My new hat, from a favorite old sweater…

Herb wearing the sweater in 1982.

When we lived in Lexington, KY in the 80’s, there was a really nice imported sweater shop called World’s Apart.  The items they sold were made in Peru and were alpaca wool. I bought Herb a wonderful sweater from there for our second Christmas and somehow through the years, I took it over and it became my favorite sweater. Then, it accidentally got put through the wash a couple of years ago and I have kept it thinking I could make something else out of it. It shrank to the size of a sweater for a small child. This is how felt is made and I love felted items.

I have a book that is called Heartfelt, 25 projects for stitched and felted accessories, which has a pattern for a Russian Hat that I have been thinking would be the perfect new life for the old sweater.

heartfelt book, full of great projects

So, yesterday, as we were driving to DC for a school fieldtrip, I took the sweater and book along with the intent of making the hat to wear in the really cold DC weather. The trip is about an hour to our metro stop and so I started cutting into the old sweater as soon as we got into the car.

The pattern has three pieces, a round top, a side panel and a cuff around the bottom. After looking at the pattern and the sweater, I ditched the side and cuff pieces and decided to just use the neck of the sweater as both and put the round top into the neck.

You can see the results here and how the finished hat looked. I thought it needed an accent so I hurriedly added a simple rose shape out of one of the border pieces of scrap. As we parked the car, I put the hat on and had a warm head all day AND a stylish hat for the rest of the winter days to come.

The kids made fun of my hat most of the day, but you know, I don’t really care what an 8 year old thinks, my head and ears stayed nice and toasty. With what is leftover, I have enough to make a couple of pair of mittens to match my new hat. I think I have to make those next.

So many glazes, so little time…

Temmoku cup

When the first batch of glazed pieces came out of the kiln last week, I have to say I was both happy and sad. Some of the pieces were really nice, but sadly, it is clear that I need to do lots of testing and experimenting and learning what my glazes are made of.

Being concerned for the planet, I find that I worry that I am using too much water and that I only want to use the energy to fire things that I really love and feel will be a nice finished piece. So while I am throwing a pot, if it doesn’t look like something that I would want to keep forever, it goes back into the clay bin to dry out and be recycled into new clay.

I have taken the time to create all new test tiles and spent an entire week reconstituting my commercial glazes. I did a firing of those tiles and now have them hanging on a board in a somewhat color palette that I can look at and choose the glaze. I did a set for the white stoneware that I am using as well as the brown stoneware. One tile for each color clay with 3 different coats of the glaze, from light to heavy, to give me a palette.

In doing this testing, I used a quart sized yogurt cup of water to clean out my brushes and utensils and emptied that mix into a larger bucket in the sink. Over the course of the week, the bucket is full of  a mix of all my glazes which, from my research, can become a new glaze. (or not) My point is that I tried very hard not to let the chemicals go down the drain to end up in the water system.

After doing the tests, I then did the glaze firing on some real items. With each piece that I took out of the kiln, I had many thoughts going through my head about what I should’ve done different or what worked really well. Keeping a journal of each of the glazes as a reference so I can alert myself to the next time I use a particular glaze. I also bought a great book called Mastering Cone 6 Glazes by John Hesselberth and Ron Roy. It is written in layman’s terms and is helping me understand the science of what is going on with the glazes, giving me insight into food safe glazes and the leaching of the chemicals with certain foods following the FDA‘s standards for food, as well as, the Clean Water Act standards. It includes recipes that are stable and have gone through their rigorous tests. This may be where I turn in the future so that I know what the chemistry of the glazes are that I am putting onto the pottery I create. Much like cooking from scratch so that you know exactly what the ingredients are that you are putting into your body.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly…

Glazing and firing my first wheel thrown pottery.

