comedy opera. It is called the ‘aesthetic teapot’, and one side depicts a foppish man, eaching a green jacket ornamented wiwth a sunflower. On the reverse, you can see his female counterpart, also wearing green, but this time it’s a smocked blouse, decorated with an arum lily.

The Gilbert and Sullivan opera on which this item was based was apparently a satire of Oscar Wilde and the aesthetic movement – art for art’s sake. Despite the obvious stylisation of this item, it is still a fully functioning teapot, fusing art and function. However, I’m sure if James Hadley were alive today he would be horrified to learn that his satirical teapot had become the very thing it once mocked – art for art’s sake, as its sole purpose now is for visitors to view it and marvel at its design.

Despite what Hadley would have thought, I still loved it, and am glad I had the opportunity to view the beautiful creations at Royal Worcester. If you happen to be in the vicinity of the visitor centre, I would highly recommend a visit!


Four Go Glamping – update

23 Nov

You may remember that, earlier in the year, during the blissful, balmy Summer, my friends and I went glamping in Oxfordshire, and had time to visit a pottery studio during our stay. We painted mugs and jugs at Aston Pottery, using stencils and a stippling effect, and left our masterpieces here to be glazed and fired.


After a long wait, our items have finally arrived! Hannah, Kat and I met up recently, and opened the parcel to reveal our works of art. The patterns have come out really well and the colours have deepened during the firing. The glaze is smooth and even across the mug, and the finishe piece feels really professional! Katie painted a jug during the weekend, which has also come out really well.

It was wonderful to finally receive our items and remember our fantastic weekend. Katie wasn’t able to join us, but hopefully she will feel the same when she sees her creation!


My mug is now bringing sunshine to my morning coffee and desert heat to an evening cocoa on these long winter nights. I’m really happy with how the design turned out, and would defnitely try stencilling on pottery again – perhaps I may try this effect on something at my pottery class!

Pottery Butter Dishes

25 Oct

Don’t let my recent blogging hiatus fool you – I’ve still been trying my best to build my pottery skills to a point where I can make useful items!

One of the projects I started at the end of the Summer term of classes was a series of butter dishes. The kilns at the college reach a relatively low heat of  ‘only’ about 1200 degrees celcius, which means that the glazes are not fired enough to become either waterproof or frost-proof. This means that when you are planning your projects, you have to bear this in mind.

I hit on the idea of butter dishes, as the surface of the dish will be sufficiently non-porous to protect the butter, and will look great on the counter in the kitchen or on a shelf in the fridge.


My first butter dish was a total experiment. I rolled out a slab of clay, and, using a longish jam jar covered in paper as a rough mold, I shaped the slab into a butter pat shape. I had to leave the clay to firm up for a little while, and then I was able to fold the edges together to make the end result look a little like a block of butter in its original foil packaging. It was a litle tricky working with a slab in this way, but I was determined to see if it would work! I then used slip to seal the joins, and rolled a second slab to form a base.

To ensure that the top and the base dried evenly without warping, I slotted them together and allowed them to dry slowly, wrapped up in polythene for a few weeks. It was then fired, and painted in a high gloss. I’m delighted with the result! Ok, so it’s a little wobbly around the edges, but surely that’s part of it’s charm!


I learned a lot from making the first butter dish, which came in really handy when I moved onto making more.

For the second butter dish, I wanted to recreate that classic design of a loaf of bread. Learning from my previous difficulties of shaping a single slab of clay, I decided this time to cut one large slab to wrap across the top, and two, smaller, end slabs to fit in at the sides. I let all 3 slabs firm up, and afterwards, it proved much easier to assemble. The structure felt much stronger than it had on the orignal butter dish, as it had been fitted together properly! I made a slightly more decorative base for this one, and again, let them dry together, slowly, under polythene.

