Banner: Porcelain Grace, Meryl Ruth, Fine Art

 

 

  TREADLE KETTLE, A CERAMIC TEAPOT


 

 

 

Violet thread, a ceramic art work, formed by slab construction.

  • These works continued my exploration of the treadle sewing machine as a subject of my artistic evolution. I began with the concept of creating a soft sculpture to represent this antique artifact. However, I quickly realized that I had to first undertake a more thorough investigation of this subject in a medium with which I had greater familiarity, specifically a ceramic work to serve as the prototype for the more novel fiber art I had in mind.  Six  sequential iterations were planned:   The first two were designed as models of a treadle sewing machine. Both failed as a result of kiln accidents, but yielded important lessons to help me succeed in this project, as detailed below. The remaining artworks were made in the form of ceramic teapots designed to reflect various aspects of the machine without maintaining its complete structure. Furthermore, it took five attempts to successfully fire the base, structurally separated from the sewing machine (now teapot). These necessitated changing the clay body and design completely.
  • First iteration: Purple Thread, A Ceramic Structure
    This work is made from stoneware clay. Slab construction technique is used for the base. Rubber molds are made of both sides of the body.  These in turn form the body shape in clay by press molding the two sides and sculpting them together. The base slab consists of three layers, a single full-size slab atop two small slabs. The top slab is photo silk-screened with imagery from a photograph I took of the design imprinted on an old treadle sewing machine. The machine's hand wheel is formed from extruded clay. Other structural appendages are made of extruded and hand sculpted clay. Four attempts are needed to perfect these additions before they are permanently affixed to base and body by the score and slip method. Decorative incised plates are formed on the side and face of the work. They are embellished with black underglaze to fill the interstices and rubbed off the raised relief image. Colored underglazes are applied to all the remaining surfaces in violet and black. A new clear satin glaze is applied to the black areas. After the work is thoroughly dried to the bisque state, kiln firing is done for the first time to cone 04. This firing was successful. Subsequently, after decorative glazing was added, the work was subjected to refiring at cone 5. Unfortunately, a kiln accident  during this second firing destroyed the integrity of the piece. It resulted in the collapse (downward sloping and bending) of the horizontal arm; destruction of the delicate needle assembly by crushing due to collapse of the horizontal arm; distortion of the base (by significant up-curving) and the spool of thread; as well as blue discoloration of those areas to which the clear satin glaze had been applied.
  • Second iteration: Violet Thread, A Ceramic Structure
    So I begin again on a second version, having profited from the experience with a new design to provide a more freely flowing work. Construction is modified by using the slip cast method for the spool; and the clear satin glaze is not applied. These technical changes are both done to avoid spool distortion and blue discoloration. All the other steps are repeated as previously described. When this second iteration is kiln fired to cone 5, however, it also fails with sloping and bending of the projecting arm (less than with the first attempt, but still unacceptable), which in turn damages the delicate needle component. In addition after refiring to cone 015, the silkscreen decal decorations burn out. Collectively, this damage shows the need to further modify kiln temperatures and timing. On the positive side, the thread spool is intact and the prior blue discoloraton did not occur.
  • Third iteration: Treadle Kettle, A Ceramic Teapot
    This third iteration in the series is actually the first in the form of a teapot. It uses the treadle sewing machine as the inspirational basis for a new style of teapot, differing from both prior  models (described above) by major design modifications. The long upper arm is shortened to create a more teapot-like spout. The spool of thread now forms the teapot’s lid. The handle of the teapot is the sewing machine’s wheel, as in the prior versions. The sewing machine’s base is redesigned to be detachable from the teapot, thus making the teapot more functional. Functionality reflects its lighter weight and better balance, which make it much easier to handle and pour.
  • This teapot is hand built of stoneware clay using plaster molds for the sewing machine body. Its two sides are then scored and slipped together and sculpted. The spool of thread is now the teapot’s lid; it is made from a slip cast mold of a spool of thread and then modified by sculpting into the lid. The wheel of the sewing machine is created from extruded clay and sculpted free hand. The base is made from slabs of clay that are then shaped into a box-like form that is hollow, sturdy and less likely to slump in firings.
  • After thorough drying to the bisque state, the teapot is subjected to its first successful firing to cone 04. A  coating of black underglaze is applied to the body and the base. The work is refired several times more after applications of decorative silk-screened decals, lusters and China paints. 
  • Two additional teapots, similar to this one but with modified designs, are to be made to complete this series.
  • Construction details:
         •   Fired to cone 04.
         •   Black underglaze applied to body and base.
         •   Refired to cone 5.
         •   Teapot and base are glazed with low-firing satin black glaze.
         •   Another firing to cone 5 followed.
         •   After successful firing, specially-designed and hand-made decals (silk-screened earlier) are applied to the teapot and the base.
         •   A fourth firing uses a special firing process that I programmed into the kiln computer to gently provide slow heating and cooling.
         •   Once the decals are satisfactorily in place, luster glazes are applied to impart metallic impressions of handle, base plate and other hardware located
             on the treadle plate and the teapot.
         •   A fifth firing is done to cone 018.
         •   Purple China paints are applied to the clay spool of thread.
         •   The last kiln firing is to cone 018.
    • Date: 2016.
    • Size: 10.0” x 10.0” x 6.5”.
    • Sold.

