After years of enjoying washing fruit in a handmade, thrown berry bowl, I thought it would be a fun challenge to create an updated version of this form. Often, I find myself needing an extra hand in the kitchen, so designing a single-handled berry bowl seemed like a practical solution.
My work is directly inspired by the patterning of textiles and fabrics, sewing, and piecing together material. I love revealing the evidence of how a piece is assembled, such as enhancing seams and connection points, rather than smoothing them together. I also enjoy capitalizing on that magical nature of clay where it’s soft and pliable when wet, but hard and functional once fired. This project perfectly embodies all these inspirations in one pot! I use a low-fire, red-earthenware clay, and finish the surfaces with terra sigillata, patina wash, and glaze.
Creating a Template
My berry bowl consists of two main parts: a strainer base form and a puffy rim with a built-in handle. For the base, roll the clay to approximately 3⁄16 inch thick and place it on a ware board that’s slightly larger than your slab. I like to use drywall as a working surface because it’s easy to cut to size, absorbs moisture, and has a smooth, texture-free surface. You can stretch the slab slightly to your desired thickness. To erase any unintentional marks left from canvas, compress the clay with the rounded end of a metal rib, pulling it across the surface of the slab. This also aligns the particles in the clay, making it stronger to stand up on its own. Allow the clay to set up to slightly damper than the soft leather-hard stage; it should still be flexible. A good test is to bend up a corner of the slab, if it falls back slightly, but remains elevated, your clay is ready.
The template (1) for the strainer base is designed loosely off the form of the little wooden berry baskets you often find at a farmers markets flipped upside-down to create a slightly inverted form. Transfer the template onto card stock or tarpaper and cut it out. I prefer to use a template made out of tarpaper. It withstands multiple uses because it’s waterproof and has a nice surface thickness to cut against. Place the template on your compressed slab and roughly cut out the shape, staying about an inch outside of your template edge.
Marrying the Function to the Design
If you enjoy adding texture to your piece, as I do, choose a tool or stamp that creates a nice pattern over the surface. I typically pick a stamp that invites a place to eventually cut the holes for the strainer function—one that marries the function to the design. Stamp the surface of the slab (2). Place the template back onto the slab and cut across the four tops. Next, hold the knife at a 45° angle and cut each of the remaining sides (3). Be sure to keep the knife pointed in the same direction while cutting both the right and left sides, as this will create both an “innie” and “outie” angle, creating strong attachments on the corners (4). I rotate my slab on its ware board to make sure I’m always cutting in front of myself. This way, I don’t inadvertently shift my angle, cutting incorrectly on opposite sides of the piece. Score all four of the open angles. For attachments, I score with a serrated rib dipped in water, as this creates a sticky, slip-like surface without disrupting the stamped design. Flip the slab over and score the opposite sides. Tip: When moving the slab, be sure to pick it up carefully by gently pinching the tops of two sides (or sandwich between two ware boards and flip), otherwise, the slab will tear.
Assembling the Berry Bowl
Begin assembling the base by gently lifting up two neighboring walls and connecting them, starting at the bottom of the form (5). If the walls aren’t standing up on their own, the clay is too wet. The cut angles should match up and can be gently smoothed with a finger on the inside. Rotate the ware board and connect the opposite two walls. Don’t worry if the form looks a little distorted, it can be adjusted later. Rotate again to attach the remaining two walls, smoothing the inside of each seam with your finger as you go. Note: Be sure to support the opposite side of the wall as you apply pressure from the inside so the seam doesn’t open on the outside.
Once the four walls have been assembled, start at the bottom and stamp up the outside of each seam with a contrasting texture, while supporting the inside with your finger (6). This will compress the clay at the connection as well as add a design to highlight the corner.
Refine the form by gently squaring off each corner on the top. To add volume, cup one hand on the outside of a wall and slowly stretch it with a soft rubber rib from the inside of the pot, pressing from the bottom up (7). Do this to all four sides.
Next, turn the rim to stand straight up and score both the inside and outside surfaces of the rim in preparation to receive the puffy top (8).
