How to Make a Raku Pot With a Pine Needle Rim

Create a distinctive piece by combining the raku process with woven raffia.

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In this project, you'll fire a pot in a kiln and transfer it to a trash can containing with shredded newspaper, which will ignite. When you place the lid on the can, the lack of oxygen will suffocate the fire, forcing the oxides in the glaze material (copper carbonate and cobalt) to the surface and creating a rainbow effect.  

Materials and Tools:

about 5 pounds of clay suitable for raku firing 
basic pottery-making tools (available at a local art and craft stores)
potter's wheel
bat
throwing tools
wooden skewer for punching holes in clay in the soft-leather stage
electric kiln
raku kiln
glaze (commercially purchased or made in the studio)
paintbrushes
newspaper
metal trash can with lid
long pine needles (purchased at basket-supply shops or gathered from beneath pine trees)
raffia (long, strong pieces that can be threaded onto No. 18, blunt-pointed tapestry needles)
No. 18 blunt tapestry needles
pliers
spray bottle with water
scissors
 

Steps:

1. Determine size of the desired piece. Cut off an appropriate amount of clay from a 25-pound block and wedge the clay well.

2. Center the clay on the wheel and throw the piece.

3. Smooth the piece with a rubber rib.

4. Let the piece dry until it reaches the soft-leather stage.

5. Create a swirled indention in the side with your finger.

6. Trim a foot on the bottom of the pot and initial the pot.

7. With a wooden skewer, make holes about an inch apart, a quarter of an inch in from the rim's edge around the piece. Make sure to support the pot from the inside with your hand as holes are made. This prevents the pot's edge from cracking.

8. Finish drying the piece and then bisque-fire to cone 06.

9. Rapidly heat a raku firing and heating pot in an outdoor kiln to 1,850 degrees. Lift the red-hot pot from the kiln and place it in a trash can with a newspaper-lined lid and several inches of shredded newsprint in the bottom, thus igniting the paper. Then place the lid on the can.

10. Cool the pot and clean off any leftover ash from the fire. If the pot is meant to hold water, use a sponge applicator to seal the inside with grout sealer, and when dry begin to coil pine needles on edge of pot.

11. Soak pine needles overnight to make sure they're pliable and soft.

12. Prepare raffia by soaking it for a few minutes. Thread a strand onto a No. 18 tapestry needle and tie a knot at the end of the strand.

13. Depending on the desired thickness of the edge and the kind of pine needle being used, choose two or three pine needles that are in good condition and hold them up to the hole on the outside of the pot. With the tapestry needle positioned on the inside of pot, run it through the hole and begin to sew the first row of pine needles onto the edge of the pot. The woody end of the needles can be space evenly around the pot to create a pattern or can be sewn on randomly. Moisten the raffia with a spray bottle of water if it begins to dry out. This makes sewing much easier and prolongs the life of the raffia strand. 

14. When the first row is finished, move on to the second row, using the stitching from the first row as a guide. The threaded raffia needle will come up through the stitch below, splitting the stitch, creating the pattern seen in the photos. From time to time, the raffia needle will need to be rethreaded, and because of the fragile nature of the raffia, it can break. You can work the broken pieces and short ends into the piece and thread a new strand of raffia onto the needle to continue.

15. Keep coiling until the desired design has been achieved. Then work the threaded needle back into piece on the inside of pot and pull the needle off the raffia.

16. Split the raffia in two and tie a knot close to the piece. Tie the knot several times and trim off excess raffia.

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