Saturday 21 November 2009

Festive Finishing Touches

Making seasonal gift ideas in ceramics is a long term affair. You have to plan ahead otherwise time soon catches up with you. So this year I started making ceramic Christmas decorations back in the Summer. Normally I’m the type of person who really objects to Christmas decorations appearing anywhere and everywhere before December. But this year I feel strangely compelled to let my own little decorations loose into the world as soon as possible! So although December is still a week or so away, I thought I would blog a medley of photos of my handmade ceramic stars.

Each star has been handmade from stoneware clay and glazed on one side. The larger brown-fleck stars have been reduction fired in a gas kiln which has given them a lovely toasted appearance. The smaller white stars are fired in an electric kiln and glazed in a plain white glaze.

Finding the right details to finish off your creations is not always easy. I’ve strung the brown-fleck stars on a festive red ribbon with a simple bow which I think sets them off beautifully and has a rich warm quality. I wanted a more delicate, sparkly type of thread for the smaller white stars but finding the right one proved difficult. I made several disappointing trips to my local sewing shops in search of just the right texture and quality – but found nothing that fitted the bill. Then I suddenly remembered making cords out of strands of wool when I was a kid and realized I should make my own hand-twisted thread.

And here’s how I made it:

I chose a plain white cotton thread, a strong durable silver thread and a sparkly, flimsy gold thread, all of which were unsuitable on their own. Then I measured out a strand of each of these threads to a length about three times as long as I wanted the final cord to be. Then I held the ends of all three between my thumb and finger on my left hand as I twisted the other ends in my right, keeping them taut. When the cord was tightly twisted, I looped it over a nail or hook at the middle point and then lined up the two ends so they met. Then I lifted the cord off the hook. The tightly twisted cord quickly springs back on itself and the two sides twist together to form a thicker, stronger single cord. If you’ve never done this, then try it: it’s a clever little trick. The result in this case was a perfect sparkly thread that has proved far better than any I could have bought.

You just never know when childhood pastimes will come in handy.

Saturday 14 November 2009

Homemade Ash Glaze

It’s been over a week already since Bonfire Night. When it isn’t pouring with rain or blowing a gale (like it is today) we usually mark November the fifth with a little bonfire in our back garden. Out come the sparklers, some bowls of hot stew and a bottle of wine.

I mention this because I’ve recently thought about making my own homemade ash glaze. So this year I decided to collect the ashes from our bonfire ready to do some experimenting. I’ve heard that the type of wood used to make the ash makes a difference to the glaze; although at the moment I can only work with what I’ve got. We usually just burn whatever’s combustible which includes huge piles of prunings from our overgrown garden and the odd bit of unwanted plank. This year the fire consisted mostly of freshly cut rosemary, some donated logs from a Eucalyptus, a pile of green whips from a pair of unidentifiable copse-like trees at the back of the garden and some out-of-date paperwork. Not entirely scientific then.

I also decided it would be a good idea to put a couple of pieces of bisque ware and green ware straight into the fire. Like a pit firing. No glaze of course – just straight into the red embers with a pair of tongs at the end of the evening and left to keep cooking overnight. These were just small things like buttons which I half expected to never find again. However, a day or so later (it rained the next day) I found this little button (pictured above) peeking out of the ashes along with four other pieces that survived intact.

As for the ashes, these had been fairly well washed by the rain. I’ve no idea if they will be suitable yet. They have a lot of carbon in them. In fact I may have inadvertently made myself a batch of charcoal instead as many of the green twigs have become nice little drawing sticks! Anyway, I’ve collected the best of it into a bucket which I’m storing in the shed while the weather’s so bad. The next task is to sift through it all and separate out all the chunky bits. I shall report back my findings when they are found…