Helen Gilmour is interested in the relationships between traditional crafts. So she decided to make traditional pottery forms–like teapots and bowls–that look like they are knitted. The result is a form that at first glance appears soft, but on closer examination has the fired strength of porcelain.
In today’s post, an excerpt from Additions to Clay Bodies, Helen explains the process she came up with to make these delicate looking vessels out of porcelain slip and flax paper clay. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.
Helen Gilmour’s work explores the connection between ceramics and traditional crafts such as knitting and crochet. She deconstructs functional pottery by soaking cotton yarn in porcelain slip to produce knitted ceramic vessels, which are totally non-functional. She began experimenting with these materials while studying at the Glasgow School of Art and has continued to develop this work, improving her techniques and seeking new possibilities. Her ceramics appear delicate but are easily strong enough to be handled and transported.
Add something to your pots!
Find out what’s happening in the world of clay where potters and sculptors add just about anything to their clay. From hard materials that change the look of surfaces to organic materials that burn out leaving a wide variety of textures and shapes. In Additions to Clay Bodies, you’ll discover how adding non-clay materials to your clay provides a great way to be creative in a whole new way.
The first step is to knit the pieces – teacups, saucers and teapots – using 100% pure cotton knitting yarn. They are then thoroughly soaked in porcelain slip and wrung out several times before being stretched over a former and left to dry. Inflated balloons work well as formers for teapots. More slip is applied while the form is still on the balloon: spraying, dipping and painting are the different methods used. Through experience, she knows when the right amount of slip has been applied in order to produce a finished piece that will be strong enough to handle but still clearly reveal every stitch of the knitting. This process can take several days.
Gilmour describes in detail the next stage, which is the removal of the balloon. She says, “I wait until the piece is properly dry and stiff before removing the balloon. If it hasn’t already started to deflate it is best to remove it by letting the air out slowly. Sticking some tape on the balloon and making a small hole through it prevents it bursting.”
“The work is extremely fragile at this stage and great care must be taken while handling it, avoiding any damaging bumps or dents that might affect the strength of the pot,” Gilmour explains.
As the teapot was knitted without a base, the next stage is to form the base and attach it to the teapot.
Flax paper clay porcelain from Scarva Suppliers is rolled out thinly onto a knit-textured plaster bat to form the base. The clay picks up the knitting texture on the cast plaster and is then cut to size. The base is joined with slip to the teapot body when they are both bone dry. Gilmour says that, in her experience, the shrinkage of both the porcelain slip used on the teapot body and the flax paper clay in the base is the same, so cracks are avoided.
The work is fired to 1280°C (2336°F), with provision for good ventilation, while the cotton burns out. Slumping can occur at these temperatures, which can enhance a piece, but where it is not desired she takes care to try and avoid it. For this reason, when making teapots, she adds the spout and handle after they have been fired. Smaller pieces such as cups and jugs are often fired upside-down with their handles attached, allowing the slumping to compliment the form.