How to Use a Pastry Wheel and Clay’s Maleability to Create Texture

Apply Slip and Texture with a Pastry Wheel!

Sodium Silicate to Create Texture

One of the greatest things about clay is its ability to take on texture. Another great clay quality is its malleability and stretchiness. Combine those two and you can really create fun surfaces!

In today’s post, an excerpt from the July/August 2021 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated, Elizabeth Paley demonstrates how she uses slip, a pastry wheel, and clay’s stretchy nature to create fabulous surface texture. – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

PS. For more variations on this technique (including a crackled effect made with sodium silicate), plus tips on refining your textured and stretched pot, check out the July/August 2021 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated!

Compress the exterior of the cylinder with a rib to remove any remaining water or throwing slip, and to ensure the wall is flat  and smooth. With the wheel spinning, apply a thin layer of contrasting slip to the cylinder, using your fingers or a wide paintbrush. The slip should be viscous enough not to slide down the wall. Leave the top inch of the cylinder unslipped; later, you will shape this section into the neck. 

Pastry wheel: Stop the pottery wheel. Starting at the base of the cylinder, roll the pastry wheel vertically up the wall of the pot, stopping where the slip ends. With minimal pressure, the pastry wheel should cut through the slip into the clay. Repeat this process, creating vertical lines around the entire cylinder (1). Pause as needed to clean accumulated slip off the pastry wheel using a toothbrush. Tip: Do this away from the pottery wheel to avoid splattering the pot (although splatters can be gently scraped off later with a loop tool or utility blade once the vessel is bone dry). Dry off the pastry wheel and check that it spins freely before continuing to texture the cylinder.

1 With the wheel stopped, roll the fluted pastry wheel vertically up the cylinder in repeated rows.

2 Use a lightly damp sponge to smooth out any cuts in the unslipped portions of the cylinder.

3 With the wheel spinning at a moderate speed, use ribs to make a first stretch of the wall from the inside.

4 On the next stretch, continue to rib the cylinder from the inside, gradually moving downward and expanding the form.

Stretch the Pot

Use a sponge to remove any lines that were cut into the unslipped portions of the wall (2). With the wheel spinning at a moderate speed, use the curved edge of a rib (any curved rib that fits into the pot will work for this, just avoid ones with pointy tips) to gradually stretch the wall outward from the inside; this will require several passes (3–5). Take advantage of the curves of different ribs to shape the curve of the pot.

I usually begin stretching my pots from the top down rather than the bottom up; I find it easier to keep the top centered this way, and I’m less likely to stretch the bottom farther out than intended. (Once the clay has been pushed out, it cannot be pushed back in without damaging the exterior design.)

To keep the pot from collapsing as it is stretched, use your outside hand to aim the heat gun at the clay, continuously moving the tip up and down to avoid over drying any particular portion of the wall (6). Use the heat gun only as needed to stiffen the wall: over drying makes the clay harder to stretch and can lead to rips, cracks, or bulges. Stretch until you are satisfied with the form (7).

5 On your next stretch, continue to expand the interior until you reach the bottom of the cylinder.

6 Stiffen the clay with a heat gun, as needed, to prevent the pot from collapsing while continuing to stretch.

7 Use the curves of different ribs to shape the contour of the pot. Stretch until you are satisfied with the form and surface.

Zigzag Vessel, 8¼ in. (21 cm) in height, wheel-thrown stoneware, slip, liner glaze, fired to cone 6 in oxidation, 2019.

  • Dawn D.

    It says to brush sodium silicate over the slip. What effect does the sodium silicate have?

    • Ash N.

      Hi Dawn, when brushed on the surface and heated with a heat gun, sodium silicate crackles and creates a distressed surface. – CAN Staff

  • Sue Y.

    Wow, the results of this technique are super impressive. I think my mind just exploded! Thank you for sharing your technique. Reminds me why I love being part of the clay community. Kudos Elizabeth!

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