We are Sue and John Bailey and we have taken up pottery after retiring from our respective careers.
It all started with Sue’s early interest in clay work at school a few years ago, but was rekindled after after taking a 3 day wheel-throwing course at the fabulous Leach pottery in idyllic St Ives. That was September 2018, it wasn’t long before we decided this was a craft we could really get into.
We create our pieces from stoneware clay, right here on the wheel or modelling board in our garden pottery studio (converted shed/summerhouse) which is where we also decorate and glaze the pieces. We fire our work in an old electric kiln in our garage and after a day or more of excruciating impatience we open the kiln with childlike excitement and awe.
For those that don’t know, which included us just a few months ago, the whole process goes a bit like this…
Take some clay from the pack, it has the consistency of damp play-doh, then create your piece on the wheel, or maybe by modelling by hand.
Once it’s just about created, let it go half-dry or ‘leather-dry’, a few hours outside in summer, overnight in the house in winter. In this state the piece is in a lightly-robust form and can be handled but is also of a consistency that can be re-worked or finished. We often re-attach it (using ‘slugs’ of clay) to the wheel and work it some more using cutting tools, a bit like woodworking on a lathe. At this stage adornments such as handles can be added and ‘glued’ on using runny clay or ‘slip’.
Once the work is finished it is left for at least a few days and then it is as dry as open-air can get it, in this state it is known as ‘green’ ware. It’s basically just like mud that has dried in the sun, it feels dry but is easily damaged and mug handles are easily knocked off.
The next step is to fire it in the kiln to around 1000°C which turns the clay into a very hard and robust ceramic, this is known as Bisque firing, and the work is generalised as bisque ware. This firing is done with a slow rate of temperature-increase initially as there are still some water molecules in the clay that need to be eradicated before going to full temperature.
Bisque ware is then decorated and glazed, with ones imagination being the only limiting factor. You can use under-glaze colours to paint on the bisque ware, or you can use any variety of glazes, coloured or transparent, or indeed combinations of everything. You can even use a piping tool to pipe-on coloured slips.
Once the decorating is complete, the items are re-fired, but this time to a hotter temperature. Our stoneware glazes are fired to around 1250°C with a short hold at this temperature then a gentle initial cooling down rate before switching heat off completely.
Then there is a long wait of a day and a half to let the kiln and it’s precious contents cool down to room temperature.