August Seed-Savers Meeting

Yesterday we had the local organic gardening group here for a few hours. We actually spent the first hour and a half having morning tea, a chat, talking catch-up and plenty with plenty of cheese and crackers, then moving on to coffee and cake, etc.

We did an hour or so of weeding in the vegetable garden and then a leisurely lunch for another 1 1/2 hours, before people eventually all went on their various ways. We meet once a month in one another’s gardens and do a bit of work, but mostly we swap seeds and seedlings over coffee and cake, and then share a meal and chat. The day passes very congenially. Views are shared, seeds are collected and offered, weeds are pulled, news is passed on, reviews are opined, compost is spread, cuttings are taken and seedlings are swapped. It’s a very pleasant way to spend the middle of the day.

The day was cold with a bit of a wind, but by midday, the sun came out and it was very pleasant in among the vegetables pulling weeds. I even took my jumper off! Fortunately it didn’t rain until after dark.

The garden is looking loved again! 

The vegetable patch has always provided us with all our green food. Nothing has changed. A lot of the plants were burnt in the fire, but I watered everything very thoroughly straight away in the days after, and we were able to keep our selves in green food at all times. It has recently been a bit neglected, while I have been concentrating on getting the workshop back into production. So now that the Sturt show is up and I have started on the delicate work for the PowerHouse commission. It’s time to do a lot of catching up.

The orchards are now pruned, mowed and fertilised. The prunings are all burnt, the weeds are all composted, and thanks to our lovely friends the vegetables are looking good with their composted mulch. Many of the tiny seeds that I planted a month or so ago, were starting to disappear in a thicket of wild Flanders poppy seeds that are very energetic growers. The next big job in the garden to prepare the fallow beds for the spring planting of the summer veggies.

The Last Weeks of Winter

In these last few weeks of late winter, we have been picking loads of citrus for both juice and marmalade.

The avocado season is also in full swing with quite a good crop on this year.

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I have finally finished building the car port shed, Started in March 2020, completed August 2022. It’s only taken me 2 1/2 years. Slow but thorough.

One other reason for the long time interval from start to finish, was that apart from the initial frame, everything else was scrounged, re-cycled and repurposed.

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The last job was to fame up the East wall and clad it with poly carbonate sheeting. We were gifted a couple of very large recycled glass doors, by a lovely friend who had them taken out of her house to do extensions. I designed and built the wall out of left over steel sections that the pottery shed builders thew out on the scrap pile to go to the tip. I couldn’t bear to see such waste, even to see it go to the re-cyclers was a great waste of embedded energy, so I welded all the small section of scrap together to make long 6m. useful beams. I designed and built this last wall around the donated glass door sizes to make a snug fit.

I’m glad that it is finally done, as there was a lot of 5 and 6 metre high ladder work. More than I was comfortable with. Luckily, I had my very good friend Warren to give me a hand for a couple of days to get it completed. These beams are just too long to lift and fit one handed on a ladder by myself.

You can read the story of re-purposing the short steel off-cuts from a previous blog post here;

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I started framing this wall last December. I’ve been working on it on and off since then as time permits.

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Winter is also the time for fruit tree pruning. It’s been an on-going job for a few weeks now, on and off, as time allowed.

I didn’t do a lot of pruning over the last 3 years, as most of my orchard trees got burnt. Those that survived, just got ignored, as I was way too busy doing other more important jobs at the time.

So this year was a big year for catching up, reshaping and thinning out.

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The small chain saw got a bit of a workout as well as the usual range of secateurs and hand saws.

We generated quite a pile of prunings by the end of the work and had a good bon fire to clean it all up last week at the end of the work, but before the fire bans come back into force.

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Recently, it was our sons birthday, so I made him a panforte as a birthday cake.

With all the usual ingredients and a lot of love.

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You can read about the recipe on my blog here; 

Happy gardening and cooking.

A Weekend at the Beach

We have been lucky to have been invited to spend a weekend at the beach with our friends Toni and Chris. We have been there twice before. On each occasion we collected pumice off the beach as well as cuttle fish bones. We mix these two materials together to make a green stoneware glaze that is reminiscent of a Northern Song Dynasty, Chinese inspired celadon, but because it is all collected from the sea, we call it our Sealadon glaze. 