A few comments:

  • I’m pleased with the shapes and sizes of things at this stage in my getting back into the mud, although the clay is shrinking quite a bit so I am going to have to throw things much larger.This may mean another test to see what the percentage is.
  • Some of these pieces have heavy bottoms and the batter bowl has an awkward handle that is a bit too big
  • Off the shelf glazes are a challenge.
    • Off the shelf is a commercial premixed glaze. I can see that these may have to go away sometime in the future
  • Tests are time consuming and challenging. I see now that some of the glazes I own are consistently ugly
  • When I run out of white stoneware, I will be somewhat in the same stage where I am with the brown clay. The white stoneware has a lighter feel to it though visually but the glazes look very different between the two clays.
  • Glazing can ruin a piece, for sure. The Temmoku and the Golden Lustre glazes are very consistent and stable and are going to get to stay. As is the Turbulent Indigo.
  • I’m getting some crazing issues and fingerprints so I’m not sure I want to have all my work with stains under a clear glaze.
  • Developing a style is going to take some time.

Glazing Test Tiles

My little studio is in my basement for now and in order to get things organized so that I can be productive and creative I am going through my glazes and making a test tile of all of them so I know what I have and what I need to order. I have a board with nails on it that I have used in the past to put my test/sample tiles on but recently it got knocked down and all the tiles broke. This is probably a good thing in disguise because now all my test tiles will be all the same size and I will have a more thorough system.

I have to get the glaze out of the container, which sometimes requires a hammer and a screwdriver to break it up first, and then I have to crush the brick into a powdery substance and then mix it with water. Additionally, I run the mixture through a sieve so that all the parts combine and mix really well.

Then, I coat the test tile with the glaze in three strokes so that I have a thin and a thick version of the glaze. This helps me to determine how heavy to coat a glaze onto a finished piece. The glaze is put on the side without the label and then I will hang these onto the board with the nails in it and put it in a place that it won’t get knocked off. I have several old bookcases down in the basement, perhaps I can hinge it to the bookcase that contains all the glazes.

First Batch of Pots

As you can see, I have been busy with my new wheel that Herb bought me for Christmas.

I am trying out new shapes and basically, just trying to get used to what my hands are supposed to do.

I have two different colors of clay. They are both stoneware, a white and a chocolate brown. I played with the white clay first and made a slip out of the brown and trailed it on some of the cups and a bowl to see how that will look. The colored bands are just an underglaze.

I need to work on getting my shapes consistent. These cups all started out basically the same size clay ball and as you can see they are nothing alike. I have ordered a scale so that I can weigh the balls before I start so that they are at least all the same weight. That still doesn’t mean they will all turn out the same.

And I had to try a batter bowl. The handle is too big and clunky but it was my first handle after so many years. Practice will help those.

These are the first bowls that I threw. The one in the back is the first thing I threw when I sat down on Christmas Day to try out my rusty skills. The ones in the front are much better. They have an even thickness, aren’t heavy in the bottoms and are a good shape. The one in the back may get crushed…

This is just a group shot of everything I have gotten off the wheel so far.

I tried to make a footed cup. I saw this technique on Lucy Fagella’s how to page and I like the look. The foot is trimmed and then you eyeball the three feet and slice the leather hard clay to form the feet. You make the bottom of the pot heavy on purpose, which is easy for me right now, and then you have enough clay to work with. I like the look. She used a lemon zester to put her pattern in the sides. I had a serrated rib that I used for mine. It gave it a nice texture to grip.

And I have the Glenn Nelson Ceramic books from the old days and browsing through them I came across an interesting salt cellar that is thrown in two parts and assembled. I threw a cone shape for the main body. (I didn’t think this through because the top was so tiny, I had to put it inside another piece to center on the wheel to trim the bottom, that was hard) I made a small lid to fit into the top hole and then threw a small shallow bowl, which I cut the bottom out of for the large opening on the side. The seam was very thin so I decided to reinforce it with a coil around the opening for decoration and to give it some strength.

And a side view of the salt cellar.

And finally, a small pitcher for cream or syrup. I did the three footed bottom on this little guy and had a better success with the handle. It seems to have a tipsy attitude on the handle side. I’m hoping that the liquid inside will counter balance this problem.

So, I feel pretty good about the first attempt. We took a trip to Manassas Clay yesterday and seeing some of the amateur pottery in the shop made me feel like I am doing okay. Of course, now I have to glaze them and that is another round of weeding out the bad and keeping the good. We’ll see who is standing in the end.