Allow the base to dry to a true soft-leather hard (dry enough to easily handle, but only slightly pliable). While carefully holding the base, lightly tap the bottom of each side with the heel of your hand. This will create a bit of lift, establishing four feet (9).
Adding a Puffy Rim
For the puffy rim, roll out another slab a bit thinner than the first one, as it will need to bend significantly. Compress both sides with a metal rib and add a simple texture. Be sure not to make marks that run parallel to the way you will be bending the slab, as it will crack or pull apart along those marks. Cut three, 2½–3-inch tall strips that are wider than one side of the base. Cut an angle on one side of the strip, hold it up to the base, mark the corner with your finger (10), and cut the angle on the opposite side, forming a trapezoid shape (11). Score the bottom and top of the rim strip on the back side. Re-score the rim of the base and attach the shorter side of the trapezoid piece to the inside. Compress the attachment point with your finger to ensure it’s secure. This tends to be the place of failure, as the slab that forms the rim will become detached in the drying process if not compressed properly. Gently bend the thin slab strip around and attach it to the base. Compress with your finger, while making sure to securely press the connection but not to smear out the mark of the attachment point. Repeat these steps on the opposite side (12). For the third side of the puffy rim, be sure to not only score the strainer base, but also the corners of the recently attached rims. This side will be connected on top of the other two rims’ corner edges.
Creating a Handle
For the handle side of the rim, cut a 5½-inch strip of your thinner slab (see 11), making certain it’s wide enough to overlap the intersecting puffy rims. Score the entire back side of this piece and attach it to the inside of the base (13). Gently wrap it around and attach it on the outside of the base; there should be a gap above the edges of other rims as this should be taller to create the handle. Be careful not to squish this rim! Cut a small dart into the top of the rim, bend the front of the rim slab around to touch the side, then wrap the remaining clay around to close up the gap (14). If there’s excessive clay in the overlap, cut some of it away keeping enough to close the form. Cut out an equal-sized oval opening on both the front and back side of the handle piece (15). Carefully bend the slab inward around the cut area, from both the inside and outside, so the two sides touch.
To trim the handle opening, cut a thin strip of clay and score the back. Score all around the surface of the handle opening and add the thin strip onto the bottom side of the opening, allowing it to slightly curl up the sides. Add another thin strip of clay to the top side of the opening, overlapping the bottom piece (16). These thin slabs create a “lining” in the handle that reinforces the connection, offers a comfortable surface to grasp, and invites the potential for a color change in decoration. Gently compress all the connection points.
The final step is to poke holes into the form to allow water to drain during use. You can use a tapered round hole cutter, or a small drill bit. Only cut holes in the walls opposite the handle and the bottom surface to force the water to drain in a forward direction while holding it under a faucet. Remove any resulting clay pieces on the inside and wipe the strainer walls with a slightly dampened sponge to soften any rough edges. Cover the finished piece loosely with plastic to allow it to dry slowly so the moisture can equalize throughout the pot.
Once the piece is bone dry, I brush on two coats of terra sigillata, choosing different colors for the base and the rim. I burnish the surface with a small piece of microfiber towel, but a piece of thin plastic or simply your finger would do the trick.
Bisque fire to cone 06. To get an even coat of glaze in the interior, I use an incredibly low-tech solution: plug all the holes with tiny rolled up pieces of paper towels. This way, the glaze can be poured inside and then dumped out without spilling everywhere. Brush patina on the surface and wipe off with a damp sponge so it remains settled in the textures and highlights the stamped patterns.
Finish the piece by brushing a clear glaze (I use AMACO’s LG10 clear) on the inside of the handle to create a nice, smooth functional surface and color shift. Glaze fire to cone 03. Finally, fill the bowl with berries, wash, and enjoy!
Amy Sanders is a studio potter from Charlotte, North Carolina. She teaches adult handbuilding classes and conducts workshops across the US. Along with Ronan Kyle Peterson and Liz Zlot Summerfield, Sanders is organizing the Red Handed Symposium, a conference focusing on red earthenware, for Memorial Day weekend at the Clay Lady’s Campus in Nashville, Tennessee. She regularly exhibits work at Lark and Key Gallery. Check out her work at www.amysanderspottery.comor follow along on Instagram @amysanderspottery.