Out of Round

I began making a thrown and altered vase about five years ago, after seeing many variations of an oval or envelope-type vase. I’ve always appreciated how this form fans flowers out so you can really see them. At the time, I was trying to come up with a way to make a version of this vase without too much altering or handbuilding. My first attempts of this form were pretty similar to what I make now, except for the handles, which felt unresolved. I tried knob handles and loops, but none of those really matched my aesthetic. The handle that I settled on is much the same as other handles that I attach to my pots, though with its own personality.

Throwing the Form

Start by wedging approximately 3 pounds of clay. After centering the clay on the wheel, open the bottom up with about a 3-inch-diameter interior, leaving about ¼ inch of clay in the bottom of the pot. Compress the bottom by throwing back in toward the center a few times before beginning to pull the clay up. I throw my pots on plaster bats and wait for them to pop off on their own. If you need to cut the pot off of the wheel or bat, leave a little more clay on the bottom. 

1 Throw a tall cylinder, leaving plenty of clay at the top to stretch it wider later on.

2 Shape the waist and widen the top using a metal kidney-shaped rib.

Throw the clay into a tall cylinder, leaving the top slightly thicker so that there is plenty of clay to open the top wider (1). Once the clay is pulled up, begin to shape the waist and widen the top using a kidney-shaped rib (2). When this step is finished, the dimensions are somewhere in the vicinity of 3½ inches in diameter at the bottom, 2½ inches at the waist, and 4½–5½ inches in diameter at the top.

Trimming

Since I don’t cut my pieces off their plaster bats, I can trim my piece upright while still attached to the bat at the leather-hard stage. I keep my left hand inside of the vase while trimming in case it pops off of the plaster (3). Trim the bottom half of the form to get some weight out and adjust the proportions a little. I leave a little extra weight in the bottom to help stabilize the vase once it’s filled with flowers. After trimming the form, smooth the surface with a pliable rib, then flip the pot over and clean up the bottom as well.

Altering the Shape

While the pot is leather hard, wet the top half of the pot on the inside, outside, and rim using a sponge. I want the top of the pot to be very soft and pliable, to prevent cracking when I bend the rim.

Once the top of the form is nice and soft, I place my hands on either side of the piece about an inch from the top of the rim. With a back-and-forth motion, much like you would use to roll a coil between your hands, begin to squeeze the top of the form into an envelope shape (4). Next, pull out a bit on each corner to set the shape (5). Once the desired effect is achieved, I let the vase firm up again to leather hard before adding handles.

3 Trim the bottom half of the form to lighten it and adjust the proportions.

4 Squeeze the top into an envelope form with a back-and-forth motion.

5 Pull out each corner slightly to set the envelope shape, then let it firm up.

6 Pull strap handles, leaving the ends thicker and the middle thinner.

Pulling Handles

While the vase firms up, wedge about 2–3 pounds of clay to pull handles. Slap the clay into an elongated cone shape, hold the cone in one hand pointing downward, wet your other hand, and pull the cone into a strap handle, leaving the handle thicker on both ends and thinner in the middle (6). The handles that I use for the vase are the same handles that I use for a large mug. I pull all the handles that I need, plus an extra one, just in case. Cut the handles off and set them upright to dry on a board in a curved C shape. Let them dry until they are no longer tacky, but still very pliable.

Attaching Handles

Once the pot is leather hard again and the handles are ready, score the vase on both narrow ends of the ovaled opening and add slip to the scored marks. Score the top of the handle and attach it to the vase (7). At this point, score the vase under the top handle attachment as well, in anticipation of the bottom handle join. Then, pick up the vase and turn it sideways so that the handle is facing the floor, and pull the handle a few times with wet fingers to get some fluidity in it (8). Flip the vase upright again and set it down before attaching the bottom of the handle to the form (9). I don’t score the handle again, because the clay is soft and wet enough to attach as is. Repeat this process on the opposite side of the vase (10). Once both handles are attached, press the bottom of the handles against the pot and make sure they are somewhat symmetrical to each other, then push the handles into the desired shape (11). Do any final touch ups, then cover the vase lightly for controlled drying so that as everything dries you can still push the handles back up if they’ve slumped and check for cracks that can form at the point where the handles meet the vase. Sometimes I make decorative marks in the vase while it’s leather hard, other times I do all of my decoration in the glazing process.

7 Attach the top of the handle to the top of the vase at one of the corners.

8 Pull the handle with wet fingers to loosen it and make it more pliable.

9 Attach the bottom of the handle, supporting the corner from the interior.

10 Repeat this handle attachment process on the other corner of the vase.

Glazing and Firing

I bisque fire my piece to cone 06. Once out of the bisque firing, do a quick cleanup with a metal rib to knock off any burrs or sharp spots and wipe the pot with a damp rag to make sure there is no dust. I wax the bottom of the pot using a combination of Mobil and Forbes wax, with an addition of alumina hydrate to make sure the bottoms of the pots don’t stick to the kiln shelves in the glaze firing. I decorate with a combination of overlapping and layering glazes. I also use wax resist marks on my pots to control drips and get some glaze flashing (wax for decorative purposes doesn’t need to have added alumina hydrate). I fire in a gas car kiln to cone 10 to finish my work (12).

11 Push the handles into the desired shapes and refine.

12 Blue and gold vase with handles, porcelain, fired to cone 10 in reduction, 2019.

Hona Leigh Knudsen received a BFA from West Virginia University in 2008. She was an apprentice with Richard Hensley and Donna Polseno from 2009–12. Hona is now a studio potter in Copper Hill, Virginia, where she shares a studio with her husband, Josh Manning. She is a member of the 16 Hands Studio Tour, as well as many art guilds in the region. For more information, visit honaleighceramics.com and 16hands.com.

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