Janine grew up at the beach on the North coast and for very many years, she would collect beach pumice each time she returned to visit her parents. After a large undersea volcanic eruption out in the pacific ocean about 15 or so years ago, there was a substantial ‘raft’ of floating pumice that was blown across the pacific and onto Australian shores arriving here on the South coast in around 2013/14. This material is still to be found on some remote beaches, where it washed up and got stranded in the sand dunes and coastal grasses. 

Pumice is an interesting rock. It’s an aerated volcanic glass composed mostly of felspathic minerals. These minerals (magma) are very viscous when hot and when forcefully ejected from a volcanic explosion under the sea, the trapped gasses in the rock, created under the intense pressure of the volcanic process are suddenly released. They can’t escape from the viscous magma quickly enough and so expand rapidly exfoliating the rock as it cools. Fluffing it up, like aero chocolate, Not unlike the way that grains of rice are ‘exfoliated’ into rice bubbles in a similar synthetic process.

We also found cuttle fish on the beach during our walk, cuttlefish ‘bone’ is made up of calcium. Many sea creatures utilise calcium from sea water to create their shells and carapaces. Calcium is a very good high temperature flux. So we worked out a recipe of 15 to 20% of cuttle fish bone and 80 to 85% of pumice works very well together. It’s also about the approximate proportions that we find them in together on the beach.

We filled a coupe of plastic bags with our booty. This will keep us going in dark green sealadon glaze for a few more years now.

We were pleased to see a sea eagle cruising and hovering over us in the afternoon.

Young People Today!

I had to go to the service station yesterday. 

I needed to put some more petrol in my car. 

Because I only go to the petrol station once every 3 or 4 months to put a small amount of petrol in the plug-in electric hybrid car. I always forget where the switch is, to open the petrol cap cover.

In our old petrol powered car, I used to go the garage and get petrol almost every week, so I knew where the lever was. It was on the floor next to the drivers seat.

Now, because this car is so different — all electric everything. I have to remember to look for the special button to do the job.

Previously, I was only putting $20 in to last 3 months, but with the recent outbreak of war in Ukraine, the petrol company has been forced into ‘Putin’ the price up. 

I put $30 in this time. I’ll see how long it lasts. This is only the 3rd time I’ve been to the petrol station this year. It remains a quaint and unusual event for me.

This electric car is beautiful to drive. So silent, but with heaps of torque. All you hear is some faint tyre noise, depending on the road surface. On the newer, smooth road surfaces, it is silent.

I’m pleased to be able to drive home and plug it in to the solar panels for a re-charge. If the sun isn’t shining, we still plug it in, and charge it off our Tesla battery. In this way we can use yesterdays stored-up sunshine.

I’m very pleased to say that even during winter, with shorter days and a lot of rain so far this year, we are still over 95% self powered. We can run our house, charge our car, plus run the pottery and even fire the small electric kiln on our 6 kW of solar PV. 

So far this year, we have paid just $75 for electricity from the grid, and this was our first power bill in 16 years since we installed the first 3 kW of PV panels. This bill was largely due to the fact that the feed-in tariff has been reduced to just 7 cents per kW/hr this year, while the cost of green electricity has increased. The feed-in tariff won’t be going up any time soon, if ever. So we have to cut our cloth accordingly. Up until recently, we were getting 20 cents per kW/hr for our electricity, and getting the best part of $1,000 per year in rebates.

However, because I have been doing a lot of regular firings in our electric kiln, we have therefore used a lot more electricity than we normally would. This is becauseI have been working on my Show at the Sturt Gallery. It has taken a lot of research and testing to get this new body of work completed. I haven’t made pots like this before. I haven’t decorated my work with brushwork like this before, I haven’t used most of these clay bodies before and I haven’t fired this wood kiln before. Almost everything is new and therefore un-tried. It was a lot of work to get it all together in time, involving a massive amount of glaze and body testing and test firings. Hence the large power bill. So this is why it is so rewarding to realise that we were able to cover over 95% of it with our own self-generated power.

