Teaching a clay class in the Loveland parks and recreation program for the last 27 years has been gratifying to me on many levels. In 2011, the clay program supervisor announced that I would be joined by a volunteer assistant in class. I was skeptical. Soon after, Michael Janis walked into the clay classroom with samples of his work. It was all wonderful! Each week he casually suggested projects for the handbuilding students to try. One of these suggestions was woven bowls.
I asked Michael later how he began his clay weaving process. He explained, “in the 70s I was doing lots of weaving so the move to doing it in clay was natural. I was extruding coils for pot making so one day I just tried weaving a flat square using the coils then, slumped the square shape into a bisque-fired bowl. I kept at it through the years.” Michael has been an amazing mentor to me and our clay class for the last five years, teaching me as well as my (our) students.
This project can be done using a slump mold or over a hump mold. The process shown here uses a plaster hump mold. It can be done with many sizes of extruded clay or you can use strips of cut slabs.
To ensure consistency of the coils, an extruder is a useful tool. I like to extrude -inch coils (using Buff Stoneware from Continental Clay), although any size coil will work.
Begin by placing two coils directly crossing in the center of the mold. Pat the coils flat with your hand to join them together (1). Leave approximately 2 inches of each coil end extended beyond the bottom of the mold. Mark the center of this cross (I use a small leaf stamp) to use as a reference point while weaving (2).
Next, begin placing coils over and under on adjacent sides, counting the rows as you go (3). I count the rows so I won’t forget where I am—two coils on the east side, two on the west side, two on the north side, two on the south side, then start back on the east side with coil number 3. No scoring or slipping is necessary, as each coil is extruded just before it’s attached, keeping the clay moist and the weaving structure free of messy slip and scoring marks. Leave as much or as little space between the coils as you choose (4).
When you reach the bottom of the mold, extrude a coil to fit the entire circumference of the bottom edge of your weaving (5). Now, fold the 2-inch pieces of clay that overlap the bottom back onto the circumference coil, cutting off at about 1 inch and pressing it securely into the circumference coil (6, 7).
Creating a Foot
Center the mold and woven bowl on the wheel head, then extrude another coil to be used for a foot. While the wheel is turning slowly, use a pin tool to mark two circles where the foot will attach. Cut the coil at an angle where it will connect for a stronger join (8). With a sponge, place downward pressure on the inside and the outside of the coil. I don’t score or add slip to the foot addition, but you certainly can if it’s needed in your case. Have the wheel turning at medium speed to throw the foot from the coil. I generally make the foot about 12 inches in diameter when finished. First use a sponge, then use a metal rib to clean up the edges of the foot (9, 10).
Attention to Surface Details I find clay to be very forgiving while weaving, offering a form that’s beautifully imperfect and requiring little extra cleaning up. This form is complex in itself and requires very subtle decoration. I paddle the entire form with a rope paddle (11, 12)—one of my favorite tools—mine is made by paddle and stamp maker, Stanley Hurst. Paddling the form, besides creating surface interest, also seals the coils together while smoothing out any imperfections on the rim where the coils were folded over. Experiment with surface decoration—possibly paddling lace, fabric, even grasses into the clay.
Cover the form with plastic and let it dry slowly. When it reaches leather hard, pop it off the mold carefully (13). The form may lose shape if taken off too soon or crack as it dries and shrinks if left to fully dry while still on the hump mold.
Glazing After bisque firing to cone 06, I dip the woven bowl in a large, wide bucket of glaze. To accentuate the top edge, dip the rim in a second glaze. If your glaze is the consistency of a thin milkshake, there should be no problem with surface coverage.
It’s always important to know your glaze. Does it need one dunk or two? How often does it need to be stirred? Should it be applied thin or thick? The way that it wraps around the coils depends on knowing your glaze well.
Thoughts on Additional Woven Forms Other handbuilt forms can be made using this weaving method. Consider making a flower brick by handbuilding a box and placing weaving on the top—perfect for fresh-cut summer flowers.
Since developing this woven bowl, I have begun making handbuilt fruit bowls or colanders by cutting a circle out of the middle bottom of a thrown or slab-built bowl and adding a small weaving. Like many forms, the possibilities are endless.
My lesson learned through this woven-bowl project is that if someone offers you a volunteer assistant while you are teaching, be sure to say yes! Thanks Michael!
Nancy Zoller has been a professional potter and teacher for 40 years. She lives and works in Loveland, Colorado. To see more, check out www.nancyzollerpottery.com.