A teapot is a difficult thing to make well; yet, partly because of
this, and partly, I think, because the teapot is such a deep-rooted,
integral part of our daily lives, few things can give a potter more
satisfaction. But the task bristles with difficulties for the unwary,
and I hope the following points of advice will be helpful.
First of all a teapot needs to be fairly broad. One which is relatively tall and narrow does not infuse so well nor so quickly. There will be those who dismiss this belief as a pretty conceit. Nevertheless, it is my firm opinion. So allow for a generous cross- sectional area of liquid at the surface when the pot is full. Throw the body of the pot fairly thinly; a heavy, chunky teapot is unlikely to be popular. Make sure the base is sufficiently broad for stability. Nothing is more irritating than a pot which wobbles and tends to topple over when the cosy is lifted off. Keep the opening at the top as small as possible compatible with easy filling and cleaning. If it is too wide, too nearly the diameter of the pot at the shoulder, a sudden tilt, as if to pour, when the pot is full, will cause the tea to well out under the lid. Leave a slight thickening at the top of the wall so that, when the shoulder has been turned over, there is sufficient clay in which to form the gallery for the lid. I find the best way to perform this operation is to pinch the clay gently at the edge of the opening between the first finger of the left hand, below, and the thumb, held vertically with nail outwards above. The thumb then bears down into the clay at the edge of the opening and is aided by a slight squeezing by the finger below. When the gallery is thus formed, the inside edge should be compressed and consolidated or it will surely chip. For the same reason be sure the gallery is reasonably thick.
Next throw the spout and the lid. This is where difficulties which may be experienced at later stages originate. It requires imagination and skill to throw these parts separately so that, when they are merged with the body, the pot becomes a coherent, unified whole-not a jumble of unrelated components. It is true that, for instance, one can trim a spout that has been thrown too long; but only at the expense of altering its diameter at either the tip or the base, which will upset the proportions of the pot in either case. I find it best to throw the spout on a thick base. This keeps it in shape when it is taken from the wheel, and the base is cut off when the clay has stiffened sufficiently for the spout to be trimmed and luted to the body. One of the secrets of good pouring is to ensure that a pressure of liquid is built up in the spout. If this is not the case, the tea merely wobbles over the end. The spout should therefore taper and the cross-sectional area of the tip should be less, though not much less-than the total cross-sectional area of the holes which will form the strainer.
It is best to throw the lid very slightly larger than the socket into which it is to fit, to allow for a small amount of turning at the cheese-hard stage. There is no excuse for badly fitting lids in hand- made pots. For this reason, I often turn the inside of the gallery to make sure of a neat angle, although this operation should be completed as far as possible at the throwing stage. At no time is the turning tool more potentially a vice than when making a teapot. If the lid is to have a flange, make sure this is sufficiently deep and fits the inside of the gallery closely. If this is so the lid will remain in place when the pot is tilted steeply. If there is not to be a flange, the lid ought to be seated rather deep in the gallery, and it may be necessary to resort to the common locking device to ensure that the lid remains in place. Remember that a lid which fits perfectly when it and the body of the pot are cheese-hard will be a little on the loose side when both are dry. This is the condition to aim for, as the slackness will be taken up by the thickness of the glaze.
A lid with a flange is thrown upside down and the knob turned out of the thick base or luted on separately afterwards. A lid without a flange is usually thrown right way up. In either case do make the knob or handle something worth getting hold of. To have to squeeze a knob hard to lift the lid-especially when it is hot-is an abomination. It should be possible to raise it securely with the lightest grasp. Don't forget the vent in the lid to act as an air intake when pouring. If you do forget it and the lid is as good a fit as it should be, the pot won't pour-except out of the lid. Make this vent fairly generous. A tenth of an inch is hardly too big: and when you glaze the pot, remove the glaze very thoroughly from this hole or it will clog in the firing and have to be drilled out.
When the spout is leather-hard (it will dry more quickly than the pot, so you will have to slow down its drying), cut it from the base on which it was thrown and trim the lower end with a needle or a narrow, thin pallet knife, so that it will fit the profile of the pot when held inclined at the right angle. When this is so it is vital that the lower edge of the tip of the spout is above the level of the lid. I have seen many teapots made by potters of high reputation in which this point was not observed. Yet a person filling a pot watches the level inside the pot-not the spout-and if the tip is below the level of the lid, tea will dribble out when the pot is filled.
Holding the spout in its correct position against the wall of the pot, lightly trace the outline of the base on to the wall with a pointed instrument. Then, allowing for the thickness of the spout wall, punch the holes for the strainer. In most pots these are either too few or too small. One-eighth of an inch is about right for the diameter. If larger they will not arrest the leaves. If smaller they will gradually clog in use. The spout ought not to be positioned too low because, although this will help to create pressure in the spout when pouring, as mentioned before, the tea leaves will settle and clog the strainer. A very thin, hollow tube is useful for boring the holes, but a solid instrument will do. I use a tool which comes in useful for all kinds of work-a discarded dentist's chisel with the operating end sawn off and the neck filed to a tapering point. any case the tool should be wetted and pushed through the clay wall with a twisting motion and any ragged clay edges thrown up on the inside severely left alone until dry, when they can be neatly flicked off and the whole area sponged over.