Painting this one was fun! I wanted to give the effect of a lovely, golden brown, freshly-baked loaf. I’m really happy with the crust colours, although I was hoping for a slightly less yellowy shade for the bread on the ends. I still think it looks great though. This butter dish is going to be a gift for someone, but I won’t reveal who yet as they might just be reading (I don’t think they read this blog, but I’ll keep quiet, just in case!).


The third and final butter dish for the time being was one that I had wanted to make for my Mum. I remember us having a cow-shaped butter dish when I was a kid, but I felt that my skills weren’t quite up to making  a cow at this point! Therefore, I decided on a simple design, accented with a giant curl of butter as a handle on the top.

As you can see from the pictures, my skills are definitely improving by the third attempt! Again, I made this one by cutting several slabs and assembling them once they had firmed.  For this one, I kept the base really simple, with a slight lip around the edges.

I’m not sure what you can see from the photograph, but the glaze on this one is gorgeous! It’s a sort of shimmery, iridescent variety of blues, swimming about. I had this idea to paint the base blue, and paint the top in graduating blues, moving up into white at the top. I got started, and was quite happy with how the work was progressing. I wrapped it up to continue work on the following week, but when I returned, the paint had all dried to a uniform colour and I couldn’t see where I was up to!


Therefore, I had to use a damp cloth to gently wipe as much as possible of the existing glaze off, and start again. I then mixed up some blue, white and transparent glaze and painted the whole item, base included, in the same colour, attempting to cover any existing traces of the original glaze work. Finally, I glazed the lovely butter curl in primrose yellow. The result is really fantastic! The blues swim about and catch the light, looking like water. Sadly, even if I put my mind to it, I could probably never mix that same colour again, but anyway the finished effect was a lovely surprise. Pleased as punch!


Every time I open my fridge, I get a tiny spark of delight when I see my hand-made butter dish on the shelf. I think it’s a great way to personalise the kitchen, and I’ve reconciled myself to the fact it’s a bit rough around the edges – perhaps, once my skills improve, I’ll make myself a better one! I’m definitely going to be making more of these, as they are really good fun to plan and create – I would imagine that there’ll be a fair few butter dishes as Christmas pressies this year!


Tipi Tealights!

13 Oct

I realise I haven’t updated you on my progress at pottery in quite a while. I have been continuing with my Wednesday evening classes at Hayfield FE College, and although I’m not convinced my skills are improving that much, I am definitely still enjoying the experience!


Readers of my blog will know that I spent a few months at the end of last year working on a pottery project for my bathroom. I’m still delighted with the effect of that project, but I also definitely wanted to try out some new ideas, rather than make any more companion pieces.

Therefore, last term, I embarked on a new series of items, this time for my living room. I already have some Native American art in my living room, so I thought I could create some items to complement this theme, and emphasise the theme of the Great Outdoors too.


The first project I got started on was a series of three tealight holders of differing sizes for the various tabletops and surfaces in the room. I wanted to experiment with using silhouettes of shapes as the apertures for light to shine through.


The first tealight holder I made was a simple, star design, using star cutters. I cut out a long rectangle of clay and let it dry out/firm up slightly, before cutting the stars out randomly across the surface, and curving the slab round onto a circular base.

For the second one (in the middle. in the picture above), I once again cut a rectangular slab, but I tried to cut small crescents in the clay, to resemble a pine cone. I don’t think it was as successful as the stars, but it sort of works! For the third, I tried to depict a campfire.


After firing, I left the outer clay unpainted, but used glazes on the inner surfaces. For the stars I used blue, which graduates from a darker blue at the base to a sky blue at the rim. For the pine cone, I used a uniform, pine green glaze, and for the campfire, I used an orangey shade at the base, moving up to a deeper red at the top.

The fact that they are unpainted on the outside but brightly painted on the inside means that the items really ‘come to life’ once they are lit and in use – by day, they look neutral in the room, but by night, they brightly shine and flicker, and give off a warm glow.

