10 reasons why handmade ceramics are better

This week I want to re-share a couple of posts with you that 'pin my colours to the mast'. I am deeply troubled by all the hype around Black Friday and the endless consumption of mass produced items that the corporates are trying to foist upon us. So here is my line in the sand. I believe in something a bit different and invite you to dip in and share it with me.



Writing my last post about the benefits of sharing crafted ceramics with children made me realise I had never said much about why I thought made handmade ceramics so interesting. So here goes...

Photo by Charlotte Bland

Photo by Charlotte Bland

  1. Each piece is designed and made in the style, size, proportions and materials that the maker thinks is best, rather than cheapest, easiest to produce, in trend or whatever else drives commercial manufacturers
  2. Being formed directly by the hands of the maker, so they fit beautifully into the hands of the maker. I have handled 10,000 year old pots, decorated with the finger impressions of the ancient maker, complete with fingerprints. It created an powerful sense of connection to that person, so distant in time, and of our shared humanity.
  3. The clay carries a record of all the movements used to make and finish it, giving not only the main form and profile, but also a plethora of small details, perhaps throw lines, or a smudge where it was picked up and moved. I enjoy the way in which the firing then makes this history of tiny gestures in time permanent.
  4. Potters tend to use less highly processed materials, and to enjoy clays and glazes that yield up movement and variation when they are fired. From a distance a simple looking black pot may be discovered to have rough, matt and smooth textures, warm toasted areas, flushes of various other colours where the glaze is thinner or thicker, dark spots where iron from the clay has interacted with the glaze, flashing from flames or vaporisations of minerals from the glazes of neighbouring pots in the kiln, This gives the finished piece a depth of character that you can get to know better with time, so it stays interesting over the longer term and rewards close attention.
  5. Because each piece is individually made, even a set of skilfully made and closely matching pieces will still have slight variations, so they embody both individuality and family connections.
  6. The work of each potter comes with an interesting back story of how they trained, what has consciously and subconsciously influenced and inspired them, what they are interested in developing. A narrative and heritage which we can then associate with a particular pot.
  7. I value individual creativity, thoughtfulness, and having a home furnished with unique things that I have chosen. Selecting hand-crafted things to share that living space concretises my values and gives me happiness every time I see a piece. They make me feel more me.
  8. At base, clay is a fundamentally organic material, it is shaped by the intentions of the maker, but it continues to carry the character of the particular ball of clay, and it is then transformed at enormously high temperatures. This can be orchestrated by the skilled maker, but there is an element of wildness in the process that cannot be entirely controlled. This is humbling lesson for the person working with the clay, but as modern life becomes more and more mass produced and urban that sense of wildness and elements beyond our control is an important one for us all.
  9. Using handmade pots, for example is serving food, provides an excellent frame for the dishes they contain. If you have gone to the effort of finding seasonal or artisanal produce and cooking it well, it deserves to be noticed, attended to and fully savoured by the people it is served to. A handcrafted serving dish will complement the food and help to encourage the attentions of the eaters.
  10. Buying handmade pots supports a world in which people can survive as working potters and independent retailers making and selling what they love, and that is a world I prefer to the alternative of mass production and corporate profit!


Thinking about Christmas shopping

This is a post I first posted 3 years ago and as all the black Friday madness kicks in again I thought I would re-share it with you. I find it useful to remind myself of the kind of world I want to live in and to think about how the ways in which I act now help build that world - or not.

This Saturday is also 'Small business Saturday' which gives us a good contrast of some of the options we are choosing between. I know you guys out there are thoughtful too so I encourage you to take a moment to consider what you really value and perhaps find ways to fit more of it into your life this festive season.



I love finding the right gift for someone but I've long had an ambivalent relationship with Christmas shopping, and now I'm a maker it has only got more complicated.

Image from @medi_cole

Image from @medi_cole

I am challenged by the consumerist festival-of-shopping characteristic Christmas has acquired, with massive marketing budgets being spend to drive us all into a frenzy of credit-fuelled shopping. It seems pretty clear that those corporate retailers are using those budgets to manipulate and profit from our natural needs and desires, without ever actually fulfilling the need as they promise. It's not done for our best interest but to feed their bottom line. That leaves a pretty bad taste in the mouth.

For years now I have avoided the mainstream shops as much as possible and gone to craft fairs or independent retailers on or offline, choosing to spend my money on gifts that are closer to my personal values. They might be hand made, or ethically produced or fairtrade/organic etc. I  hope the recipients enjoy them, I feel better about where my money goes - and I get to avoid the worst of the high street frenzy. Win-win-win!

As a maker now, the Christmas season is my busiest time of year and so far accounts for a fair percentage of my annual turnover. Without it the business would be in trouble. But it's a bit weird being dependent on other people's Christmas shopping and trying to make the most of it without turning into a miniature version of one of those rampant merchandisers I hate.

I can see the appeal of the minimalist approach but I've always been a thing person so my take on it all is more inspired by the new materialism which suggests that we move away from the never-ending over-consumption. Instead they put out a new manifesto urging us to have fewer things, love them more, to take care of them, share them and choose them more wisely according to our own values.

This works for me as a person in that I need not clutter up my home or spend money I don't have. Instead I can focus on the things I really need or love and enjoy them for longer. It also works for me as a maker as I hope that useful things that look good and are individually handmade with love will be something you want to keep and treasure.

So I would like to invite you to have a thoughtful approach to what you buy and take home or give to others, choosing really lovely things that support your own values and enable you to create a home that expresses who you are. I think hand made things are better at creating connections so they make better gifts too.

While I was pondering the topic for this month's newsletter I heard about a new campaign called #justacard. This highlighted the fragility of the economy for independant traders and makers and the power that shoppers have to support them - or not. It underscores the power of shopping choices to support the type of world, the type of community, the type of high st we want, even by making quite small changes. It fitted nicely with the issues I was considering so it feels fitting to mention it - I hope you will check it out and consider supporting it.

I'd also love to hear your thoughts on the issue, please leave a comment below if you'd like to share what you prioritise at this time of year.