Lab 7: Clay and Pottery-Making Data

Lab Group F: Grace, Adam, David, Raine (recorder)

Date: Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Location: Carleton College, over Zoom (in individual rooms)

Because we each completed this process individually, without being able to fully see what each other person was doing or communicate very well (due to the clay on our hands), and additionally because we did not have uniform measuring implements, this data report will mostly have qualitative observations.

Procedure Overview

We were given two different types of clay, pure clay and clay from the arb, as well as grog. We then formed these into 2 or 3 pinch pots by rehydrating the powdery clay into something we could mold with our hands and mixing in grog for stability. We attached coils along the top of the pot to add height. We then let the pinch pots dry. We also had an opportunity to decorate our pinch pots. The pinch pots will be fired in an upcoming lab.

Challenges and Reflections

There were several challenges in the process of making the pinch pots, which I divided into 2 broad categories: Lab Issues and Beginner’s Issues.

Lab Issues: workspace limitations, difficulty following instructions through Zoom

I felt like I was making a mess of my workspace, and clay was all over my hands, desk, and computer. Several other group members noted how sticky the clay was. After the lab itself, I made the additional pinch pots outside, which lessened my concern for the cleanliness of my workspace. Throughout the lab, I also worried about running out of clay. There are definite advantages to working outside with larger amounts of clay rather than inside with a little clay in a bowl. Grace pointed out that she struggled to see what our instructor, Kelly, was doing over Zoom, and this made it more difficult to get the steps right. Zoom made it hard to keep up with the instructions given, and the clay on our hands did not help when it came to unmuting to ask questions. The ways of learning would have been very different in early Medieval England.

Beginner’s Issues: Adding the right amount of water, telling when the clay is dry enough to move, getting the right thickness of the pots.

We all seem to have struggled with rehydrating the clay. Because most of us were unfamiliar with this process, we each made our clay too wet and thus too sticky to mold, or too dry, which resulted in cracking. Luckily, clay is very forgiving: if it is too wet, we could add more powder or simply wait for it to dry. If there were major structural issues, we could always scrap the attempt and restart. Similarly, Adam noted that he struggled with parts of his pot falling apart when he moved it. Grace and I had issues with the thickness of our pots: hers were too thin, and mine were too thick. I also had problems shaping my pots into cylinders rather than rectangles. The problems here seem to be due to an unfamiliarity with the material and process more than anything else; given time and more materials we probably would have gotten better at making the pots. Though we ended up making functional pots, they were not by any means high art.

A photo of a small pinch pot made from pure clay. A pen rests atop the pot to give a sense of scale. The pot sits on a picnic table.
A small, slightly rectangular pinch pot.

Comparing the Two Clays

Pure ClayArb Clay
“smooth, easy to work with”-Grace“grainier, harder to form”-Grace
flour-like texture before hydrationlittle rocks inside, sandy, dirt-like before hydration
stickierlarger pieces, irregularities
more sturdyprone to collapse
lighter colordarker color
smaller color difference as it drieslarger color change as it dries
A picture of a small pinch pot made from the darker, sandier arb clay. Next to it is a pen to give a sense of the size. The pot and the pen are in a large purple bowl.
A Pinch Pot made from Arb Clay.

Marking the Pots

We all attempted to mark our pots using various implements. Some of us attempted to make geometric patterns using etching (with tools such as a throwing dart), while others tried to use makeshift stamps (using a phone charger, among other things).

Observations as the Pots continue to Dry

  • The pots continue to shrink slightly.
  • The arb clay pinch pot got considerably lighter, while the pure clay pot only got moderately lighter.
  • There is still a sandy quality to the texture of the pinch pots.

Overall Reflections

We all noted the timing of making the pinch pots. It, like the skills in many of the other labs we have done, is something that can be learned fairly quickly but takes time to perfect. Unlike other labs (such as the spinning lab), it is difficult to multitask due to the messiness of the clay. We had to wait for the clay to be ready for the next step and we could not rush it along.

There was a lot of overlap between this and other labs, particularly the bread-making lab with the kneading of the bread and wedging of the clay.

The experience of learning how to make pottery over Zoom was very strange, and much different to what it would have been like learning in EME.

This lab felt much more individual (perhaps as a function of the zoom environment) than some of our other labs.

A picture showing a half-formed pinch pot, a chunk of clay, and a messy spoon, all in a large purple bowl. The bowl has smears of clay all around the inside.
In the process of making a pinch pot. The clay here was very sticky.

Raine’s Miscellaneous Lab Notes (from her experience specifically)

Pinch pot #1: Pure Clay (mostly made on 5/12):

  • I used half of the bag of regular clay and 8 LDC spoons of water.
    • I overhydrated this one even though I added water in small increments.
    • I was generally concerned about the amount of clay I have left, wondering if I can salvage the thin smears of clay I got around the bowl.
  • I added one coil.
    • The coil only went halfway around the pinch pot and changed the shape as a result, making the pot look more rectangular.
    • I had to run to another class, so I left it to dry on my windowsill.
    • It is a bit of a mess at this point, very wide, shallow, and maybe too thick.
  • I added another coil on the next day (5/13).
    • I tried to even out the previous day’s coil with leftover clay.
    • I am not sure how well the wet clay stuck to the previous day’s clay; would not be surprised if this falls off in firing.

Pinch pot #2: Pure Clay (made outside on 5/13):

  • Used about 1 cup of powdered clay, with some held out in case I messed up the water. I added about 100 ml of water, which was too much.
  • Took about 30 minutes to form this small pinchpot
  • More success with the coil; it was even all the way around and felt secure.
  • Still turned out with a rectangular shape, but it didn’t collapse down as much.
  • Working outside was very nice. It was 73°F and I wonder what effect this had on the speed of the clay drying.
  • I marked it several hours later with some stamps on the outside.

Pinch Pot #3: Arb Clay (made outside on 5/13):

  • Arb dirt clay was half premade from mixing on 5/12 and half still powdery. The clay got warm from sitting outside in the sun.
  • I mixed this clay in the same bowl as the pure clay, so I picked up some of it in this pinch pot.
  • The clay itself has lots of ricks in it and it is very sandy, but I also think that it is easier to get the right clay/water mixture.
  • I only added a very small amount of water and I still overhydrated it.
  • I used all of the arb clay available, and it made a very tiny pinch pot that was quite fragile.
  • Within the made pinch pot, I could still feel the rocks and the grainy nature of the clay.
  • The dirt stains on my hand were differently colored and textured from the clay residue that the pure clay left on my hands.
  • I marked it with one stamp on the inside.

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