Northumberland clay hunting….

A few weeks ago I returned, with an old friend (Stefan Sobell who makes exquisite and incomparable guitars, citterns and mandolins…), to a stream that cuts down from the Hexhamshire moors where we dug clay 25 years ago. The moors here are characterised by beautiful wide expanses, near-horizontal bands of heather, field and woodland, stepping up to the high ground, with stone farmhouses / outbuildings and scattered evidence of bronze age settlement and 17th and 18th century lead workings.The clay that we dug then was lugged back to Newcastle and made into thumb pots, burnished and dustbin fired in sawdust, creating lovely black, shiny pots. This time I wanted to collect some of the clay to see if it would throw, and to collect some soil and wood ash samples to use in glaze experiments.

The soil horizon has a fairly classic profile for an upland valley; alluvium with a layer of iron pan beneath, under which lies the rich dark grey seam of clay of incredible purity – there are hardly any inclusions of grit or organic material.

The clay we dug this time was brought home and kneaded before it could dry out. It threw perfectly into the forms below. I have fired these at 1000 degrees C – the results are shown too. I have dried, pounded, slaked and sieved some of the soil samples and I am waiting for these samples to dry before starting a simple triaxial blend experiment to see what results I get at 1250 degrees C (to start with). I’m guessing that with the rich iron oxide content in one sample – a tenmoku effect may be achieved? I have also included a sample from a local sandstone quarry (huge thanks to Lara at Ladycross Quarries) – taken from the sump where the washed out waste from sawing the stone collects.

For stoneware firing results – we’ll have to wait a week or two until I fire up the kiln.

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