Next scratch up the area round the strainer where the joint is to be and rub in some thick slip. Lightly wet the butt end of the spout and press it firmly home, thoroughly consolidating the joint. Depending upon the nature of the body and the temperature employed, spouts will tend to twist clockwise in the firing-the opposite way to what one would expect. Therefore, to counteract this, they should be attached to their pots in a position slightly counter-clockwise of that required in the finished pot. Only experience can decide the degree of compensation necessary. I so shape the spout and model it on that it grows smoothly out of the body of the pot and makes a continuous unbroken line with it. A friend of mine argues that, since the spout is attached to the pot and not formed in one piece with it, it should look attached. No doubt this is logical: but perhaps it is a little too logical. After all, most of us make our handles grow out of our jugs and mugs; so why not spouts also. As soon as the spout is in place, the tip can be finally trimmed and smoothed to shape. The lower edge should be reasonably sharp to aid clean pouring: but remember that clay does not take kindly to sharp edges and is easily chipped. Do not overdo it therefore. If possible arrange for a small overhang on the lower edge. It will greatly improve pouring. But too much is very ugly.
The handle of a teapot is very important. Not only must it fulfil its purpose efficiently and comfortably, but its form and the area of void its loop encloses must balance the spout. On a medium sized pot it should be possible to get three fingers comfortably through the loop, the thumb being above and the fourth finger below. On a larger pot the loop should be large enough for four fingers. You will very likely find that, to form a comfortable, efficient hold, the handle looks wrong on the pot or vice versa, in which case you may have to re-design the whole thing. This sort of difficulty is implicit in the nature of design and craftsmanship and it is no good being afraid of it. Preliminary pencil sketches will help; but do not allow yourself to become a slave to paper designs. They militate too much against the freedom and spontaneity the thrown shape should always have.
Generally speaking, the handle should approximate to a flat oval in section and should be reasonably broad for a good, comfort- able grip. If you are going to have an overhead cane or clay handle, make sure that it does not interfere with the easy removal of the lid and is so proportioned and attached that the pot handles easily. The attraction of the overhead handle is no reason or compensation for inefficiency in the pot as a whole.
The glazing of teapots is not altogether straightforward. I glaze the inside first by pouring in some glaze and pouring it out again by way of the spout. Then quickly, while the glaze is still wet, I put the spout in my mouth (lead glazers take care!) and blow sharply down it. This removes excess glaze from the strainer holes where it tends to accumulate and would, on firing, stop them up altogether. To glaze the outside, I stop the spout with a conical plug of soft clay and, gripping the pot by expanding my fingers inside it, I plunge it into the glaze until the level rises to the edge of the lid opening. I usually have to miss a bit here in order to be certain that the glaze does not trickle over the rim and down inside the pot. So the rim has to be touched up afterwards with a brush; likewise the tip of the spout where the plug of clay has been.
With stoneware teapots, where the danger of warping is considerable, it is best, to obtain well-fitting lids, to fire the pots with their lids in place. This means not glazing the gallery and the underside of the rim of the lid. But with a vitrified body this is of no account. In order to get a particular glaze effect, most of my pots are fired in excess of 13500C and in a reducing atmosphere for much of the time. This, together with open firing and finishing with wood, is inclined to seal lids firmly in their sockets. To prevent this, I have found it effective to baste the inside of the gallery with a thin wash of quartz and water before putting the lid in place. The quartz coagulates but does not fuse and can be scraped out afterwards.
The making of a teapot, then, is quite a precision job. A possible danger is that it becomes over-precise, giving that over- planned, over-constructed and stark effect from which so many commercial pots suffer. Precision of the right sort comes naturally from the foundation of firm discipline in throwing and handling one's tools and from the knowledge and mastery of clay and its whims. Only when freedom superimposes itself unconsciously upon a foundation of sound discipline and technique, so well learned that it has become second nature-only when the potter, while remaining aware of the need for such discipline, can be unconscious of its actual maintenance while exercising his free will can we secure to the full those sualities of life and inevitability which we rightly look for in hand-made pots.
Unpacking the kiln at Avoncroft Pottery in 1958.
Geoffrey Whiting at the kiln entrance with Alan Gayden and and Michael Bailey.
Avoncroft Pottery advert, Pottery Quarterly, Autumn 1955.
Geoffrey Whiting Pots
Teapot, 13cm tall
Wax resist charger, 31cm diameter
Large bottle vase, 32cm tall
Brush pot, 6cm tall
Fluted bottle, 17cm tall
Globular vase, 19cm tall
Large jug, 27cm tall
Wax resist bowl, 19cm diameter
Teabowl, 7.5cm tall
Teabowl, 8cm tall
Teabowl, 7cm tall
Fruit bowl, Z pattern, 26cm diameter
Vase, 21cm tall
Standard ware cream jug, 11cm tall