Archive | October, 2009

Fairy Houses

24 Oct

Well, it’s been AGES since I posted here. Busy summer, lots of good stuff, a little–um–less than good stuff–life. Here are some pictures of my daughter and a friend making fairy houses. We also made this project with our class of little girls, but kids’ classes being what they are, we were too busy to take pictures of that. When the kids’ fairy houses come out of the kiln, I might post some pictures of them, too.

Because it’s so difficult for little kids (and others) to make a decent coiled pot, I’ve thrown on the wheel and bisque fired a number of forms for them to use. Coiled or puzzled pots are easy to make either on the inside of these bisqued forms, or on the outside.

coiling on a formIf you decide to throw some forms, either for your own use or for teaching others, be sure you make the walls slope outward slightly, and make them ABSOLUTELY straight. Use a rib or a slat of wood to make sure.  If the walls curve inward at any point, it can make removing your coiled pot very difficult.

In the photo, you see my daughter in the process of adding a coil. I have the kids start these pots by making a pancake-shaped slab with their hands, beating and throwing it on the canvas table cloth. It should be a bit larger than the base of the form they’ll be using, and maybe 1/4 to 3/8″ thick. Coiled pots tend to get S cracks in the base, and this helps to prevent that from happening. Snug the slab over the base of the bisque form. If there’s too much time between this step and the next (adding the first coil), you’ll want the kids to score the edges of the slab and paint on a little bit of water. I DO NOT use slip for this, as the slip tends to stick the pot to the form.

making coil

The coil in the photo is about right for a nice, thin pot, but if the kids make theirs twice this diameter and all lumpy, that will work almost as well. Watch them closely, as they’ll tend to smooth the outside edge of the coil down to the bisque form, creating a knife edge. You want the edge nice and fat–at least 1/4″. You don’t need to keep scoring as you go along. It’s enough to score the edge of the pancake. This pot needs to be finished in one sitting, because the bisque form will dry the clay out even if you wrap it in multiple layers of plastic. I just add the coils in a spiral as I move down the mold/form, and when I run out, I make another coil and add it in where I finished the last one.  If it takes a long time to start adding the next coil, you could score just the bottom (leading) edge of the pot and paint on water before starting to add the next coil.

Don’t let the pot go too long, though, especially if you’re working on the outside surface. The clay you’re adding can shrink and then you’ll have to cut your pot to get it off the form–Bummer! One thing, though–if this does happen, try just cutting the door for your fairy house. That may be enough to release the  pot, and it could save you having to stick the whole thing back together.

When you get to the bottom of the form, cut off any excess with a needle tool held perpendicular to the wall of the pot. Just drag the needle tool right around, using the lip of the form as your guide–no need to saw. It will slice right through and make a smoother cut if you do this in a smooth motion. You should now round the edges (both the outside one and the inside one–(next to the form)). Gently pinch the edge just a little bit between your fingers to give it a rounded contour. Don’t stretch it out!

TextureBefore you take your pot off the bisque form, add any textures you would like. The pot in the picture was textured with a tree bark mold someone made of rubber mold-making compound. You can also use texture stamps–either purchased or homemade and bisque fired, natural items such as rough rocks or sea shells or bark, etc. You can use fondant rollers (look in the cake decorating section of your craft store), lace or other textured fabrics . . . the list of possibilities is endless. Access your imagination and have a look round the house or classroom or back yard.

Once you’ve added the texture, you can remove the pot from the bisque form. Hold the end of the pot with one hand and have your other hand inside the form. Give a little shake or twist or rap, and if the pot hasn’t shrunk too much, the form will slip right out. If you need some help, don’t be shy about asking. Sometimes two sets of hands are better for this job–especially if your form (and hence your pot) is large and difficult to hold. Gently set the pot down on its open end. Since you’re making a fairy house, this will be right side up. If you’re making something else–a flower pot, for example, you can set it on its bottom.

At this point, I have the little kids “glue” their fairy houses to a textured slab to form the fairy’s yard. This makes it harder to eventually light up the fairy house, but it does stabilize the base of the pot and makes it easier for the kids to work with the project. I have them cut their “yard” into a free-form shape a little bigger than the fairy’s house. They like to add mushrooms and things to it. I use a 3/8″ thick slab for this, and I let the kids choose a texture and feed it through the slab roller. If you haven’t got a slab roller, that’s okay, but I’d have some slabs rolled ahead for the kids to texture if you want them to finish their house in one session.

ChimneyThe fairy house needs a chimney. You can make one from a slab rolled into a tube, or you can make a marshmallow-shaped piece of clay and then poke a hole in it from end to end with the handle of a paintbrush or whatever’s available. With your paintbrush handle, enlarge the hole while thinning out the walls a bit and voila! You have a fairy chimney. Cut a little hole in the roof–wherever you want to let smoke from your votive candle escape–and attach the chimney on the edges of the hole. Or if you prefer, you can attach the chimney and then poke the hole. Don’t forget to scratch and moisten both edges where they’ll be attached. (The brown strip you see on the table in the above photo is the tree bark mold Cheri used to texture her fairy house and chimney.)

Locating ChimneyHere you have a photo of Cheri’s friend, Emily, deciding where the chimney of her fairy house will sit. Once you’ve decided where you want it, mark it by tracing lightly around it with a pointed object like a needle tool or a sharp pencil. That way you know where to score and poke the hole. 🙂 In the upper left, the purple thing you see is a fondant roller with which Emily textured her fairy house.

WindowsYou can now decorate and add windows, doors, etc. Remember to score and moisten and firmly attach all additions. Cheri eventually put her door on top, since she figured the fairy would want to fly in and out, and it would make for a more secure perimeter. Of course, those are pretty big windows . . . .  If you want to insert a votive candle, make sure the kids make at least one opening that will be big enough (and don’t forget that your clay will shrink–ask the supplier for specific percentages). Otherwise, you can cut a hole through the slab inside the house so that you could just set it down over the candle–in the same manner as these open-based houses will be used.

When the houses are finished, I’ll post some more photos as an update. Meantime, here’s a fairy house made from a pinch pot that I formed into a pumpkin shape.

Pumpkin House