How your pot is made.
The majority of Millbrook Pottery designs are made on a wheel with "wet" stoneware clay which is supplied in large bags. There is a multitude of steps that have to be taken in producing each pot. The first task is to prepare the clay. This entails "pugging" the clay with the aid of a pug mill to ensure that the clay is the correct consistency for the specific pots to be made. Fundamentally a pug mill is like a giant mixing machine which extrudes sausages of clay.
The next stage is to weigh the clay to ensure that a series of pots are equal in size, each piece of clay is then made into a ball shape.
Initially the ball of clay is thrown onto the centre of the spinning pottery wheel. The next step is to accurately centre the ball of clay with the wheel head turning. If the clay is not centred accurately the resulting pot will be a struggle to make and will inevitably turn out to be lop-sided and consigned to the bin. Once the clay is centred the next stage is to make a hole in the centre of the spinning ball of clay. Again this has to be done with absolute accuracy otherwise the pot will have unequal sides and will wobble and become mis-shapen. Next the walls of the pot are formed by pulling the clay upwards between the hands. When the walls of the pots have been created the shaping of the pot begins, like most stages this requires subtle dexterity and a lot of practise. When the desired shape has been created the pot is cut off the wheel with a wire and placed on a drying rack.
There are usually several pots in various stages of completion at any given time and depending on the design there are still many processes to to be completed before the first firing of the pots. Some pots such as bowls or vases require drying to a leather hard stage at which time they can be turned upside down and have any surplus clay cut from them in much the same way a woodturner turns excess wood from a block to achieve the required shape. Other pots may have sections removed with the aid of a sharp scalpel to fulfil cut-out designs, for instance candle holders, in order to allow the light to shine through and create beautiful patterns. The cutting is done when the pots are semi-dry, if cut too soon when the pots are still quite damp they will distort in shape and if cut too late when the pots have dried too much the clay will have become brittle and simply break. After the designs have been cut the raw edges have to be thoroughly washed inside and out to remove any sharp edges.
All pots have to be thoroughly dried before they are "fired" in the kiln as any residual moisture in the clay will cause the pot to explode as the heat builds up, this often results in nearby pots also being irreparably damaged. The firing process has two stages, the first stage prepares the pots for glazing, this is called the biscuit stage, and the second stage is the final glaze firing after which the pots are ready for sale. Both firings start with the temperature rising slowly by about 100 degrees centigrade per hour under controlled heat application. The biscuit firing finishes after approximately 9 hours when the kiln reaches 950 degrees centigrade. This firing is called biscuit because the clay is still absorbent and therefore the coloured glazes will adhere to the body of the pot. Much like a biscuit will absorb tea when dunked! Glazes are applied by dipping or brushing or splashing glaze onto the pot. Glazes are made of minerals and oxides suspended in water and the recipes are often closely guarded secrets of the potter, as are most of Millbrook Pottery recipes!
Before the pots can go back into the kiln for the glaze firing any surfaces that touch the shelves of the kiln have to be thoroughly cleaned of glaze otherwise the pots will stick to the shelves and be unsaleable. Similarly when the pots are loaded into the kiln they must have space between each pot to stop them sticking together. The final glaze firing reaches a temperature of 1230 degrees centigrade, this takes approximately 12 hours and consumes a considerable amount of electricity. It takes at least another 12 hours for the kiln to cool sufficiently to be opened. Opening the kiln always provides moments of anticipation as it can depend on where pots have been placed in the kiln what the final glaze effect will be. It is very satisfying when pots look as beautiful as you imagined them when making them.
Finally when the pots are removed from the kiln they have to be checked to make sure that they are perfect to sell.
A younger me!