Saturday, August 26, 2017

Making Necklaces in July and August, 2017

Cedar boughs pressed into red clay
I spend much of the year looking forward to the summer, and time spent with clay making pendants. And what a summer it was!

At least one batch of pendants  involved cedar imprinted into the clay.  

I have so many strong childhood memories of cedar. 

Memories of opening my grandmother's cedar chest, the wonderful scent as the chest was opened, a scent permeating the fabrics stored there. 
Cedar and white clay, cut into pendant sizes

The smell of cedar carries me backwards, takes me back to memories.  

And the smell also carries me the trees!  

It is a matter of walking over to one of the trees, and looking for a few branches willing to donate a few leaves to the project. 
Standing at the tree, finding a stem here or there, conscious of taking only a few from any given branch, I find myself thinking of all the uses of cedar and of Coast Salish stories of the cedar as once being people, and of being the most kind, gentle and generous of people.

Cedar pendants set up to dry
Thus, a few moments of gratitude are wrapped into the gathering of branches, and then it is a matter of placing and embedding the cedar into the clay, letting the clay firm up, and then choosing how to cut the clay into individual pieces.
Pendants catching a last burst of summer sun before heading into the kiln
And so, with the final shape settled on, and the addition of a hole so a cord can latter be attached, the pendants are left to dry, waiting for a bisque firing.  

There are so many ways of interacting with the clay when it is still maleable.

The imprint of fingers, thumbs, or tools.

The painting on of designs using coloured slips or underglazes.  

The scraping off of a slip to reveal the clay below.  

The addition of stains or oxides to change the colour of the clay itself. 

The kneading of different colours of clay into each other.      

It is an adventure both loading the kiln, and then unloading it, hoping that everything survives the first firing, that nothing explodes, and waiting to see the transformations wrought on the clay by that first application of high heat.  

I generally stacking that first kiln full, leaning pendants along side and on top of each other, trying to take advantage of every bit of space.
Pendants fresh from the bisque kiln

There is also the wonder of the cedar itself, as it burns away in the heat, leaving behind the footprint of its placement, and a scattering of ash to be blown away. 

In the aftermath of the magic that is the fire, there is often the ghostly presence of one cedar branch burnt onto the backside of the pendant that was leaning against it, so that the clay carries the traces of two branches. 

And then, the choices about what comes next.  
Setting glazed pendants onto metal rods in the kiln

Glaze?  Glass?  Rocks?   

Glaze is magic, and opens a wealth of possibilities of colour.   The cedar pendants will be glazed of course:  the glaze pools into and around the trace of cedar in ways that are beautiful. 

But, I am limited by the number of metal rods I own.   

The transformations wrought (by what begins looking like paint but which will become like liquid glass in the fire of the kiln) require the pendants to be suspended by a metal rod, so that they touch nothing. 

Unglazed pendants, filled with rocks and glass
If one glazed pendant contacts another in the kiln, they will be fused together.  Similarly, if the pendant touches the kiln shelf, it will be glued in place, leave a permanent mark of its visit, and turn into liquid glass on each subsequent use, a threat to each subsequent visitor to the shelf.  All that so say, I am limited by the number of pendants that can be hung from rods.   

And so the other option is to leave the bottom of each pendant unglazed so it can lay safely on a shelf, and treat the top of the pendant as a site of engagement with either rocks or glass.  

Rocks gathered, sorted, and ready to find a home in a pendant
I do love rocks.  

I always have.  

Part of the pleasure is sitting at the water's edge, down by the beach, gathering rocks that I imagine might be willing to spend some time together in a cradle of clay, suspended by a cord, hanging against the skin of a person who values their connection to the earth. 
matching colours of clay and rock?

There is something calming/meditative in spending time with the rocks, noting their shapes and colours (which change when they are wet or dry).  

And there is the pleasure of the puzzle.  Sitting at the kitchen table later in the evening, rocks spread around as I choose the specific combinations that might fit in the spaces I had carved out.  
pendants ready to be taken over to the kiln

The final stage is then to lay a bed of glaze in the 'riverbed' of the pendant, and set the rocks in place.  When fired, the glaze will melt into glass, hopefully catching the bottom of the rocks to hold them in place. 

Glass is another pleasure.  

Janet at one point tried her hand at stained glass, and thus has a store of sheets of glass.  

So, with safety goggles and a hammer to hand, there is the pleasure of 'the breaking'.  This is followed by the (also slightly dangerous) pleasure of working with glass shards, placing them into the carved out spaces in the clay.  I always manage to give myself a few glass slivers.   

BEFORE - glass in place and ready for the kiln
Still, I do love trying to find pieces that will fit, and thinking about the colour choices.  The glass will become liquid in the kiln, and will interact with the pieces around it, producing something new.  Some colour blends do nicely, and others less so.

AFTER - same pieces after the kiln has wrought its work
It is also a challenge trying to make guesses about how full or empty to go.  Not enough glass, and it won't spread to fill the space.  But too much is also a problem, since in the heat, the glass tends to bubble up (like bread?) before settling down.  So, there is the question of making sure it is not so full that the glass runs over the edges during the firing, attaching the piece permanently to the kiln shelf.

Adventures!   And so there is the magic of seeing what actually emerges from the second firing.

Unloading the kiln from the second firing

A shelf of completed pendants (and Ceilidh's figurine!)

A pile of pendants on Arta's counter, reading for 'sorting'

Michael, Betty and Alice helping to group likes alike!


They say you are always learning.   The first summer I tried adding rocks to clay, i learned that some rocks just don't work.   I really love all the rocks from the beach that are full of mica.  They glitter in the sun.   But.... it turns out that their beauty does not survive an encounter with a cone 5 kiln.  The mica completely burns away, leaving behind a chalky and burnt looking rock.   Thus I learned to instead go for the rocks with higher granite content.

A little green rock turned into a red clamshell?!
In the summer of 2017, I decided to gather some rocks from Arbutus Cove (the beach just down from our house in Victoria). 

I collected some truly beautiful rocks: black and green, smooth and rounded by decades of encounter with the sea.   

I knew they would be a wonderful addition to my pendants. 

It didn't quite turn out that way. 

These rocks changed their colours, bubbled up like loaves of yeast, doubling in size, breaking open their containers, fracturing and fragmenting.

I am not saying that the pendants were 'a catastrophe'.  After all, all rocks are things of beauty.  

But I will say that those rocks pooled around the beaches of Victoria did NOT do well in a kiln firing.   

Later, when I was showing the results to a friend back home, they told me they were not surprised, and that "everyone" knows  you would never use those rocks, for instance, in a sweat lodge:  they are too full of water and will thus break when heated.


Well, it is equally clear that I was not quite yet part of the "everyone" who knew, but I know now!  

Rocks are like people.  High heat is not for everyone!   

A lesson to remember.

The bags of pendants that made it through the first but not the second firing, awaiting next summer to be completed!


  1. Thank you for explaining your love of the earth. I love it too. I see my hand in one of the picture, touching the pendants, some of them too beautiful to let go.

  2. Loved reading this as I thought of the pendants I have hanging in my room that you have made. I particularly love the one I have with beach rocks. Takes me back to hours and hours on the beech collecting rocks. As an adult, I now this this could be a good activity to do as I mediate or practice mindfulness.