In praise of glaze
Handcrafted ceramics are enjoying a surge in popularity – but how do you choose which type is right for your home? Bea Taylor gives the lowdown.
Homeware with a handmade “perfectly imperfect” vibe is hot right now, so it’s no surprise that handcrafted ceramics are rising in popularity.
But there’s more to ceramics than the speckled, handcrafted bowls found in all homeware stores at the moment. Earthenware, porcelain and stoneware all fit under the “ceramic” umbrella.
Here’s what you need to know to choose ceramics that will work well in your home:
Developed in China up to 2000 years ago, porcelain is considered to be the most highly prized of ceramic clays for its translucency, strength and whiteness, says ceramic artist Michelle Bow. “It’s also one of the trickiest clays to work with, as it’s soft and shows every fleck of alien clay, bump or mark made during the creation process.”
One of its most unexpected characteristics is its strength. It may start out as a fine, delicate clay, but once fired it is one of the strongest forms of ceramic and the closest ceramic material to glass.
What is it best used for? Because of its strength, porcelain makes good tableware. But Bow says she uses it primarily for art pieces because of its delicate, fine qualities.
Best way to care for porcelain? Although it’s hard, it is still fragile and should be handled with care. It’s dishwasher-safe (even unglazed porcelain) if it’s fired to vitrification, as this means it will not absorb water or stain, says Bow.
With its sturdy functionality, stoneware is the perfect ceramic clay for everyday tableware, says ceramicist Paige Jarman. What is it made of? Stoneware is made from clay dug from the ground, which is why it’s coarse. But this gives it more support and texture, making it sturdier to work with, says Bow. It’s fired at high heats so it’s relatively unporous and usually finished with a glaze. What is it best used for? Stoneware can withstand thermal shock, making it ideal to go from cooking to table service. Its high resistance to breakage also makes it an ideal candidate for tableware. Best way to care for stoneware? Jarman says she puts all of her pottery in the dishwasher. “As long as it has fully matured and the glaze is properly formulated then it will be safe.”
From terracotta bowls to homely pots, this form of ceramic is porous and fired at a low temperature. “It’s unfussy,” says ceramic artist Katherine Smyth. “It feels more like an extension of food and cooking than other high-fired clays, and compared to other more sophisticated ceramics, it’s accessible and friendly.” What is it best used for? It’s a chef’s best friend. Thanks to its porous characteristics, it is more tolerant to being heated and cooled on a regular basis.
On the downside, it’s less tough than more vitreous fired clay bodies, says Smyth. The “gaps” in the clay can be filled with water, detergent or food. A seasoned teapot for example might eventually adopt the flavour of the tea. Because of this characteristic it will also eventually “craze” (get a cracked look). Best way to care for earthenware? As long as any heating or cooling is done gradually, a porous clay is likely to tolerate the process. If a plate goes from a hot oven onto a cold bench, there’s a good chance it will crack, says Smyth.
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