Since the pandemic began, I’ve had a lot for which to be grateful. For one, I was able to spend more time at home cooking. For a while, shows and kiln firings were fewer, affording a pace at which I could think about pots that took more time to make. And, in the spring of 2022, I completed the permitting processes for a gas kiln after years of working toward it.
My clay work changed as a result. My prior pottery focused almost solely on eating, drinking, and serving, but now I think more about preparing and storing food as well. In the years before Covid-19, I had shifted to creating work mostly intended for wood kilns, but now I have returned to thinking about form and surface that interests me in both gas and wood atmospheres. Finally, the new, unpredictable timing of pottery events made me slow down and think more about details and of multi-part pieces. The jars I’ve created since then grew from those influences.
Throwing the Body and Lid
To make a lidded jar with a carved foot and lugs that allow the lid to be secured with a cord, start off with a simple, wheel-thrown cylinder for the body, with a rim that has no gallery (1). For smaller jars intended for storage of coffee or tea, I throw three pounds of clay for the body and make the interior diameter of the body’s lip four inches when wet. Leave the bottom quite thick— anywhere from ¼ inch to ¾ inch (6.4–20 mm) thick—so you can carve feet into it.
On the same day, ideally from the same hunk of clay (so that the same amount of shrinking remains for both body and lid), throw the lid. The lid is thrown upside down with a flange whose exterior diameter is just shy of the body’s interior diameter at the lip (2).
When I am doing a series of jars of the same top diameter, I throw extra lids in case some are too tight or too loose. Lids dry faster than bodies, so cover the former first when they become leather hard. I also wrap plastic around just the bottom of the body before it is leather hard so that I may still easily wire the body off the bat later, after the rest of the body has dried to leather hard.
Combining and Trimming
When the lid and most of the body are leather hard, and there is a lid matched to a body, both for fit and design, wire off the lid, put the body’s bat back on the wheel, and trim the lid on the body (3). This takes place all before the body has been wired off the bat. This allows you to further suit the lid to the body (4), and it helps ensure each jar is unique.
Mapping and Carving the Feet
Next, remove the lid from the body, wire the body off the bat, and turn the body upside down. Using a ruler, map out how you would like to carve the bottom to have four symmetrical feet (5). Trim the foot’s center using the wheel (6), and use loop tools to do the hand carving (7, 8). If you left a particularly thick foot, carve out the inside of the feet too, to lighten the weight of the pot (9). By the time this is done, a number of edges have been created, so rub all of them with a finger while the clay is still malleable to create a bottom that is smooth and won’t scratch a table or counter surface (10).
Creating and Attaching the Lugs
Now, put the body and lid back together and think about lugs. Since I’m primarily a thrower doing minimal slab work, a Masonite board with two ¼-inch (6.4-mm) strips and a rolling pin are enough to manually roll out small slabs. Cut several small lug shapes from the slab (11). Shape two small lugs of the same size, either rectangular or triangular, for each jar (12).
I designed the jar lugs so that a cord can secure the lid without having to be retied. To allow that, one of the two lugs gets a hole (see 12) made with a pin tool, and any sharp edges are smoothed. The second lug I leave alone until after it’s attached.
Attach the lugs by first planning the placement, then scoring and slipping the spots on the body where you want to attach them (13). I keep on hand my clay body’s slip mixed with vinegar at the consistency of cake frosting, for attaching purposes. Make sure the lugs are attached opposite one another and at the same height before the second lug is put in place. Once attached, create the notch in the second lug either with a knife, rib, or pin tool (14). Here again, make sure to smooth off any edges of sharp clay. I have found that cutting the notch in the second lug before attaching it made it more likely for the piece to bend and break off.
Completely assembled, dry the jars under loosely draped plastic for a day, so that the lugs and lid can dry more slowly, and the thick foot can catch up. This avoids cracks developing when separate areas dry too quickly. After that, remove the plastic and let the whole thing get bone dry before bisque firing. Bisque firing should be done with the lid on the body.
Glazing and Wadding
My jar’s glaze (or lack of it) will depend on the clay body I use and the type of kiln in which I plan to fire. If you do glaze, you need a way to keep the lugs’ holes from being blocked by the glaze. Put a twist tie through the hole in one lug before glazing (15), and, after the glaze is on, untwist and pull the tie back and forth in the lug to remove any excess glaze in the hole, before removing it. The slit on the other lug can be cleaned out with a pin tool if needed. If a jar with a carved foot is destined for wood firing, I’ll use four wads—one for each quadrant of the foot—rather than the usual three wads I would use on other shapes, adapting to balance this particular shape.
Adding a Cord
Use a leather cord, hemp cord, or waxed string to secure the lids. Cord widths range from 1 mm to 1.9 mm and are available at most craft stores.
After measuring the length, you want for a given jar, one end of the cord gets a knot and the rest is threaded upward through the lug with the hole. Pull the cord until the knot sits below that lug and prevents the cord from being pulled any further (16). Then, pull the unknotted end of the cord tightly over the lid and through the notch in the other lug, tying another knot just below that lug (17). The end of the cord can now be pulled in and out from the notch to secure or release the lid.
Eileen Egan lives and makes work in Alexandria, Virginia. She has fired as part of the Muddy Creek Pottery and Tye River Pottery kiln crews and is lucky to have been mentored by Jeremy Jernegan, Jill Hinckley, Kevin Crowe, and Bruce Dehnert. She can be found at www.eileen-egan.com and on Instagram @EileenEganPottery.