All this testing also has another more important purpose. I need to make the specially commissioned work as my part of The Willoughby Bequest for The PowerHouse Museum. My original idea all went up in the flames, so I have had to find a new approach, and this new work is my way into that place.

The show at Sturt gallery has been well received. It’s been open for a week now and they have sold 17 out of the 23 pieces. So that is a very good result and I’m very happy with that. I’m very happy with the work and I think that it stands up well. It expresses both my angst and trauma, but also the terrible beauty and energy of intense fire.

We have passed the shortest day, but the weather is still getting colder, as it does. There always seems to be a bit of a lag from the shortest day to the depth of winter. The reverse is also true for the longest day and the hottest weather. So it is now time to do the winter pruning of all the grape vines and deciduous fruit trees.

This was always such a big job in the past with all our stone fruit trees being over 40 years old. They had grown quite massive. Now, post fire, and all new dwarf fruit trees planted in the new orchard, it will not be such a big job, as the trees are still quite small and should remain that way. No more ladder work for pruning.

The first, earliest, peach tree has suddenly broken into flower. This is a strong reminder that I need to get on with it, stop lazing around, and get all that pruning done.

All this cold weather, frosty nights and chilly mornings has inclined me to make a few curries. They are a good comfort food, warming and filling, without being too bad for you. Veggie curries are great, I have been trying to use mostly what we have growing in the garden, which at this time of year must include broccoli, cabbage and even a few Brussel sprouts. I even managed to used most of our own spices.

This Asian influenced meal had the last 9 small tomatoes from the garden, our garlic, chilli, lime leaves, curry leaves, coriander and the last two small capsicums. All from the garden. I had bought a few pieces of fresh ginger, galangal and turmeric from the green grocer because we cant grow these plants in our garden here, even in summer. We had 3 curries over the week. Each one was slightly different, from Thai to Indian. Curry seems to be more warming than other meals.

Maybe it’s all that chilli?

On Sunday I was up before dawn and drove up to the North side of Sydney, a few hours drive away. Up to Oxford Falls. A place where I used to live. I grew up and went to school there. I used to live at number 41 Oxford Falls Road. This time I went to the far opposite end of that long road to collect some old and rusted galvanised iron roofing so that I can rebuild my wood fired kiln’s wood shed and finally create a new and hopefully permanent home for the rebuilt big hydraulic wood splitter.

It was a really lovely sky at dawn with the horizon turning from grey to pink for those precious few minutes. 

I had been given a tin roof off an old chicken farm shed. I was told about it a couple of years ago, when we were casting about looking for old re-cycled roofing iron to use as cladding on our new pottery shed. I wanted to use all old, grey, weathered and slightly rusty re-cycled gal sheeting on this new building to make it look more in keeping with all the other old buildings on our site. Our home is the Old School building from 1893 and we also have the old railway station built in 1881. I managed to save both of these buildings from the fire. We wanted to keep the heritage look and feel of the place and a brand new shiny corrugated iron pottery shed would stand out like dogs balls, I managed to find just enough old, weathered roofing to complete the job while I was still waiting for the roof to be taken off the Chicken shed in Oxford Falls.

That roof was finally replaced this year. Too late for me to use in the new pottery, but just in time for me to use to re-build the dedicated wood shed for all the large billets of timber that are required to be split, stacked and dried for use in the wood fired kiln. I’m quite fond of the old heritage buildings and their ‘settled-into-the-environment’ look, so it is appropriate for me to build the new wood shed out of old and slightly rusted stuff.

When I drove into Oxford Falls Road, the road I grew up on, but where I left to find my own way in life in 1972. I found some old memories flooding back. I remembered that we used to walk down the road a few miles to get to the creek at the bottom of the hill and go yabbying. A yabby is a fresh water crayfish. This time, instead of turning to go up the hill to where my parents old house was. I turned the opposite way and crossed over the ford just above the falls and went West.

