As a pottery instructor, I’m constantly on the lookout for materials that can be turned into molds and templates for handbuilding projects in my classes. My students enjoy making pottery they can use in their kitchens or can give away as gifts. One project idea that combines both of these desires uses an eight-sided Dixie®-brand paper plate as a mold for a casserole dish.
Create a Re-usable Template
Start by cutting the rim off of an eight-sided Dixie® paper plate. Roll out a slab and place the plate in the center. Using a straight edge, draw perpendicular lines at each corner of the long sides, resulting in eight lines drawn out from the plate.
Next, measure 2 inches along all eight lines. Connect the lines to form a 2-inch border around the plate (1). Cut along the lines.
With the plate still in the center of the clay, flip the slab and plate over. The plate acts as slump mold and support for the clay. Pull the long edges straight up to form side walls. Once these are standing straight, repeat this on the four corners, but don’t bend the edges over the long sides (2). Each corner edge still needs to be trimmed to fit. Where the edges of both sides of the corners meet the long sides, cut off the excess clay (3). Now all the sides should fit together.
Remove the plate, lay the slab flat onto tarpaper, and trace around it (4). Cut out the shape and you have a casserole template. The tarpaper will last longer than the cardboard plate.
1 Draw a border around the plate. Use a straight edge and an X-Acto to cut it out.
2 Flip the slab over the top of the plate, pull up the side walls, then pull up the corners.
3 Trim the excess clay off the corners to the same height as the side walls.
4 Lay the cut slab on tarpaper, then trace around it to make a template.
Cut, Fold, Repeat
To make the casserole, snip the corners of the rim on a second eight-sided plate so that the edges of the rim fold down, but don’t cut the rim completely off. This eliminates the temptation to stretch the clay over the rim of the plate. Take one more paper plate and cut the rim completely off. This second plate will be used to push down on the clay once it’s resting on the inside of the first plate.
Roll out a slab of clay big enough for your template to fit on. Make sure the clay is dry enough that when the sides are bent, the clay stays straight, but not so dry that the sides crack when being manipulated. Place the template that you made on top of the clay (5). Cut the excess clay away. Place a piece of plastic wrap on the center of the slab. Then place the paper plate with the bent edges onto the plastic. This plate should be placed face down so that when the slab is flipped, it acts as a slump mold (see figure 7). Flip the slab, the plastic, and the plate over. Make sure the plate is in the very center. Once this is exact, use the paper plate with no rim to push the clay gently into the slump mold (6).
5 Place the template on top of a slab and cut away the excess clay.
6 Use the rimless paper plate to push the clay gently into the slump mold.
7 Fit another paper plate over the top to make sure the form is straight.
8 Make handles for the sides of the casserole dish.
Gently pull the long sides up first and stand into position. Next, pull up the corner sides. Score and slip all the sides together. I prefer to work this step from the outside of the form in, compressing the sides together. I find that working from the inside tends to push the clay seams apart. I also make sure that I work the very top of each side together to make a good seal.
Take a look at the sides and make sure they’re even and straight. Put the casserole on a banding wheel and make sure the rim is even. Finish the rim using whatever technique you prefer. I like to use a coil around the top. When you’re finished with the rim, to check how straight your form is, take another paper plate and fit it down over the rim (7). It should fit snugly into the opening.
When stiff enough to hold its shape, lift the casserole from the plate and compress the bottom curve. This helps prevent the clay from cracking in transition areas between the floor and the walls. Place the casserole back down onto the plastic-lined plate. Make handles for the sides if you wish (8). Cover with plastic and dry slowly.
You can also make a lid for these casseroles using the same eight-sided plate, adding an interior flange that fits inside of the casserole’s rim.
Ann Ruel is the owner of Little Street Pottery in Suffolk, Virginia. She teaches pottery classes for the City of Norfolk,Virginia and exhibits work in shows and galleries around Hampton Roads.