Have you ever been in the garden center of a store and wondered how they make those terra cotta flower pots? Well, if you have, here are some easy steps on how to make your own garden pottery. As long as you aren't afraid to get a little messy and are willing to have a little fun, it's an easy process.
There are 2 different ways that a flower pot can be made. Both processes will be explained below in detail, but first...
Preliminary Steps before starting projects:
- Obtaining the Clay- The first thing you must do is purchase the clay you will use. To do so, locate an art supplies store, craft store, or teacher's supply store in your area. Many of these places will not have the clay in stock - although if your luck is right, they might. Most often you will have to do a little planning, and have the store order the clay for you. You will have your choice of two kinds of clay: regular gray and terra cotta. While you can use regular gray for this project, terra cotta is the better choice. This is because the terra cotta clay is full of small granules that allows it to breathe; plants grown in these pots are often bigger and healthier. The terra cotta clay might be a bit pricier than the gray, but it's worth it for healthier plants!
- Preparing the Clay- Prepping the clay is the first important step in any pottery project. Use these pottery making tips to get you started. First, you'll need to knead your clay.
- To begin kneading your clay, pull a sizable chunk out of your bag. Keep in mind the size of flower pot you would like to make. A chunk just bigger than will fit into your hand will probably be sufficient. Now begin to roll the clay around in your hands and on the table, just like you would do with bread dough. The idea behind this is to get all of the air bubbles out of the clay to prevent any air pockets after your clay is dried and fired. Once you feel that your chunk of clay is air bubble free, you are ready to move onto the next step.
- The next step is to make some slip. Get a bowl of water (it should be about half full). Reach into your bag once more and pull out a fistful of clay. You should also have a fork ready for mixing. Take the clay and place it into the bowl, then take the fork and squish and mix it until the clay and water make a little clay soup. This is called slip, and it will be used to adhere your clay coils or slabs together. Remember to keep your slip moist throughout the construction of your flower pot.
Now you are ready to start creating your flower pot!
The Clay Slab Flower Pot
- The first step in making the slab flower pot is to start rolling out your first slab. Take any kind of rolling pin - although wood works the best - and begin rolling and flattening your clay, turning it into a slab that is about a quarter inch thick. A little thicker is okay if that is your preference.
- Once you have a substantial amount of clay rolled out, you can begin to cut out your slabs. To cut you can simply use a butter knife or anything similar (it doesn't need to be too sharp).
- The first thing you want to cut is the bottom of your flower pot. Traditionally this will be round, although it can be square. Once you have cut and decided on a size for the bottom, you can begin to cut out the sides.
- Now you are ready to cut out the sides. This can be done in one large slab unless you are making a square; in that case, each side will be separate. The bottom of the side should be just slightly longer than the circumference of the bottom.
Instead of the tall sides of the side slab going straight up like a square, they should angle outward slightly. It is completely a personal preference, but the angles should be between 35 degrees and 45 degrees, depending on the size you have chosen. This will allow your pot's side to expand out the further up the pot you go, in the classic flower pot style.
- The last piece to cut out is optional. A lot of flower pots traditionally have a lip that extends out about a quarter of an inch and is about an inch tall. The size will depend, of course, on the size of your pot. The length of the lip should be just about an eighth of an inch to a quarter inch longer than the top of your flower pot side.
- Start putting your clay together. For this process you will need a fork and the slip that you made in the previous step. In order to complete construction of your pot, you will need to score your clay. Here are the steps to score and construct your flower pot:
- First, take the round bottom that you have cut out. Take your fork and begin to scratch lines all around the edge of the bottom. When you are finished there should be a border of scored lines all around the side edge of the bottom. After this you will take the side that you have cut, and lay it down with the inside portion face up. Begin scoring a half inch border around the bottom of the side as well. Once they are placed together you will notice that the edges of the side overlap. This is why you must score a border of lines up and down the sides as well. Hold up the side and simulate what it will look like when rounded. You will need to score the inside of one edge and the outside of the other.
