Crafted objects are all around us. They enliven the spaces we inhabit, enable our routines and infuse charm and wonder into our mundane. We interact with them daily, but often know little about the materials and processes involved in their making.
This glossary was conceived in response to such unknowing, as a modest attempt at acquainting you with craft components and techniques. It was inspired and informed by our exchanges with the makers we work with. At its core this is a toolkit meant to help you understand their work- and the work of craftspeople beyond-better.
The Anagama is a type of pottery kiln brought to Japan from China in the 5th century. It consists of a firing chamber with a firebox at one end and a flute on the other. Anagama kilns are fueled by firewood and can thus attain heat conditions of up to 1400°C (2,500°F). Besides high temperatures the wood also produces fly ash and volatile salts. The complex interaction between flame, ash, and the minerals of the clay body forms a natural glaze which typifies this form of firing. The Anagama kiln fired glaze can be varied in color, texture, and thickness, ranging from smooth and glossy to rough and sharp.
A technique of polishing clay without using any glaze. Ancient potters used these techniques to polish pottery before glazes and kilns were developed. A smooth, rounded stone is used to rub and smoothen the surface of the ceramic piece. Usually, before rubbing the pottery, it needs to be brushed with a wet cloth so that it is slightly damp. It is important to start at the rim, burnish the whole rim, then burnish all the way around just below the rim, continuing this way in a slightly overlapping spiral pattern from the rim towards the foot.
Under the right conditions and in the presence of microorganisms, a biodegradable material will eventually break down into its basic ingredients and be absorbed by the earth.
A specific type of glaze where zinc silicate crystals form in the glaze. The complex firing process involves several rounds of increase in temperature to create different crystal growth formations. The kiln is fired to a maximum temperature of around 1300°C, and then continuously cooled to specific temperatures to allow crystals to form in the glaze.
Ceramic pigments, also known as ceramic stains, are used to add colour and finish to pottery. These help to enhance the potter’s palette by providing a wide range of color possibilities in clay bodies, inglazes, underglazes, and on glazes.
Crochet is a patterned fabric created by interlocking looped yarn. It is created with the help of a special form of hooked needle.
A material is said to be ‘compostable’ when it can organically degrade within a specific period of time and result in nutrient-rich matter. The words ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable’ are often used interchangeably. But while all compostable material is biodegradable not all biodegradable material is compostable.
A cylindrical chamber lined with ceramic fiber and used to produce glaze finishes. The drum is raised by a pulley and winch for loading. This enables easy unloading of the raw materials for raku ﬁring, where the red-hot pieces are pulled from the kiln with tongs and placed in metal buckets containing leaves or sawdust to produce the spontaneous metallic finishes.
Kilns are an important part of making ceramic objects, and more and more present day potters are shifting to electric ones. Electric fired kilns are easy, economic and (relatively) earth-friendly. Being quick to load and fire they also allow quick production.
Embroidery refers to the process of creating decorative designs by needlework. It can be stitched by hand or with a machine and is typically rendered on cloth, with thread, using a variety of stitching techniques.
Gas fired kilns use natural gas or propane as fuel. Since gas is a combustible fuel, working with gas firing often requires a potter to keep a firm hold on the gas to oxygen ratio. Limiting the kiln of oxygen while firing creates an environment known as ‘reduction’, which helps create a unique palette of colours.
A glaze is the impervious coating found on various ceramic objects. It is fused onto a clay vessel during firing and consists of three basic ingredients – a component that offers a glass like finish (such as silica or boron trioxide), a stiffening agent (alumina) and a flux component. Other ingredients, including colour, are often added to these. Ceramic glaze may be used for purely decorative reasons. But it is also used to strengthen and waterproof a clay vessel. Without it the vessel can absorb liquids held in it and become brittle and weak over time.
Hand coiling is a versatile ceramic technique where potters roll the clay between their hands to produce a coil that can be joined to form the wall of a hollow vessel. Pots of enormous size and amazing variety can be made using this method. Ceramic pieces which are more sculptural in nature are usually made using this technique in order to create intricate forms and shapes.