I hadn’t been here since I was in my teens and used to drive the family truck down here with my grand father, to collect chicken manure from his friends egg farm. My Granddad was a very committed organic gardener, health food devotee, and a strict vegetarian. He brought my mother up that way, and she me. In fact, my grand parents lived behind our house. The two houses back to back, on different streets but with a common back yard joining them. This back yard was huge, as land sizes were very generous in those post (WW II), war days. That shared back yard was dedicated in the most part to a huge vegetable garden and a few fruit trees. And, of course two massive compost heaps.

It was a regular chore to go with granddad and shovel chicken manure from the deep litter floor of the chook sheds when there was a change over of birds and the various sheds were empty for a short while. We had to take it in turns either holding the bag open or digging the manure and wood shaving mixture into the hessian bags, then lugging them out and up onto the truck. I shared this job with my older brother for a few years until he eventually left home and I was old enough the get my drivers licence and took over the driving. Old man Rigby, who owned the farm and my granddad were great friends. They were about the same age and shared the same interest in ‘health foods’, as they were called back then. Old Mr Rigby baked his own bread. As did my grand mother and she taught my mum. She then taught me. I still make most of our bread, as well as grow my own organic vegetables. Family traditions are passed down in this way. Give me the boy till he is 7!

Well, you can image my surprise, when I turned into the driveway of the site to collect the old roofing iron to find that it all seemed strangely familiar. I recognised the old shed with the hand split stone walls. It all came flooding back. I’ve been here before. Almost everything is different now, but the old shed is the same, just more dilapidated, but I remember that Old Mr Rigby lived in there. The first room served as his kitchen and his office, it’s now the pottery studio. The remaining bigger part of the old shed was his machinery shed. It’s now got one of my wood  fired kiln designs in there. Who could possibly imagine that !

I remember sitting in that room waiting while Mr Rigby and my Grand Father chatted on about compost and other organic gardening stuff. I was bored. I wanted to get going, so that I could go to the beach. I didn’t take sufficient interest in their healthy organic gardening and wholemeal bread baking chat. My Granddad was probably thinking…

Young People today!

Shimpo Whisperer

With the success of my first larger, extended, new Shimpo tray experiment on the metal framed model, I was encouraged to try and add a new larger tray onto the 3 legged RK-3E whisper model.

The original factory tray was just so small and cramped, just like all the other Shimpo potters wheel turnings and slip trays.

I have followed the same archetype that I used yesterday for the metal framed model. I used the same waterproof plywood for the base and the same stainless steel rim all around.

Two down and one to go on this side of the studio.

New and improved home-made shimpo wheel tray

Now that my work in the group show at Sturt Gallery is up and running. 

I have time to do a bit of catching-up on all the jobs that I wasn’t able to get done while I was working hard to get all the pots fired for this show.

One of  the first jobs is to make a new turnings and slip tray for one of our potters wheels. The turnings tray on Shimpo wheels is slightly only just above pathetic.

They are so mean and cramped that if you do any amount of turning whatsoever, you need to stop work to take the tray to pieces and empty the turnings out, then re-assemble it to keep working!

It is so pathetically small, it is completely un-professional. I’m so surprised that they haven’t managed to come up with something more appropriate after all this time.

I’ve been using shimpo electric potters wheels since 1972. I first started with an RK-2 ring-cone wheel. The model with the sharp, pointy drive cone. Later I bought a 2nd hand RK-3. The model with the short, blunt, rounded cone. These were the best wheels on the market at the time. I really enjoyed using them.

After the fire I was given a couple of RK-10 metallic traction drive wheels, but these were from a school, where they were not well looked after and the small plastic trays were possibly allowed to be over-filled with clay slip water that found it’s way into the top bearing, grinding them out, such that that they sound and feel very rough and noisey.

I now have an RK-3D and RK-3E whisper wheels, but the tiny, cramped, plastic trays are still an embarrassment.

In the old pottery, I installed the RK-2 and RK-2 super shimpos in wooden enclosures, so all the turnings went straight onto the floor around the wheel, as is the Japanese accepted practice. However, in this new pottery studio, all the wheels are situated in a row either side of a central bench. This isn’t so convenient for allowing the turning to spill directly onto the floor.