- After you have scored your pieces, you will now need the slip that you previously made. Take your finger or the fork and begin to put the slip over the scored lines of the bottom of the pot. You will want to apply it about a quarter of an inch thick. If you apply it this thick, you should only have to apply it to the bottom and not the sides. After the slip is applied, take the side slab and place it around the bottom. When placed, press firmly with your fingers all around the borders that have been scored. The slip will enter into the scored lines, holding tight, and once you have pressed both pieces of clay tightly together the slip will act as a cement, solidly securing both pieces.
Now do the same thing with the side. Attach both edges of the sides using slip and pressure from your fingers. Once the bottom and the sides are secured with the scoring and slipping, you should have a solid structure for your pot.
Smooth the slip that has pushed out through the edges of the slabs with your fingers. It never hurts to have a small bowl of water available to keep your surfaces moist. Continue to smooth the edges until they look the way you want them. This portion is merely for aesthetics, so it is all your decision how precise you want it to look. You may need to use a bit of water to keep your slip moist throughout this process; this will give the clay and slip a smooth and crisp look. You may need to take a little extra time smoothing the sides since the overlapping will cause an uneven surface. A soft sponge can be used to smooth out your surfaces.
- Connect the lip on the flower pot. Once again this part is optional. If you choose to add a lip, it should be attached the same way you cemented the other two pieces together. Remember to use plenty of slip to attach the lip. It can always be wiped off and/or smoothed out after the construction is done.
- The last small step to complete is quick and also optional. It is often customary to have a small round hole cut into the bottom of the pot. This is used for drainage To make the hole, take your knife and cut a circle on the inside of the pot. Try to keep the hole at about 1/2" in diameter.
- Allow your flower pot to dry for at least 48 hours. While the clay is drying, be sure to keep a close eye on it. Make sure that your clay does not begin to crack. If it begins to crack within the first 12 to 24 hours, your clay may still be wet enough for you to repair the cracks with water and slip. After that amount of time, you should not apply water or slip to the dried clay. It will not work for repairs and any cracks you may have missed will be there permanently. This is why it's really important to keep an eye on it for the first several hours.
- The last step is to fire your pot. You will need to fire it in something called a kiln. A kiln is basically a large oven where clay is fired. Kilns can be purchased through art supply stores, but they can be pricey. If you prefer not to purchase your own kiln there are other options. High schools, college arts programs, and local pottery outlets sometimes have kilns that have public firing times. Call around your local area to see if you can get access to a kiln through one of these organizations.
The Coil Flower Pot
- To begin your coil flower pot, take a handful of clay; break off a small bit and being rolling it in your hand. Roll it in your hands, or roll it on the table. Do this repeatedly and begin to create coils of clay about 6 inches long and a quarter inch to a half inch in circumference. It is best to make about 10 coils at a time; this will help you ensure that they stay moist. Since the coils were made with your hands, a lot of moisture was removed from them, so they will dry a lot faster than the rest of the clay. Do not make more coils than you can handle.
- You are now ready to begin constructing your flower pot. Start with the bottom by taking a coil, your fork and some slip. Start scoring lines on the side of the coil and then begin to apply slip. Once the slip and lines are complete, begin to spiral the coil around, creating a round bottom. Continue scoring and slipping until the spiral coil bottom is the size you desire. Once this happens, continue the coils on top of the last coil you created. Keep building upward with your coils, scoring and slipping the whole time. With each coil that extends upward, try to slightly extend your coil outward, so that your flower pot will take the classic flower pot shape.
The lip that was achieved above can also be achieved in this process, just construct it with coils instead of a slab.
- Once the flower pot is built with the coils and slip, you are now ready to smooth the clay. In this step you have two options. You can take more slip and water and smooth the entire sides and bottom. This will give you the look of the slab flower pot, only constructed in a different way.
You can also choose to leave it with the coil look. In doing this, you can just take your fingers or a sponge and smooth out the excess slip in the cracks between the coils. For this a sponge may work a little better than a finger.
- The coil pot will need to dry for the same amount of time as the slab flower pot. Then it can be fired in the same fashion.
You also have the option of painting your new pot after it's been fully fired. You should first seal the inside of the pot with a couple of coats of polyurethane to prevent excess moisture damaging the paint; then you can use acrylic paints to decorate your pot. Seal the outside with another coat of polyurethane for a durable, glossy finish.