It’s getting hot in here

I often spend December making gifts for my friends and family. The month is always full of interruptions which make the kind of focused work I usually do difficult, but small experiments work well. This year one of those experiments was working with some stoneware clay. I had ordered some Silver Falls Porcelain from Georgies, which was advertised as a true porcelain that fired at the lower stoneware temperature.

What I wanted to make were small beads and tiny tiles for my mother to use as embellishments on her handmade cards. For those that have seen the Somerset Studio family of magazines, that is the type of collage art my mother makes. I’ve given her small test tiles and glazed beads in the past, but she’s tended to hoard them. My thinking was that if I filled a tote bag full of them, she might not see them as so rare and valuable and might actually use them. But I guessed that the number required to reach that tipping point would be pretty high, so slipcasting wasn’t going to work. At two castings per mold per day, I was going to be a long time making little trinkets!

That’s where the moist stoneware clay came in. Instead of pouring liquid clay into molds, I could just flatten out the moist clay and stamp designs onto it. Thanks to my mother’s interests, I had a stash of ready-made rubber stamps. (In hindsight, I wish I had started my project early enough to have made stamps from my own artwork. Maybe next year!)

The clay took the stamped image beautifully. Afterwards I just cut the design out from the piece of clay with a cookie cutter, removed the excess clay and allowed it to dry there on the table. The clay had a wonderful buttery, soft feel to it that reminded me of the high-talc content slip we use to make the horses.

My only problem was in rolling it flat. Working that small, any uneven areas become really visible. That’s when I decided to see if running it through a pasta machine might work.

As you can see in this picture, it worked just fine! Every now and again I had to rub a little vegetable oil on the rollers, and then run a folded paper towel through to soak up any excess, or the clay would begin to tear apart as it went through. But otherwise it was the perfect solution.

The only downside was that firing to 2167° instead of my normal 1945° made my little studio unbearably hot for a very long time. I keep currently active plaster molds on a shelf at that end of the room, and when the kiln reached 2000° all the rubber bands broke and went sailing through the air! I had just walked in to (nervously) check the kiln when it happened, so I now have a few more gray hairs. I can move the molds (or expect to duck when things get hot enough), but I’m not sure that stoneware is practical with my current setup.

My mother’s trinkets did turn out nicely, though. I forgot to get a picture of them before I wrapped them up in her tote, but maybe later I can post some pictures of the cards she makes. (Instead of the decorative jars where she stores the previous ones I have made.)

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One Response to It’s getting hot in here

  1. Emily December 21, 2007 at 4:51 pm #

    What a *cool* idea! I’m glad it worked out so well, and hope that your mom can bear to use them! 🙂

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