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Free Folding Ceramics



I find functionality close to my heart. I first studied jewelry design, which gave me a sense of technical and structural memory in the way I treat materials—welding surfaces together, folding them, regarding the decorating process as a significant part of the vessels’ shape. I have always been drawn to graphic elements and playing around with different patterns—repetition, rhythm, order, and composition. I love textures and enjoy altering them by perforating, cutting, framing, adding a focal point, stamping segments, and combining them together again. I love to play with the rough and the delicate, the horizontal and the vertical, movement versus stillness. I prefer to give my functional pieces a simple structure, so the textures are accompanied by the movement of the fold, rather than competing with it.

Craft Foam Texture Stamps
Most of my textures are chosen from either ready-made elements or original graphics that I create myself. The textures are drawn onto soft, thin craft foam sheets. The foam sheets are pliable, non sticky, relatively inexpensive, and can be found in any craft supply store. I use them as stencils and also for stamping textures.

I draw graphic elements I wish to texture the clay with onto the foam sheet, leaving a physical impression in the foam. The clay sinks into the drawn lines of the design, creating a delicate relief pattern. I use a dull ceramic knife that doesn’t cut the foam to impress these fine line designs (1).


1 Draw your design on thin craft foam sheets the with a dull ceramic knife or needle tool.


2 Stretch the clay lengthwise by holding it at the ends and fan it out as if you were throwing a sheet on the bed.


3 Stamping in the texture to print the clay with a delicate relief pattern.


4 Cut a straight line under the stamped area along the length of the texture.


Slab Prep
I create my bowls in two parts: a body and a floor. Begin by rolling out a 204 in. (5011 cm) slab that is ⁄ in. (8 mm) thick. Start stretching the clay lengthwise by holding the slab at one end and fanning it out as if you’re throwing a sheet on the bed. Do this approximately 3–4 times until the strip is about 32 in. (80 cm) in length and is a little less than ⁄16 in. (4 mm) thick (2). Place the strip on a long piece of canvas and run a rubber rib over the surface to compress the clay particles and smooth out the surface. Beginning from the left side, lay a textured foam sheet gently on the clay slab. Leave a small space at the bottom to make registering or lining up the next foam sheet easier. This space will also be used later as the area that connects to the base of the pot. Roll a rubber brayer over the foam sheet until it’s flush with the clay and the design is fully stamped onto the surface (3).

Gently remove the foam sheet, then repeat the design approximately 2 mm from the last stamp along the strip until you reach the end of the slab. When you finish the texture stamping, cut a straight line along the length, approximately in. (0.5 cm) under the stamped area (4). Then, using the brayer, roll over the edge at a 60° angle outward giving it a thin beveled edge (5).

Now, cut a straight line approximately 1 inch above the top line of the impressed texture (6). I like to leave this small area free of any texture, which later also allows me to easily shape the bowl’s lip without marring the texture. Soften and turn the lip edge slightly inward using the brayer. Then, use a wet finger—the smoothest tool I know of—to go over the lip edge.

Gently remove the slab from the canvas and set it aside to firm up. Begin to build the vessel when the slab is leather-hard—hard enough to stand on its own, but still pliable enough to fold.


5 Using a brayer, roll over the edge at a 60° angle outward giving it a thin bevel.


6 Cut a straight line approximately 1 inch above the top of the texture.


7 Begin with the first cut at the left edge with a 60° left-facing bevel.


8 Mark the bottom line of the slab, where the lower folds will be made.


Cutting the Forming Pieces
You’re essentially building a cylinder with corners. The long piece will be connected in the center of the side wall rather than at a corner for two reasons: one, the point of attachment at a corner always has more of a tendency to crack; second, the placement of the attachment also has an aesthetic element that adds to the ambiance of the texture.

When the long slab reaches the leather-hard stage, turn it over so the pattern is facing down. Use a rubber rib to smooth out the surface of the slab and soften the edges including the lip.

To construct a large bowl with a diameter of 7 inches (20 cm), use the long textured slab for the sides, and an 8-inch-square slab for the bottom. Start by working on the long slab for the sides of the bowl. Cut the left edge of the slab with a 60° left-facing bevel (7). This will be joined to the other end of the slab once it’s formed into a cylinder and the bevel makes for a stronger seam. Measuring from that bevel, make marks on the bottom edge of the slab to indicate the location of the lower folds in the bowl. Make marks at the following intervals: 10 cm, 20 cm, 20 cm, 20 cm, and again 10 cm (8). At the end of the last 10 cm, cut the right edge of the slab with a 60° angle facing left. Next, establish the bowl’s shape and the placement of the folds by cutting out a triangle at each mark (9). The angle of the knife cuts should be the same on both ends of the triangle.