Hakeme is a pottery technique in which the dark clay body of an object is covered in a white slip - or liquified white clay. The slip is swiped with a hard brush while it's wet to ensure it sticks to the body of the object it is applied on. This action with the brush creates a rough, unfinished, but visually arresting final effect on the pot.
The kiln is an oven used for firing, drying, baking, hardening, or burning a substance, particularly clay products. Brick and pottery kilns are those in which the furnace is underneath or surrounding the heated enclosure such that the materials do not come directly in contact with the flames.
Knitting is one of the oldest, most common types of textile crafts in the world. It can be done by hand, using needles, or on a machine. Irrespective of the method used however, the fundamentals of the making remain the same and involves creating a two dimensional fabric by continuously interlinking or knotting loops of yarn, much like in weaving. The threads however run straight, or parallel, in weaved cloth, whereas in knitted fabric the yarn follows a more meandering path. The final fabric thus created is comfortably stretchy and elastic.
The term ‘Kantha’ can mean several things. It can refer to the light blankets common to the Bengali communities of South Asia or the women-centric craft tradition of creating these blankets with discarded sarees and other abandoned home fabric. It can also refer to the typical loose, long, straight running stitch associated with the craft. A Kantha blanket can be plain or elaborately embroidered in such stitching styles. An embroidered Kantha is known as Nakshi Kantha.
Porcelain is a type of translucent white ceramic made at extremely high temperatures by melting a variety of materials like kaolin and quartz. It was first made in China during the rule of the Tang dynasty. Traditionally, it tends to be associated with dinnerware and other fine crockeries and is sometimes also referred to as ‘Fine China’.
Patchwork is a needlework technique used to piece together shaped pieces of fabric, or patches. It can be done by hand or machine and is used for a variety of purposes, including fabric and quilt making.
Quilting is a needlework technique that involves the stitching together of at least three layers of textiles – a top cover, a middle layer of wadding and a back.
Recycling is the process of collecting and processing things that would otherwise be disposed of and making new things with them.
Unlike what its name suggests, stoneware is made of clay. Its dense, stone-like quality is a result of high heat (1277°C, 2330°F) firing. This makes it highly resistant to liquids and extremely durable. Various common household objects, such as coffee mugs, dinner plates and crocks are often stoneware.
Shibori is a manual resist dyeing technique from Japan. It involves the binding, stitching, folding, twisting, or compressing of fabric in various different ways to produce a variety of dyed patterns on it.
Shino is a generic term for a family of classic Japanese pottery glazes. They range from gray to white to orange in colour, with the occasional charcoal grey spotting caused by the trapping of carbon in the glaze during the firing process.
Soda firing is an atmospheric stoneware firing technique which involves introducing soda ash and baking soda into the firing kiln near top temperature, i.e. when the kiln is almost at its hottest. The heat causes the soda to split into its components – sodium and carbon. These vaporize and are carried by the flame through the firing chamber. The vapour creates a glassy glaze wherever it lands on the clay objects inside. The resultant glaze is deep, delightfully irregular and particular to every object fired.
A satin stitch is an embroidery technique in which small designs are filled with smooth, close stitches that stay flat on the fabric. Satin stitch creates a shiny, satiny effect, which lends it its name. It is also called ‘Damask stitch’.
Upcycling refers to the process of recycling something in such a manner that the resultant product is of a greater value than the original one.
The Volcanic glaze, also known as the Lava glaze is a specific finish in pottery which gives the ceramic a thick, glossy appearance. The proper use of certain ingredients can cause controlled gaseous explosions in the glaze, producing holes of different types. The texture of a volcanic glaze can range from large or small craters to sharp or smooth edges.
Kilns fired by wood attain high temperatures and produce fly ash and volatile salts which settle on a piece during firing offering a unique natural glaze.
Wheel throwing is the process of shaping clay on the pottery wheel. Wheel thrown pottery refers to clay objects crafted on the pottery wheel, as opposed to hand built pottery, which is created by hand using basic tools and techniques.
Weaving is a form of textile craft used to create fabric by interlacing at least two distinct yarns. The technique is however also used in other non-textile related crafts, such as basket making.
Zero-waste is a concept which takes into consideration the effective use and conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.