From time to time a student brings me a catalog page showing a bowl with an attached pocket for crackers. The image they always bring in is of a blocky, awkward, mass-produced slip-cast piece with a useless-looking mug handle, but there is a better way to make a soup bowl with a pocket. In fact, the way I do it, I end up with a pair of bowls. I call them kangaroo bowls, because they have a pocket, and of course they can be used for plenty of things besides soup and oyster crackers. You could put pistachio nuts in the bowl and use the pocket for the shells, or cherries with the pocket for the pits. Users probably won’t put these bowls in the oven or the microwave so this project can be made from porcelain, stoneware, or earthenware.
Forming the Bowls
To make a pair of kangaroo bowls, prepare three 2-pound balls of clay in order to throw three bowls, two of which will be identical. Start with the first 2-pound ball of clay on a bat, and open it up with a ¼-inch-thick floor. You won’t need to trim a foot on this bowl so there’s no reason to leave any extra clay at the bottom. Bring the floor out to about 3 inches wide before you start to pull the walls up. Make the transition from floor to wall as smooth as possible so the bowl comes out to almost a perfect half sphere. The rounder the bowl, the easier it will be to fit the pocket on. The finished bowl will be between 7 and 8 inches in diameter and about 3½ inches high.
Before wiring under the bowl or removing it from the wheel, you need a way to make the second bowl the same height and diameter. Calipers would work, but there’s an easy, elegant way to make both measurements with one tool. Stick a ball of clay on the rim of the splash pan, on the back side opposite your water bucket. Tip: Stick a nice sturdy feather, such as a goose feather, in the wad of clay so that the tip of the feather just grazes the rim of the bowl (see 1). If you can’t find a feather, use a broom straw.
Wire under the bowl from back to front, and carefully lift the bat off without disturbing the feather. Put a second, identical bat on the wheel and use the second ball of clay to throw another bowl. If you have the same amount of clay and do the same thing to it, you will easily create a very similar bowl. On the last pull, make the rim of the second bowl just a bit higher than the tip of the feather and the diameter about ¼ inch inside the feather. Next, use a soft rib to gently widen the bowl until the rim just touches the feather. Hopefully as it gets wider it will get shorter and end up exactly the right height—if not, trim it down as necessary. Ideally, the rim will end up about the same thickness as the rim of the first bowl. Wire under this bowl and remove the bat from the wheel.
For the third bowl, leave the feather in place for reference, but you want the bowl to be shorter and wider than the first two (1). Make the base flatter and wider, and bring it up to about ½ inch shorter. If necessary, cut the rim down a bit to make sure it’s shorter. Wire under this bowl, too, and allow all three bowls to stiffen up just enough to be able to turn them over on their rims. Cover the rims loosely to keep them from getting too dry.
Joining the Bowls
When all three bowls are a soft cheese hard—softer than cheddar cheese, perhaps like Jack cheese—turn them over and trim the excess clay from the base. The two identical bowls need to be left flat across the bottom while the bottom of the shorter bowl needs to be rounded out (2), hopefully making it a consistent thickness throughout. Be especially careful not to let this bowl get too stiff because it has to be cut and altered. Next, cut this bowl in half with a wire. Either use a dividing web to make marks exactly halfway around the rim from each other, or stretch a wire tightly across the rim at the approximate halfway point, and start cutting (3). Cut straight down and keep going until you’re almost through. You might have to flip the bowl over on its rim and pull the wire through the last bit.
Wrap one of the half bowls to keep it from drying out while working with the other half. Each half bowl will fit on the side of one of the identical mother bowls. I found that if I made the third bowl the same height as the other two bowls, the pockets come out too narrow with tight corners where they attach to the mother bowls. Making this bowl shorter means you can pinch the corners of the cut edge in toward each other and angle the pocket out a bit to make it more generous. When you put it in place on the side of the mother bowl’s belly you’ll see that you have to bevel the inner edge of the pocket to make the cut edge sit flush against the surface it will be attached to (4, 5). If it doesn’t fit perfectly, shave a bit of clay off to make it fit. If the mother bowls are nicely rounded, the pocket should fit without any adjustment.
Hold the pocket in place while drawing around it with a needle tool to mark where it will go (6). Scrub both surfaces with a toothbrush dipped in magic water (Lana Wilson’s Magic Water: 3 tablespoons liquid sodium silicate and 1½ teaspoon soda ash in 1 gallon of water) until you work up a coat of slip—or use a serrated rib to score the surfaces and apply slip. Put the pocket back in place and press it on tightly, smoothing the seam with a fingertip to make sure there are no gaps. Flip the bowl on its rim and add a small coil to the seam on the outside (7). Blend it carefully with your finger and a soft rib. Turn the bowl right-side-up and wrap the end of the coil over the top edge and a ½ inch or so inside the pocket to make sure the pocket doesn’t start to pull away at the top of the join. I don’t try to work a coil all the way around the inside of the seam because it’s too tight a space to access. As long as the top corner is reinforced, it won’t crack away. Use a soft paintbrush and a rubber-tipped tool to clean up the slip along the inside seam (8). Do the same thing with the second bowl, and leave both bowls to stiffen up while you pull handles.
Pull two identical handles at least 8 or 10 inches long and cut each into two pieces about 4 inches long. Pair them up so they are as well matched as possible. Curve each one into a C shape, push the end of each C down flat, and leave them to set up for an hour or so (9).
Once the handles can be touched without leaving fingerprints on them, attach them to the bowls. If the handles are too far forward, they won’t be very useful for picking up the bowl—the bowl will tip over backward. I try to place the handles opposite each other at the center of gravity of the bowl, so the handle ends up looking offset a bit toward the mother bowl (10). Hold the handle in place and mark where both ends should attach, then scrub and slip those spots. Press the handles on firmly and smooth around the ends with a sponge. Cover both bowls and allow to dry slowly. Bisque fire and glaze with a well-fitting, food-safe glaze. For ease of cleaning, a gloss or semi-gloss glaze inside is preferable.
Sumi von Dassow is an artist, instructor, and regular contributor to Pottery Making Illustrated. She lives in Golden, Colorado. Check out Sumi’s book, In the Potter’s Kitchen, available in the Ceramic Arts Network Shop, http://ceramicartsnetwork.org/store/in-the-potters-kitchen.