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Get Ready to Weave a Pottery Basket
Perfect for spring flowers, Easter eggs, or any other place you would use a basket, this pottery basket is less likely than traditional baskets to mold, mildew, or shed plant material. It is also a fun project to do with children, as beginner's project, or as a break from more traditional coil-built pots.
This pottery basket is made by weaving clay coils, much as traditional reed baskets are made. For this project you will need
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- About five pounds of soft (but not sticky) clay. In our example, I... used a red earthenware with 5% grog added. Grogged clay bodies are good for large baskets, but not necessary for smaller ones.
- A hump mold, which could be nothing more than a bowl turned upside down, and something for it to stand on, such as a tall box.
- A surface to roll coils on. This could be a plaster bat, a piece of canvas, or a cement work surface. If the clay is not too soft, you might also be able to use a very smooth table top.
- Optional: A turntable such as a banding wheel or lazy susan.
- Optional: A wooden modeling tool.
- Optional: Glaze. You can leave the basket unglazed for a more natural appearance and feel, or you can glaze it. Remember that the glaze should match the clay body's maturation. For our example, a clear transparent glaze was used.
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Set Up a Hump Mold
In your work area, set up a hump mold. If you are using a bowl as a hump mold, make sure that its bottom is smooth. You don't want it to inadvertently mark or cut into the clay as you work.
The hump mold will need to go up on a tall container, box, or other support. This will allow you room to work. If you have a turntable, such as banding wheel, cake decorating wheel, or lazy susan, set the mold and tall box in its center.
The hump mold setup should be placed near where you will be rolling coils.... Ideally, these should be close enough so you don't have to move.Continue to 3 of 10 below.
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Make the Pottery Basket's Main Supporting Uprights
Begin by rolling several long coils. The thickness and length of the coils will depend on how large the basket will be. This will also determine how many supporting uprights you will need.
In our example basket, I only used four long coils, giving eight uprights. In retrospect, I would suggest at least six long coils (twelve uprights). The more uprights you have, the more obvious the weave will be.
The coils in our example were all about a half inch in diameter. This is fairly large and will give... a more rustic, chunky feel to the finished piece. If you want a more delicate basket, use thinner coils with more uprights.
Once you have an upright rolled, place it so its center goes through the center of the top of the hump mold. Crisscross upright coils as shown until you have as many as you desire.
Firmly press down on the center where the coils go over each other. You want to flatten the coils (which will also make them stick together since you are using soft clay). Now you are ready to begin weaving the basket.Continue to 4 of 10 below.
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Begin Weaving Coils for Your Pottery Basket
Roll a coil to the same thickness as your uprights. Start at any upright and gently squish the new coil to the underside of the upright, right up against the center of the basket's base. Weave the coil around the uprights, using an over-under pattern as seen in the photo.
Spiral outward from the center, gently lifting and replacing the uprights as needed. When you come to the end of the weaving coil, cut the coil on an angle, and score and slip. Roll the next coil, trim one end, then attach it... immediately to the previous coil.
If you prefer a more "natural" or rustic look, you can taper the ends of each coil and overlap the new and older coil for at least one set of under-over-under. Another option is to spiral the two ends together with gentle pressure. The softness of the clay will help the coils to bond.
As you work, be sure to place the coils as tightly or loosely against each other as you want them to be in the final product. For example, you can see in the photo that these coils are relatively loosely woven.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Make a Foot for the Pottery Basket
If you want your basket to have a foot, this is a good time to add it. In that way, it will dry at the same rate as the rest of the bottom area of the basket. That will reduce the possibility of cracking as well as increasing the likelihood of a strong joint between the foot (or feet) and the basket's body.
In our example basket, I've added a simple coil foot ring. You could add separate feet (three tends to be the most stable), or you may decide to forgo having a foot at all.
If adding a foot or... feet, slip and score before adding. After the pieces have been put into place, I find it helpful to use a stiff flat surface and press down evenly on the foot. This flattens the foot or feet, making the basket more stable once it is sitting right-side up.Continue to 6 of 10 below.
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Allow the Bottom Portion of the Pottery Basket to Stiffen
Once you have woven as much of the basket's body as it seems safe to without it collapsing, you may need to allow the basket's lower portion to dry and stiffen. You want the clay to be stiff enough to hold its shape when it is turned over, but not yet fully leather hard.
Loosely wrap the upper areas that are still under construction with plastic. Plastic grocery bags can work well. Depending on humidity, heat, and how wet the clay was when you began, drying could take an hour or more.Continue to 7 of 10 below.
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Complete the Body of Your Pottery Basket
Once the basket is stiff enough, remove it from the mold and turn it right-side up. Continue weaving as desired. You may need to stuff the interior of the basket with wadded paper or plastic in order for it to keep its shape.
When your basket is nearly to the height you want, it is time to consider how you will finish the rim. In our example, I had already decided I wanted a twisted coil handle. In order to help the body and handle work well together visually, I elected to add a rim of twisted... coils to the body of my basket.Continue to 8 of 10 below.
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Tips on How to Twine or Twist Clay Coils
If you've never twined or twisted clay coils before, here are some tips to make it go easier:
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- Use coils that are close to the same diameter. Uneven sizes will result in an uneven twist, and may cause the narrower coil to crack or break apart.
- Use coils that are the same length.
- Use very soft clay that was just rolled into coils. You need the clay to be as elastic as possible, without being sticky.
- Hold the two coils together in one hand, and let them dangle freely in mid-air. Use your other hand to... twist both together from the bottom.
- Work as quickly as possible. The unsupported clay can easily stretch and break. Once they are twisted together, they will be sturdier. However, do not leave them unsupported any longer than possible, even after twisting.
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How to Dry the Pottery Basket and Handle
The pottery basket's handle needs to be joined to the body as soon as possible for even drying. In order to do this, the clay will have to be quite soft.
After you have made the handle, score, slip, and attach its ends on opposite sides of the basket's body. Stuff the basket's body with wadded paper or plastic. Build up the wadding to support the handle in the position and arc you want it to have.
Do not use stiff substances such as wood or cardboard to support the handle. As the clay dries, it... shrinks. Stiff support will cause the handle to crack and possibly detach from the basket's body.
Allow the basket to dry slowly until it is bone dry. It is then ready to be bisqued.Continue to 10 of 10 below.
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The Finished Pottery Basket
Before the pottery basket goes into the bisque firing, you will need to decide if you are glazing it or not. If you are not, then the basket will only need to be fired once. Simply fire the basket to its clay body's maturation, e.g. cone five.
If you will be glazing your basket, bisque fire it. When it is out of the bisque kiln, apply wax resist to the foot or bottom, then glaze.
Care is required to glaze the open work of the woven basket evenly. If pouring glaze or using a brush or spray gun to... apply glaze, turn the basket over and in multiple angles to get the glaze into all the crevices. If dip glazing, gently swish the upside down basket through the glaze once or twice to release any air bubbles that may be trapped in the basket's cervices.
About our example:
Woven Clay Basket
Beth E Peterson, 2009
8 inches H. 7 inches Dia.
Earthenware, clear transparent glaze