From my very first ceramics class, I was a sponge, soaking up every little bit of knowledge. It led me to take experimental approaches to the processes of clay, and a desire to keep challenging how far I could push the material. Soon I started to draw influence from crochet and metal weaving patterns, the structured geometry bringing strength to the delicate nature of ceramics. I merged these malleable, hand-woven components with wheel-thrown bases as a way to create volume. Using gravity as a tool, I glaze fuse suspended forms together in the firing. My process is heavily rooted in repetition, and stems from a love of the meditative effects of tedious tasks. I look at it on a scale of micro to macro: creating one small component that grows into a larger pattern, and finally evolves to become the complete form.
Finding a Pattern
To build a woven-clay vessel, you will need to decide what pattern you want to create for the basis of your design. Begin this process by making a few sketches of simple shapes, and consider how they can be linked together (1). Preferably, it will be a pattern that can tessellate well, but with careful planning you can experiment with more complicated arrangements. For my pattern, I will be using circular components and linking them together to create something that resembles a flower. I enjoy the idea of referencing the object that is intended to reside inside of the vessel in the surface ornamentation.
Creating Rings and Flowers
Once you have determined a design, start to extrude coils using a handheld extruder (2). I recommend using a clay body that is highly plastic for this process. I use a cone-10 porcelain and pour in a splash of apple-cider vinegar when mixing it. This helps age the clay, which will increase the plasticity. I also mix my clay on the softer side, so that it is easier to push through my Shimpo extruder. I extrude 5 pounds of clay through a die to make 34-inch-long coils. To make the die, I drilled 9 holes into a stainless-steel disk using a 1/4-inch drill bit. Try out various sizes of coils to see how the scale will affect your design before committing to a specific length. Then, use a gridded craft mat to measure and cut the coils (around 200) to 3½-inch lengths (3). As I cut coils, I move them to a damp box, so that they remain wet enough to work with later.
Once you have cut the coils, take one from the damp box, curve it into a ring, and smooth the ends together until the seam is no longer visible. Slowly roll the ring around your thumb and forefinger to create the gentle curve of a circle (4). Set each completed ring (about 150) onto a wire-mesh rack to fully dry.
As those rings are drying, go back to the extruder and change the die to one that will give you smaller coils. Cut these coils into 2-inch lengths and store them in a damp box as well. Next, slightly press together (so they are parallel) two of the 2-inch coils, and slowly curl both ends into the center until it resembles the shape of a staple. Wrap it around two of the dried rings to link them together. Smooth the ends of the doubled coil until they are joined, and then use a curved plastic tool to make the connection seamless by indenting the center line between the two coils (5). Continue to join rings around the center one until there are six in total, and then connect all of the surrounding rings with each other (6). Use a damp sponge to soften and clean the fresh links, and set it aside to fully dry while you make a couple dozen more.
Throwing the Base
I’m inspired by how the weaving patterns have the potential to display flowers, so I want my base to be something that can hold water, but does not distract from the ornamentation of the ceramic weaving by being obvious. Throw a bowl (using the same clay body you used for the extruded coils) that is wider than it is tall, and leave excess clay at the rim to be able to split it in half and flare out. Use a wooden tool to do this, and throw out a lip that extends at least ½ inch (7). Let your bowl stiffen up slightly so it’s halfway between just thrown and leather hard.
Connecting the Rings to the Base
Next, lay some freshly made coiled rings around the circumference of the lip. For this pattern, I work in groupings of four, so I need to equally space as many of these groups around the lip as I can. I alter the spacing in between each ring until it’s equal, and then slowly work the lip down and around the ring until it secures it in place (8). After you have attached all of your rings around the outside of the base, carefully flip the whole form over, and attach a coil on top of the fresh connections, then blend it in to secure it (9). Loosely wrap your form in plastic, and wait for it to stiffen up enough to trim.
Designing a Foot
The fragility of these vessels requires them to have a strong and sturdy foot, so that you carry them without breaking any of the added components. Trim the foot to flare out, then carry the flower motif into the foot by dissecting the foot into sections (10). Smooth each cut edge.
Finishing the Coil Pattern
Place a small tub onto a banding wheel, and flip the base upside down on it so that the rim of the bowl is elevated a few inches above your table. To attach your coil-pattern components, slip and score the center of a coil to attach it below the foot (11), and slide the coil through the center of the rings of a pattern component, then smooth the two ends of the coil together (12). Use the rings attached to your bowl as a guide in how you want your components spaced. Continue this all the way around the bowl, and connect the sides of your components together with a double link (13). Once that is done, allow the form to start drying out slowly. You will want it to be mostly, if not completely, dry to be able to suspend your patterns along the edge.
Letting the flower pattern rest on the table, use a 34-gauge nichrome wire to tie around the rings you’re connecting to the base (14). Tip: The nichrome wire will hold the weight of the flower pattern, so that when you connect a wet coil around the rings, it won’t be stretched out by the pull of gravity. This will also allow you to play with the spacing of the flowers more precisely, as you don’t have to worry about the wire shrinking. Add a flower every two rings, so that the upper half of the vessel will expand slightly. Once that is done, go back to each of the nichrome connections and secure a double coil over it to hide the wire (15). Connect each of the sides of the flowers together with a double coil (16), and also add an accent ring in the gaps of the flowers using the double coil.
Firing and Glazing
Bisque fire the form to cone 04 with the vase suspended upside down on a kiln post.
In order to glaze it, pour a small amount of glaze inside the bowl to cover the interior. Then, turn it upside down in a basin on a banding wheel, and rotate it as you pour glaze over the exterior for even coverage. Suspend the form upside down on a kiln post again, but this time add one bisque-fired flower on top of the post, so that the glaze inside the bowl will fuse to the flower, and not the post. I use glaze as a tool to fuse together all the chained connections, so that once the cone-10 electric firing finishes, the vase can stand right side up. The particular glaze I’m using is fairly runny, and breaks on the edges causing a highlight, and intensifies the depth of the line work in the coils where it pools. A thick or opaque glaze would take away the majority of the detail, so it’s important to play around with how your glazes will affect your design.
Courtney Segrest is currently a second-year graduate student at the University of North Texas, where she balances being a student, teaching, and taking care of her dog, Casper. She received her BFA from the University of Oklahoma emphasizing in ceramics and sculpture. You can find her on Instagram @courtnise or at www.courtneysegrest.com.