A detail showing the variety in color and surface created using Sander’s quilted construction technique.
Teapot 8 in. (20cm) in height, 2008. Sanders created a vocabulary of clay stamps inspired by a textile design book.
Three Tugs, 10 in (25cm) in height (tallest), 2008. Showing pieces in groupings requires consideration of how the textures of each piece will interact with one another.
Finished quilted tile, 5 1/2 in. (14 cm) in height, 2009.
Finished quilted tile, 5 1/2 in. (14 cm) in height, 2009. by Amy Sanders.
Growing up in southern Ohio, I spent my early years watching my mother and grandmothers sew. Upon moving to Charlotte, North Carolina in 1999, I didn’t have a clay studio in which to create, so I began to sew instead. Once I found a clay studio, these experiences with sewing breathed life into my clay work: patterns, textures and seams from fabrics and textiles appeared in stamped clay vessels.
My first “quilted” wall pieces were created by accident. Once I started investing time in this building process, I began to intentionally look at traditions and innovations in quilting, particularly enjoying the women quilters of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. I also created a wide vocabulary of clay stamps with much inspiration coming from the book Textile Designs, by Susan Meller and Joost Elfers (figure 1). Building these quilted forms fulfilled my desire to stamp and add patterns to everything. Also, I enjoyed building pieces that reflected the property of clay that is soft and pliable, appearing like fabric.
Today, I make my quilted wall pieces with the intention of showing them in a grouping. Consideration is given to how the patterns and textures of each piece will interact with one another. This building method has also developed into a variety of vessel forms including vases, bowls and teapots.
Begin with a relatively thin slab of fresh clay; if it’s really soft, allow it to dry a little to the point that the corner stands up when bent (this entire process will be done with soft clay and no drying in between). Timing is very important when it comes to handbuilding in general, and that holds true for this project. If the clay is too soft, the piece easily collapses upon itself; too hard and the clay cracks from the stress of being bent. Once the clay is at the preferred state, compress and smooth with a metal rib.
Cut out a desired shape for the wall piece, a square or a rectangle works best, and start small for the first try (about 5 inches square). These pieces look nice hung in multiples, so I often create a template from old exhibition announcement cards. This becomes the design inside the border of the piece.
Cut the square into sections similar to piecing a quilt. Impress textures into the individual sections with handmade stamps, make marks and impressions using tools or other items from around the studio (figure 2). Pressing fingers or tools into the clay while it’s laying on a piece of foam can also make marks.
Piecing It Together
Turn the sections upside down. To protect the textures, lay the clay on a piece of foam. Carefully bend up the edges that will become the inside seams (figure 3).
Pinch the seams together (there is no need to score at this point). Start with the shorter seams first, then connect the longer ones (figure 4). Cut away any clay that extends past your desired main shape. This occurs when you have a long piece connected to several smaller sections that have been pinched together.
Bend all outside edges up to prepare for the border. Turn down any inner seams first (figure 5). If your clay seems to be getting a bit dry, run a damp sponge over the edge.
Cut out four long pieces for a border (they must be long enough to extend past the inner design on both sides). Turn up edges and pinch together (figure 6). For the last piece of the border, bend the long and short edge that meet the corner and pinch them together.
Carefully roll the edge around to meet the ridge (figure 7) on all four sides. Cut out a slab that extends over half of the border. Wet and score both the border and back of slab (figure 8). Cut two holes into the backing slab that will eventually receive a wire for hanging. Before attaching the backing piece, check to make sure that no seams will block the wire between the holes, if so, push the seam over. Attach the back and compress the seams carefully with your finger (figure 9). Finish by compressing the attachment point with a wooden tool of some kind (my personal favorite is a corn dog stick).
Turn the piece over and enjoy your results (figure 10). If the border seems a bit flat, gently press the sides inward with your palm to expand the volume. If the piece is large or rectangular, wait until it sets up to soft leather hard before you turn it over. It may be a good idea to place a board or bat on top for support (sandwiching the clay between your foam and board) and turn the piece over carefully. Dry with a piece of plastic lightly draped on top to avoid warping.
Glazing and Finishing
After bisque firing, brush watered-down black glaze over the entire surface and then wipe it down with a slightly dampened sponge to expose the texture (figure 11). The black glaze will remain in any areas with textures or impressed stamps. Brush glazes and oxides on each of the different patches (figure 12). The pictured pieces contain a red iron oxide wash, rutile wash and glazes. This glazing process results in a surface that not only highlights the stamped patterns, but also has a variety of finishes from shiny to matte, simulating different textures of fabrics.
Once it has been fired, string a short length of picture hanging wire through the pre-made holes on the back of the tile. Twist the wire to close the ends and turn the twisted area under the clay backing (figure 13). Hang it up and enjoy!
Amy Sanders is a potter living in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was a presenter at the Potter’s Council Regional Conference “Focus on Function” held at Funke Fired Arts, in Cincinnati, Ohio in February. To see more of her work or contact her, visit her website at www.theretherepottery.blogspot.com.