ENLARGED VIEWS

 

Enlarged view.

 

Enlarged view.

 

Enlarged view.

 


CREATIVE PROCESS

FIRST ITERATION: PURPLE THREAD

 

   

Purple Thread, A Ceramic Art Work in progress.

 

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More structural details are added.  

  

  • The bobbin, the thread spool and other structural details are made from extruded and sculpted clay and attached in place.
  • A  close-up view shows the delicate needle bar, needle, presser foot and foot plate of the sewing mechanism.

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Underglazes are added after construction is complete.

 

  • After the construction phase is completed, colored underglazes are added in violet (for the thread) and black (the body).
  • The side and face plates are decorated by applying black underglaze to the interstices and rubbing it off the raised portions.
  • A  clear satin glaze is applied to the black sections.
  • The work is now allowed to dry to its bisque state in anticipation of its first successful firing to cone 04.
  • More decorative effects are added with colored glazes and decals.
  • Refiring is done to cone 5. This resulted in serious damage to the teapot.

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Structural collapse and blue discoloration in kiln accident are shown.

  • The horizontal arm of the work collapsed (by sloping and bending downward) during its second kiln firing, damaging the needle section irreparably and turning the black satin glaze to blue.  The base was also distorted by the firing. Though this first iteration of the design was unsuccessful, much was learned from making the prototype. It gave me another opportunity to rework the design and modify the construction technique to help prevent another unfortunate outcome.

 

 

SECOND ITERATION: VIOLET THREAD

 

 

Second version of Violet Thread with construction almost completed.

 

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Violet Thread with additonal details and coloration.

 

  • Decorative incised plates, formed on the side and face of the work during the press mold stage, are embellished with black underglaze to fill the interstices and rubbed off the raised relief image; the latter is decorated in white underglaze.
  • Colored underglazes are applied to all remaining surfaces in violet, black and white.
  • The piece is permitted to dry completely to the bisque state prior to its first kiln firing at cone 04. The first firing is successful.
  • Additional glazes and decals are added. The refiring at cone 5, however, failed.
  • The kiln firing burned out the decals and collapsed the cross beam again (though less than before) so that the delicate needle section was again destroyed (shown here). This second attempt to make the piece, although another failure, taught me much, particularly about the benefit of using press mold for the thread spool rather than rubber casting. Further, it was now verified that the structural integrity of long heavy horizontal arm could not be maintained during the kiln firing because of its weight and cantilevered form. It also became abundantly clear that the kiln temperature had to be gentler and more carefully controlled to avoid burning the decorative decals.

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THIRD ITERATION: TREADLE KETTLE

 

 

Treadle Kettle under construction by clay slab technique.

 

  • This final free-form version, the first as a teapot, proved successful at last by virtue of all that had been learned from the two previous prototypes, leading to improvements in design, construction, glazing and decal decoration. The horizontal arm is remodeled to foreshorten it and reduce the teapot's overall weight considerably.  The teapot is also made detachable from the base, and thus more functional, i.e., more lightweight and easier to handle. The base is made in three layers to ensure against kiln damage. The kiln firing was reprogrammed to provide gentler firing temperatures and longer timing intervals for reaching vitrification temperature and for cooling. 
  • After allowing the teapot and the base to dry to its bisque state, they are successfully fired to cone 04.

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Teapot based on treadle sewing machine design, separated from base.

 

  • After the successful bisque firing, low-firing satin black glaze is applied to the teapot and the base.
  • The work is refired to cone 05, as a new step in the creative process.
  • Decals are newly designed, created and silk-screened. They are secured in place on the teapot and the base.
  • A special firing sequence is programmed into the kiln computer to ensure slow, gently prolonged heating to vitrification temperatures and subsequent cooling.
  • After the decals are suitably in place and permanently affixed, luster glazes are applied to create a faux metal appearance on the handle, the base plate and the other hardware located on the treadle sewing machine/teapot.
  • This layer is fired to cone 018.
  • China paints are used for purple coloration of the clay spool or thread.
  • Final firing to cone 018 completes the teapot component.

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Final completed work shown assembled.

 

  • Separate base for the teapot is completed by firing in bisque state after thorough drying. It is then fired to cone 04.
  • Glaed with black glaes. Decals applied as described earlier. Refired to cone 05.
  • Lusters applied for faux metal hardware. Final firing to cone 018.
  • Completed work shown assembled.

 


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