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Working with clay at home.... What you need to know

A lot of craft teachers like myself had moved our teaching online to comply with the lock down in order to help the NHS, and many of us had just started to hand-building with clay at home. While I had been delivering live interaction online sessions, as well as making demonstration videos available on the website, one of the most asked questions is: how to look after the clay?

I immediately thought, let's write a blog about it!

First of all, before going into details about looking after the clay, we need to address health and safety aspects first. Clay dust is very harmful for you, once you breath it in, it pretty much stay in your lung, and the harm cannot be reversed. So preventing and cleaning are essential.

  • Do not leave dry clay hanging about. You can pop dry clay in a bowl of water to prevent it becoming dust. You should also bag any unused clay well so it doesn't dry out.

  • Clean you work surface regularly with wet method (such as wiping with a sponge)

  • Do not put clay down the sink. It will block your drain! Alternatively, keep a bowl of water and keep using it for cleaning.

Secondly, how can we look after the work we made? Well, depends on whether you have finished making your pots or not, I recommend the following:

  • If you had finish making a piece of work that you want to bring back for firing when we are allowed out, put it in a paper box to let it dry slowly, at the same time prevent it shedding clay dust. Please be aware bone dry is the most fragile stage of clay, please make sure you look after your dried work carefully.

  • If you want to continue working on a piece another time, please wrap it up very well with some sheets of plastic, or put it in a well sealed plastic box, then put it somewhere out of direct heat or sunlight. This should slow down the drying of the clay to enable you to keep working on it. Do check every other day to see if it needs a spray of water.

Finally, what can be done if the clay is too soft or too hard? Clay is a highly recyclable material, as long as it's not fired, you can always recycle and reuse it. The steps are as simple as adding water to or taking water out from it to reverse it back to a working consistency. To do that, you can:

  • Add water to clay that is too dry to work with, by spraying water, by pushing a hole in a lump of clay and fill with water, or even by warping a wet towel around. Whichever method you use, please do give some time for the clay to absorb in the water. Depends on how dry your clay is, you may need to repeat a few times to get it back to a good working consistency.

  • Taking water out from clay that is too wet to work with, by drying them in room temperature (please make sure it doesn't dry too much to become dust), or by using a hair dryer which is particularly good for work in progress pieces, to make the clay harden up so it gives more support.

  • If you had been collecting dry clay and putting it into the bowl of water, once you collect enough amount, wait overnight so the clay sinks to the bottom, sift off the water from the top, and tip out the clay and let it dry out slowly.

To all my current students, I hope this blog post helps maximising the usage of the 5kg of clay you got before the lock down! For those of you that wants to start to work with clay at home, I would suggest you to check how accessible for a kiln firing, before rushing to purchase materials.

In the next blog post, I will give some recommendations of what to purchase, if you would like to start or continue hand-building at home. Before that, stay well!

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