I have been working with clay since I was a small child. I also have been a weaver at times, so I decided to try weaving clay. Since I am basically a functional potter, I chose this form that can serve as a plate or tray—besides just being of interest when it is not in use. My dream is someone placing a banana leaf on part of it and serving sushi.
The process requires a complete adaptation to the qualities of clay. I use Laguna B Mix with Grog stoneware and prefer to glaze these vessels. I previously worked with Black Mountain Clay, and fired them unglazed in a wood kiln and liked those results, too. The important part is working with a clay that is very plastic and fairly soft. And because the entire process is done in one continuous session, the clay should remain fairly soft and pliable.
Extruding the Coils
Select a sturdy board and lay a cloth on it that has some markings to help you keep your coils straight as you weave (see 1). Extrude lots of coils in the diameter you choose, about 2 feet long. I have used anything from ¼–1 inch diameter. These are ¾ inch in diameter and ⅝ inch in diameter. I frequently use coils in one direction in one diameter and the cross weaving is with another diameter, as this plate shows. I also extrude some larger diameter coils for the edges and foot ring—1 or 1¼ inch in diameter. Extrude all of them in advance and keep them soft and wet under plastic.
Weaving the Coils
Start by laying coils going in one direction only, the same distance apart determined by how open or tight you want the weave to be. Leave an appropriate space between them, but this can and will be adjusted later. Mark each tip of the center coil for reference (see 1).
Weave the first coil in the center. This is done by actually removing every other coil, and then replacing them when the cross coil is laid (1). Continue the weaving process by laying each coil back upon itself (2) to make a spot for the cross weave until ½ of the plate is woven (3). Continue next on the other half, weaving until all of the coils are used, and you have the same number of weaves on each side of the center coil (4). You may need to make minor adjustments to get the symmetry you desire.
Forming the Plate Shape
Place a cloth-covered ware board on top of the weave (5), and compress the coils by beating them with the board with a level on top, to be sure the pressure is uniform until you get the desired compression. Keep checking after every few beats (6).
Using a square, mark the edges to create a uniform shape—be it square or rectangle (7). You also could make a bowl shape, round or oval. Cut the edges with a fettling knife, so only the woven part you desire remains (8).
Line up the coils that will finish the edges. They may be a larger diameter, or you may choose to use two coils stacked. Score and slip the edges, then join the edge coils to the weave. Use the square and the ware boards to compress the edge coils trying to keep the size uniform (if that is what you want). Smooth and compress the corners and each seem to get a tight neat fit (9). Smooth and refine all of the joined pieces and corners. Be sure you like the look (10), as once it is flipped you will not get back to the top until it is leather-hard.
Place another cloth-covered board on top, and flip the woven plate over onto another board. Now its bottom is up and you will tighten all of the bottom seams and finish the corners as you have done on the top. Don’t forget to add your maker’s mark.
Place the woven form next to the mold (11), which should be large enough for the entire plate to rest on. It can have any amount of a curve you would like or even a domed bowl shape. Drag the woven plate onto the mold, trying to retain the predetermined proportions. Center it on the mold by measuring each corner to the edge of the mold and gently pressing it down to get it to conform to the curve of the mold.
Foot Ring and Glazing
The woven plate immediately gets its foot ring. Create a giant foot ring using another coil or two, and adhere it to the bottom of the woven form by scoring and slipping (12). Press the foot ring in place using the cloth-covered board and a level for guidance. Smooth and clean up any joints (13). Keep it covered with plastic to dry very slowly. Once it is leather hard, you can lift it off carefully, turn it over, and clean up any minor flaws.
Give it plenty of time to dry slowly and thoroughly. I use a cone-10 clay and bisque fire to cone 03. I glaze fire in reduction to cone 10 and my favorite glaze for these is a black wood-ash glaze (see recipe above). What is amazing is I just dip the entire plate in a deep tray of the glaze, and it coats it without any assistance from me to create a wonderful pattern.
Jan Schachter is a potter. She started working in clay when she was 4 years old. She enjoys making pots for everyday use; each is a subtle variation of a form—usually created in a series. She is a perfectionist (as much as the process allows) and is constantly in search of the perfect surface and ideal form while striving to create pots that have life and vitality. You can see more at www.janschachter.com or on Instagram @janschachter.