Friday, April 19, 2013

The Petal Cups of Spring

This has been a busy winter! In my last post on the petal cups, I said that I would spend the winter producing them. At some point, I set a goal of 1000, and while I had no illusions of achieving that goal in a single season, I have made an impressive start! I have also made a great deal of progress on the technique of forming them. Compare this picture to the one in the last post on the subject and you will see a big difference! I threw most of those early efforts out.

I estimate that I am almost halfway to the 1,000 goal. In fact, the kiln is almost full and ready for the first bisque firing. The cups in this picture will be the last to get stacked before I close the lid.

As I mentioned before, the method for making the petal cups was not passed along, and those who were around at the time are either gone now or do not remember clearly how they were made. Petal cups have not been made in almost 40 years as far as I can tell, so I had to figure some things out. Here is what I came up with.

It all starts with a slab of clay. I am a wheel potter for the most part, and I don't have a slab roller, so I learned the art of wielding a rolling pin. Mind you, this particular rolling pin is 30 inches long and made for the purpose, so that helped.

But no matter how good the roller is, a nice, even slab is no small matter! I estimate that it takes me the better part of 15 minutes to get a slab rolled out to the correct thickness. There are all sorts of things you have to watch out for: Evenness of thickness, direction of the rolling action (it has to be changed several times), turning the slab over every few strokes (done by layering the slab between two sheets of canvas), and the dynamics of drying just to name a few. Fail in any of these, and the slab will yield unpredictable, often poor results.

Once the slab is made, it needs to rest and dry out for about a half hour before it can be worked. I stack the slabs between sheets of drywall for this purpose. The clay has to be stiff but plastic enough to bend and shape without cracking or breaking. The reason for stacking with drywall is to make sure that the top of the slab doesn't dry out any faster than the underside. If it does, the slab will warp - as will anything made from it.
I use a rose petal cutter for making what I call "blanks." Of course, nobody makes a rose petal cutter this big, so I had one made for me by the folks at Aunt Holly's right here in Maine (I love doing business locally). The cutter works beautifully with a little help from Murphy's Oil Soap, which I use as a releasing agent to keep the cutter from sticking.

I can usually get about 10 blanks from one slab, and with six slabs per run, well, you can do that math. Not all slabs fair as well. The slab in this picture only yielded eight.

Once the blanks are cut out, they are stacked and the stacks are wrapped in plastic to keep them from
drying out any further. Now the fun can begin!

I use a jig that I made for the purpose. It consists of a PVC floor drain turned upside down, a length of PVC pipe and a fitting into which I have glued an upside down wooden egg with the end cut off. Hard to picture?

The blanks are sponged to remove the pattern left on them by the canvas during the rolling out process. The edges are smoothed and rounded, and the maker's marks are put on the bottom. Then the blank is draped over the jig and the petals folded into place. The finished petal cup is allowed to dry at least one day and then is sponged again to smooth out any finger marks, rough edges and imperfections. Then they are allowed to dry for several days before stacking in the kiln. Because they are quite thin it doesn't take any longer than that.

In my first bisque firing of this year, I stacked only the petal cups. Not one was lost in the first firing, which is a great sign. In all, I ended up with 390 of them. Gad! Just short of an even 400. I need to get busy!

On Facebook recently, I stated that my production goal on petal cups is 1,000 this year. I just might reach it. But the tile project is calling my name once again, and I have already started on designs for holiday ornaments. You can't start too soon!

No comments:

Post a Comment