Recently someone came into the workshop and picked up a mug, said it was nice but then told me that £20 was too much to charge for a mug. I think I might have mentioned it on here at the time. Anyway today I was throwing mugs and I got to thinking about why they are £20 and whether it was justified so here is what I thought about making a humble mug.
Where do you start? With beginning to learn to throw? Or with the ordering of clay? Clay that you’ve tried and tested previously and know will do what you want it to do? Well lets assume the clay is already delivered and a ton of it is stacked away in the barn awaiting transformation. So you open the bag and find that it isn’t the right consistency so either wedge it with some reclaim to soften it or leave it soaking in wet rags for a few days until it is at suitable mug throwing hardness. OK so knead it, weigh it, knock it into balls, to put it simply and because I haven’t got all night then you centre it, pull it up, belly it out, finish the rim, wire it off and remove it from the wheel. Leave it to dry to leather hard and then put it back on the wheel to turn a foot ring which I know isn’t essential but I happen to like one on this particular mug shape. Pull the handles, a few extra just in case, let them toughen for a couple of hours, put the mug on the banding wheel, score it, slurry it and join the handle checking the size and shape and straightness and join and general look at the same time.
Oh and all this while keeping an eye on it making sure at every stage that it isn’t too wet or too dry you know just having a quick feel each time you pass the shelves.
Let the body and the handle firm up together, probably overnight but in the summer they may need wrapping in plastic overnight to let the two parts even out. When the whole is leather hard, touch, check, touch, check again, stir a bucket of slip – previously weighed, soaked and sieved twice, dip the mug in the slip, shake off the excess, brush a swish of slip on the bottom. Mug heads back to the banding wheel to be decorated using a pre mixed and filled slip trailer with a design that may be completely individual or one developed for a range, trail the design into the wet slip, lift the mug, put it back on the shelf. Keep checking just in case the handle decides to part company with the body if you got the timing just a little out. When it’s back to leather hard sgraffito signature into the slip brushed on the base and then leave it to dry- anything from a couple of days to a couple of weeks depending on the weather.
Once dry check the mug for any sneaky burrs or other such problem that may need dealing with. place in the kiln with many other pots working the kiln pack jigsaw puzzle as you go. All this and at this point it’s nothing more than dry mud, add water and that’s what you’ll have left.
So kiln packed, slow rise in temperature letting the chemically combined water be driven off safely at around 600 degrees then up to 950 which takes around 15 hours in my kiln. Slow cool over a couple of days back to room temperature.
They survived? Good next stage, dust it, wax the foot ring, stir the glaze oh yes you got it already mixed and soaked and sieved at least twice, dip the mug and set to dry just the minute or so this time, wipe the foot ring, touch up where you held it and back into the kiln again. This pack though being more careful not to let the pots be close enough to kiss, and not too dense a pack and not having pots too near the elements. Up we go again to 1055 with an hours soak at the top and slowly slowly down again, a couple of days cooling and unpack the mug.
Finally you get to see if it has made it, is the glaze fully melted? Is it shiny? Smooth? Still on the pot? Not boiled? No debris dropped and stuck in it?
If it got through all that and I’m happy with it and it will work, it will hold liquid, you can hold it comfortably, drink from it and it looks good – marvelous!
And someone has the cheek to tell me my mugs are too expensive!