9 Establish a triangular window in the cut, the angle of the knife cuts will be the same on both ends of the triangle.


10 Curve in the slab with the palm of your hands and gently place it standing up on your work surface.


11 Carefully arrange the slab into the desired vessel shape.


12 Attach the two ends from the bottom up, making sure the seam is straight.


Folding Work
Now the slab is ready to be folded. Use a fine-toothed metal rib to score the edges/bevels. To attach the two sides of the slab into a cylinder, hold it on both sides with the top edge/lip facing downward (10), curve in the slab with the palm of your hands and gently put it on the working surface with a slight overlap of the two ends where the bevels meet. Now arrange the slab into the desired shape (11). Apply slip to the beveled and scored edges (I create slip using the same clay body), then align the edges at the top and bottom supporting the inner side of the cylinder (I use a wooden tool with a rounded profile). Attach the two sides, starting from the bottom up, making sure it’s straight (12, 13). Use a soft rubber rib to smooth out the seam. Go over the lip with a damp sponge (I use a cosmetic sponge) to create a smooth finish (14). Connect and smooth the interior seam as well, being sure to support the outside as you work. Now score the triangular cut outs.


13 Support the interior of the cylinder using a wooden tool with a rounded profile.


14 Smooth the seam with a soft rubber rib and a damp cosmetic sponge.


15 While supporting the walls, gently fold the tops inward so that the two cuts meet.


16 Apply slip and attach the ends using one hand on the inside to give support.

Next, supporting each wall (side) at its bottom with one hand, gently fold the top end inward so that the two ends meet (15). Apply slip and attach the ends using one hand on the inside to give support (16). Then, smooth over the inside seam while the other hand gently pinches the sides together. Use the rubber rib to smooth the corners and then go over them with a sponge. When all the corners are folded inward, straighten them by firming them against a wooden dowel (17).

Score the bottom before flipping it over, covering it lightly with plastic, and letting it set up. In the meantime, roll out a slab that is approximately 88 in. (2222 cm) and let it set up until it reaches the same leather-hard consistency as the body.

Attaching the Base to the Body
I discovered that the best way to avoid cracks in the base is to wait to cut out the exact shape of the base until after I attach the body to it.

This way I can deal with areas that aren’t exact rather than forcing it to fit.

Place the base slab on a low banding wheel and smooth the surface with a soft rubber rib. Place the bowl with the folded corners toward the bottom onto the slab. Make sure you have extra space around all the edges, then mark the inner line of the bowl with a moistened brush, remove the body from the slab, and score along the wet line. Add a thick amount of slip only on the base slab and replace the bowl onto it.


17 Straighten the bottom edges by firming them against a wooden dowel.


18 With your thumb and a rubber rib, attach the bowl body to the base slab.


19 Trim the base slab to match the bowl’s edge, make the cut at a 45° angle.


20 Press the base up toward the body of the bowl.

With your thumb and a soft rubber rib, attach and smooth the bowl to the slab (18). Go over the seam with a damp sponge and clean off any excess slip. Lift the bowl and gently strike it against the wooden surface to even out the bottom.

Now you can start working on the inner corners of the bowl. Create a 1 cm ball of soft clay. Moisten the inner corners and blend the ball from within (make sure your thumb is totally dry).

Trim the base slab by leaning the knife close to the body’s edge at a 45° angle facing the inside and cut off the extra clay (19).

To smooth out the seam where the base and the body meet, gently raise the bowl one side at a time and use a wet finger to press the base up into the body of the bowl (20), and repeat with a damp sponge making sure the attachment is firm and smooth.


21 Use a round plastic bowl to shape the bowl and smooth the rim.


Salad bowl, 9 in. (22 cm) in diameter, handbuilt stoneware, stamped pattern, light blue matte glaze, fired to 2192°F (1200°C). Finished work photos: Aya Wind Photography.


Lip and Shape
I like to give the lip a rounded, soft look, breaking away from the box-like look of the square base. To do this, slightly moisten the rim, then set a round plastic bowl with a similar diameter into the clay bowl. Push the lip gently into it to shape it using a rubber rib (21), then smooth out the surface of the lip with a chamois. When the bowl has slightly firmed up and holds its rounded shape at the top, remove the plastic bowl, and cover the clay bowl with a thin sheet of plastic, allowing it to dry very slowly to avoid tension cracks.

Finally, the bowl is bisque fired then glazed. I prefer a silky matte finish, giving the bowl a metallic look and allowing the pattern to show through the glaze.


Michal Keren Gelman lives and crafts in Mitzpe Hila, a small village perched on a Galilee mountain-top in Israel. She’s a graduate of Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. To see more, check out her Etsy site, Free Folding at and follow her on Instagram at @freefoldingceramic.

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