I was then suitably inspired to begin work on a centrepiece – a larger tealight holder, which would be more of a feature for the room. Playing on my interest in the Great Outdoors and Native Americana, I decided to base my tealight holder on a traditional tipi shape.


I made sure to cut lots of holes out of the clay, so that the light could get through. I had to let the clay dry quite a bit, before curling it into the tipi shape and resting it against a bottle while it dried. I also added a Thunderbird for the top! At the same time, I made the base at the same time, so that the two parts could dry evently at the same time.

Once the two parts were dry, they were fired, and then I was able to sketch out my designs onto the surface with a pencil. I wanted to use lots of references I had seen in my research of tipis, including a focus on nature, the phases of the moon, and a spirit animal.

I then painted my design in underglazes. Underglazes are great, as their pre-firing colours are faithful to the colours of the finished item. Also, they don’t seep into each other, so you can get quite an accurate design. I found that using light brush strokes gave a good effect for the sky on the outside of the tipi.

I also painted the inside in shades of yellow, orange and red, and painted the base to look like earth. Making the item took two weeks, and painting took another two – finally, my tipi was finished! I am especially happy with my lightning bear and my thunderbird.

The light really pours out of the front of the tipi, which gives a lovely effect. However, unlike the smaller tealight holders, this item is a feature in the room even when the candles aren’t lit. I am very happy with my design!

Four Go Glamping in Oxfordshire

25 Sep


I have just returned from a fantastic weekend with some of my friends – we went glamping (luxury camping) in idyllic, sunny Oxfordshire. We stayed in an enormous yurt on a campsite called Turkey Creek, and had a wonderfully relaxing weekend! We couldn’t have been luckier with the weather – storms were forecast, but it only ever seemed to rain when we were sleeping or in the pub! The remainder of our adventure enjoyed balmy breezes and warm sunshine.


The vast majority of our weekend consisted of eating! We had a barbecue on the first night, with meats from the local butcher, and on the second night we feasted on wine and cheese! The weekend was also interspersed with various helpings of tea and cake, ice cream, and was finished off with a classic pub lunch on the final day.DSCN4270

However, we did also find a small amount of time to partake of a little crafting. Our yurt was situated about 10 minutes’ drive from Aston Pottery, a fantastic place which not only sells but also produces beautiful stoneware items. They also provide a ‘paint-it-yourself’ service, which proved to be an enjoyable activity.DSCN4161

Aston Pottery has a very distinctive style, which is created by stippling glazes onto items using stencils, usually (but not always) inspired by nature. We were taken to the loft of the building, where we each chose an item to paint. We then perused lots of envelopes, containing stencils from different themes. Once we had selected some stencils to use, we were ready to go!


Our guide explained that the best way to get an even effect was to hold the brush vertically, and tap it twice into the paint, followed by tapping it once on the side of the palette. This gave a fairly dry brush for stippling the design.


We each chose a different theme: Hannah selected some sea creatures for an aquatic-themed mug, Katie stencilled flowers and leaves onto a milk jug, and Kat made a woodland mug for her fiancé. As regular readers of my blog will know, I love desert imagery, especially anything where I can incorporate native american iconography. I opted to paint a background of mountains onto a mug in shades of green and brown. I then stencilled a few cacti on in various greens, and added a blazing sunset in yellows, pinks and oranges.

DSCN4173At first, we all found it a little fiddly to hold the stencils in place whilst painting, but we soon got the hang of it.  Just like with other underglazes I have used, the pattern is not set until the item has been fired – the liquid in the paint evaporates quickly to leave the pigment as a powder on the surface of the item until firing. As I layered my design, I was worried I would spoil my previous layers of paint. However, the design remained in place most of the time. This feature of the paints came in handy at times when you needed to remove a mistake!


The items needed firing, so we left them in the capable hands of Aston Pottery, and eagerly await them in the post in the coming weeks. I can’t wait to show you the finished items! A lovely souvenir of a brilliant weekend.



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