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.

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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:

PORCE­LAIN

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.

STONEWARE

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.”

EARTH­EN­WARE

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.

• • • •

Paige Jar­man’s cur­rent col­lec­tion is made from brown stoneware and was in­spired by New Zealand’s geo­ther­mal land­scapes.

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