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throwing big plates. long. hi mary!

updated mon 9 jan 06


Lili Krakowski on sun 8 jan 06

I learned from Norah Braden to act-out thrown pots.

So, Mary, do me a favor.

In flats, or bare feet, stand up and lift your arms (palms up) to your =
sides so that your finger tips are at ear lobe level.
Hold. Concentrate on how you feel. Your finger tips are fine, your =
shoulders soon get achy, and your legs feel a surprising strain.

Repeat this on tip-toes. The strain will prove greater.

Now take two things that weighs maybe half a pound.. slabs of chocolate =
will do--and lay one on each upward facing palm. (You may need help =
here. Not in eating the chocolate, but in placing it on your palms) =
Repeat the exercise on tip toes. =20

You now have felt the angst of being a plate.

A big plate needs plenty of support for its rim. A small plate needs it =
also, but generally gets it automatically. Till one is used to making =
big plates one tends to make that part which corresponds to the shoulder =
too thin.

Now, just as it is harder to do the exercise above on tiptoes, the plate =
has a harder time holding up its rim if the base/bottom is too thin, or =
the rim too large in proportion to the shoulders' strength. The key to =
plate-making is balancing the parts

There are several good methods of making plates. Here are two.

Mary Wondrausch has wonderful illustrations for the method she uses in =
her book "Mary Wondrausch on Slipware".
Use a large amount of softish clay. Use a bat a good inch wider than =
the expected plate sans rim. Open your clay up as you would a =
cylinder. Tell your brain you are making a cylinder as for a crock, a =
wide-based cylinder, and pull/push the clay outward, always, always =
recompressing the "roll" at the outside. As you open the bottom will =
get thinner. Watch out for that. Test with a pin if necessary. For a =
plate the size you seem to want a bottom 3/4" thick is NOT too much at =
this point.=20

When the bottom is made, clean and compress it with a good big rib. =
By"good" I mean one you can hold with both hands, and really push down =
with. The size of a postcard is not too big. Beg or buy a piece of =
hardwood (one can buy samplers of hardwood from cabinet maker supply =
houses) bevel and round the edges to your need.

When that is done, ignore the bottom and raise the walls as for a =
cylinder, or as for a flower pot. (either straight or slanting =
outward.) At this point you make a big decision. Are you making a =
plate that is a shallow bowl, a shape like a pie pan? Or are you =
making a plate with a rim?

For the pie pan you thin out the walls at you wish, keeping the rim well =
compressed after every pulling up. Clean both inside and out with a =
rib. You can flatten the walls as you wish, but more that 30 degrees =
will give trouble.

For the rimmed plate, pull up the side wall, and when you nearly have =
reached the point where you want your rim to start ,(i.e. when you have =
determined how DEEP the plate should be) pull up one last time leaving =
a tiny roll of clay, a slight thickening of the wall where you are =
starting your rim. From that roll pull gently up and outward. Again. =
DO NOT overdo. Again compress the rim after each pull. When the rim is =
satisfactory, and again the angle is not more than maybe 30 degrees, =
slow your wheel way down and with fingers supporting on outside, and a =
rib gently pushing down on inside flatten the rim a bit more. Clean up =
the bottom once more with your nice big rib, and make sure no slurry is =
left where wall meets bottom.

I allow my large plates to sit a bit before running a thicker-than-usual =
wire under them to cut off bat. I generally trim the walls on the =
wheel. And, if I decide the plate needs actual trimming, I SUPPORT IT =
ON THE INSIDE with a disk of hard foam rubber. This stuff is available =
at fabric and upholstery stores, maybe those "craft" stores as well, and =
it is good to have disks of various size and thickness of it in the =
studio. I use 1" disks, doubling them up at need.

Method Two is one I use only when I cannot center a big enough lump of =
clay for the bottom--as when making bird baths.

Roll out a large slab of softish clay and place it on a bat on your =
wheel. Go through the motions you would use were it the base of a =
cylinder. Go over and over it using that big rib, till the clay is =
compressed and its "memory" is of being centered on the wheel. =20

Scratch the base on its circumference, and apply a small amount of =
slurry. No, not a whole deluge, just a bit. (A toothbrush is a good =
tool for this--Need I add an OLD toothbrush, not your hubby's current =

Make a big fat coil. Press it down into the scratched area. Where the =
two ends meet, overlap them and cut through them on the diagonal. =
Roughen up the two cut edges apply just a tidge of slurry, and press =
together. Rotating the wheel slowly, compress that roll of clay =
downward and inward. When it all feels uniform--coil nice and even, =
well-attached to nice and even bottom, take a break and have a nice =
cup'a tea. (I find this procedure needs it)

Return to the wheel well refreshed and throw the wall and rim as in step =
one. Etc.

Problems with large plates. 1. The wire used to cut them off the bat =
is too thin. The plate (remember that bottom is heavy --a problem I can =
identify with--and will reglue itself with just as much glee as a fat =
old lady will sink into a nice armchair) has reglued itself to the bat =
here and there, and will tear itself apart as it dries. 2. The rim =
dries too fast, creating problems for the rest of the plate. For this =
you can cover your rim-top and bottom-with wax or latex, or cover it =
with kitchen style plastic wrap, or place the whole thing in a styrofoam =
box for slow drying. 3. You are brutalizing the plate as you work. =
This does NOT reflect well on you, known as you are as a sweet and =
gentle person. When you invert the plate to trim it, make sure it is =
dry enough not to sag in the middle. If you are not sure, use the foam =
rubber disks prescribed above. If a bit sticks out before you flip the =
bat over onto another bat, remember the rubber will compress. If you =
have ever belly-flopped into a pool you will know how a plate being =
flipped onto a bat feels.

LAST: practice this for several days. Do NOT expect to master this one =
two three. I think big plates the hardest thing to make well, and, yes, =
that includes teapots, which, may I be forgiven, are a cinch to MAKE but =
horrendous to design=20

Lili Krakowski

Be of good courage