Come June, when cherries and strawberries are in plentiful supply, a berry bowl is a necessity in my household. A berry bowl can double as a colander for draining noodles if it’s big enough; it can be put atop a pot of boiling water to steam vegetables, and it can be used as a fruit bowl when you don’t have fresh berries. A berry bowl is simply a bowl with holes in it so you can fill it with berries, wash them, and set them aside to drain. A berry bowl should also come with a saucer to keep puddles from collecting on your countertop. 

Berry bowl and saucer, berry bowl 8 in. (20 cm) in diameter, fired to cone 6 in oxidation.

Throwing and Trimming the Bowl

To make a moderate-sized berry bowl, start with 3 pounds (1kg) of clay—3 pounds should make a bowl around 9 inches (23 cm) in diameter and 4–4½ inches (10–11 cm) high. Throw a bowl with a thick enough floor to trim a deep foot into, for drainage (1). Pull as much clay as you can up from the base to create a bowl with a smooth curve where the floor transitions into the wall (2).

You should decide how you plan to pick up the wet bowl once it’s fired and full of berries. Do you want to add handles? Do you want to cut hand holes? Do you want a wide rim? I like to flare out the rim so the bowl can easily be lifted with two hands under the rim. Using a soft rib, apply pressure to the top inch of the bowl from the inside to create a wide, flaring rim. Use one finger of your other hand to support the wall from the outside, allowing you to create a distinct angle at the transition from wall to rim (3). 

Once you’ve finished forming the bowl, trim away the extra clay around the base (4), and measure the base with calipers (5). 

Next, use your two opposed index fingers to alter the rim at evenly spaced intervals (6). This adds dynamic energy to the rim. 

Finally, cut under the bowl with a cutting wire. 

1 Center and open the clay, leaving the bottom thick enough to trim a deep foot. 2 Create a bowl with a smooth curve where the floor transitions into the wall. 3 Use a soft rib to create a flaring rim while your opposite hand supports the exterior. 4 Trim away the excess clay from the base of the bowl.

Throwing the Saucer, Finishing the Bowl

Use 1 pound (about 450 grams) of clay to throw a saucer. Center the clay, spreading it out into a pancake about  inch thick. Check with your calipers to make sure the bowl will fit with a little room to spare (7). Use a wooden tool to lift up the edge and create a rim. Then, use a soft rib to flare the rim (8). Wire under the saucer.

When the bowl is leather hard, turn it over and trim a foot. You want a deeper foot on this bowl than on other types of serving bowls, to be sure that water can completely drain away from the berries. As you get close to finishing the foot, check the fit of the saucer (9). You can make the foot narrower, if necessary, to make it fit the saucer. Double check that the curved wall of the bowl doesn’t touch the rim of the saucer. 

To further aid in drainage, put a notch in the foot of the bowl so that water doesn’t get trapped inside the foot ring (see 10). Clean up the underside of the saucer as necessary, but you should not need to trim a foot on it. 

5 Measure the base with calipers. Wire under the bowl. 6 Use your two opposed index fingers to alter the rim at evenly spaced intervals. 7 Flatten out 1 pound of clay to make a saucer wider than the base of the bowl. 8 Lift the edge of the saucer, then use a soft rib to flare its rim.

Drilling the Drainage Holes

Now comes the fun part. Leave the bowl upside down on your wheel and mark out a pattern for the holes. I use a pencil to create a grid of horizontal and vertical lines, then draw curved patterns within the grid (10). You can also do a more free-form arrangement of holes. Keep the pattern relatively bold and simple. Note: The bowl should be stiff enough that the pencil draws on the clay without scratching it. 

Now, pierce holes all along these lines. Using a lightweight cordless drill with a bit around  inch (smaller if you want to use it as a colander), pierce holes about an inch apart along the lines you drew (11). Drill holes where your lines cross each other first, then evenly space out the rest of the holes. When you finish the pattern, turn the bowl right side up and use a stiff brush to clear away the burrs and crumbs of clay from the inside. If the clay was too soft, you’ll have a harder time cleaning the crumbs away. Next time, let it dry a little longer. As an optional last step, you can replace the drill bit with a countersink bit and use it to bevel the edge of every hole inside and out (12). Finally, simply sponge over the surface, inside and out, to soften the edges of the holes.

9 Trim a deep foot so the bottom of the bowl won’t touch the surface it sits on. 10 With the bowl centered upside down, draw lines for the holes. 11 Use a cordless drill with a ¼-inch bit to drill holes along the lines of the pattern. 12 Replace the drill bit with a counter-sink bit to round out the edges of the holes.

Glazing Tips

To glaze a berry bowl, you’re best off dipping the bowl straight down into a single glaze, or dipping it sideways half in one glaze and then half into a different glaze. It’s difficult to pour or layer glazes on a pot full of holes, but you can dip the rim in a second glaze for a layered look, if desired. Be aware that multiple overlapping glazes may run and clog your holes! You might want to avoid translucent glazes such as celadons, which will show all the streaks where glaze runs through the holes. Use a hole-cleaning tool or a drill bit to clean excess glaze from inside the holes but be careful not to clean away all the glaze inside the holes.

Clafoutis recipe, by Sumi von Dassow

In 2021 after 30 years of teaching pottery in the Denver area, Sumi von Dassow moved to the small town of Beulah, Colorado. She owns a studio and gallery, Beulah Valley Pottery, and is the president of the Beulah Valley Arts Council. She has contributed many articles to Pottery Making Illustrated. Look for her third book on pottery for the home and garden, published by The American Ceramic Society, due out next year.