Tips and Tools: Safe Packing

Does worrying about shipping your work keep you up at night? Tired of storing Styrofoam peanuts, then tracking them all over the studio after packing work? Try using upholstery foam to pack your work instead.

A museum employee once told me how they used foam to pack valuable Chinese ceramic artwork for shipping across the globe. I have practiced this technique several times and it works nicely.

First you will need to source foam mattresses, upholstery foam, or foam mattress pads. I put a request on Facebook, and was offered several old mattresses for free that came from my community. If you can’t find free foam, it is available at craft stores, and local upholstery businesses may have off cuts they are discarding.

Packing Steps
1. Find a suitably sized, sturdy cardboard box and trace its outline with a felt pen onto the foam (1). Use a sharp, long, narrow-bladed knife (we use our fish filet knife) and cut the shape from the rectangular or square foam (2). Use this as the bottom layer in the box. If the foam is 4 inches thick, you might split it into two layers (3).

1 Tracing the outline of a cardboard box with a felt pen onto upholstery foam.

2 Cutting the foam to fit into the box using a long, narrow-bladed sharp knife.

3 If using 4-inch-thick foam, it is possible to split foam in two halves to save material and space.

2. Cut out another piece of the foam that is the same size. Place artwork on the foam at least 1½ inches apart from one another and at least 1½ inches from the edges of the foam. Draw the outline of your item onto the foam (4). Use the knife to cut a hole through the foam, following the outline. Try to cut at an angle corresponding to your item and be sure the piece fits tightly and can’t move around in the foam (5, 6).

4 Outlining the shape of the mugs that need to be shipped onto the foam.

5 Cutting out the foam, following the outline as well as angling the knife so the cut tapers inward to follow the contours of the mug.

3. Place this new layer in the box and fit the piece(s) firmly in the customized hole(s).
4. Put a new layer of 2-inch-thick foam on top and wrap up the box (7).

6 Place the work into the cut outs to check for a tight fit.

7 Adding the top layer of two-inch-thick foam to protect the tops of the pieces, prior to sealing up the box.


This packing method has several advantages. The foam is lightweight, has high friction, and the pieces cannot move around. Large, irregular work is harder to pack this way, but smaller items are easy. If possible, try to reuse the foam to prevent increasing the amount of plastic garbage in our environment.

the author Elisa Helland-Hansen is a Norwegian studio potter based in Rosenthal by the Hardangerfjord in western Norway. She was trained at the Bergen National College for Arts and Design in the 1970s and has worked as a full-time potter since then. She has traveled extensively and exhibits internationally.


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