So today, my first new job was to build a large, very spacious, turnings tray for the RK-3D shimpo. It has worked out very well, or so I believe. Time will tell if it is any good. If it isn’t, I’ll take it to bits and redesign it.

This is the miserly factory supplied plastic tray on the RK-10. It desperately needs to be 3 or 4 times larger. The space between the wheel head and the tray is so small that I can’t get my fingers in there to lift out the turnings. 

Trying to do it, just seems to push some of the turnings over the inner edge of the tray onto the top of the inner bearing mount cover. When this happens, I have to take the tray apart and brush out all the turnings from the metal frame and bearing cover, then re-assemble. It’s a very slow and painful process that needs to be repeated every few minutes. When I work with sericite porcelain, I need to do a lot of turning to get the shapes just right. I really need a better designed tray.

I decided to make the new tray out of water proof plywood 750mm. x 500mm. It is designed to just clip over the top of the wheel frame, using wooden cleats to jamb-fit it onto the top of the metal frame.

I cut the bottom out of a plastic bucket to make the circular wall that stops all the turnings and clay slurry ending up on the top bearing. I ‘TEK’ screwed this to the wooden base and used silicone rubber to seal all the edges and make the tray water proof.

I decided to fit it with a strip of stainless steel off-cut as a curved wall, all the way around.

This tray should be able to be cleaned out of turnings easily and quickly, without having to stop work to dis-assemble it.

There is even room at the back to get a hand broom and dust pan in there to sweep out the last of the turnings.

I’m hopeful that it will make working with sericite a whole lot easier and quicker.

Time will tell. Watch this space.

If it works well, I’ll be fitting trays like this on the other wheels.

Burning Curiosity exhibition opens this weekend

The Burning Curiosity Exhibition opens this weekend at Sturt Gallery in Mittagong.

I am in this group show with both Sandy Lockwood and Megan Patey. This is my first show of work that I have made in the new re-built pottery studio.

Not too surprisingly, My work in this show is all about my experience of the fire and my recovery from it.

I have a few pieces of blue and white sericite porcelain in the show. These are my first experiments in blue and white in this new workshop. I have experimented with a few different recipes of home made ‘smalt-like’, cobalt based pigments. This homemade pigment is related to the Japanese ‘goshu’, or natural ‘absolute’ or ‘wad’ based mineral pigments. I have developed 5 different recipes that provide me with different intensities of blue. It’s not too sophisticated as yet, but it is a good start and just one step on the long path to a more sophisticated result.

Everything worth doing takes time.

Nothing is ever finished, nothing is perfect and nothing lasts.

The show opens tomorrow on Sunday 24th of July and runs until the 11th of September at Sturt Gallery in Mittagong.

Sericite Porcelain and Spinach for Dinner and Lunch

We have been eating our way through a magnificent crop of spinach that has lasted since last spring, all through summer into autumn, and now into winter. However, I can see that it is getting taller and thinner, and is starting to bolt and will be all flowers and seed heads as soon as the days get just a bit warmer and the day length longer.

So I have planted a row of new seeds to get a follow-on crop. These have been a bit slow to germinate, as it is a little too early and the ground is still very cold. We are past the solstice now, so the days are getting longer and they will get a good start for the next summer season. That is if they don’t bolt straight to seed – which is a distinct possibility.

I have also planted broad bean seeds for a spring crop. They are quite particular about their flowering and bean set requirements. If I plant them too early, they will come up and flourish and flower, but not one single bean will set on those prolific flowers, not until the weather is warm enough and the chemical enzymes switch on. Then and only then will they set fruit. They can flower for a month or more waiting for that chemical trigger. Then they set beans for about a few weeks only and suddenly stop as soon as the weather gets too hot for them.

I should have also planted some peas, but I have been too busy making work for my joint show with Sandy Lockwood and Meg Patey at Sturt Gallery in a couple of weeks. I‘ll get round to it as soon as the show is up and running. I have put so many things on hold for this show. I’ll be flat out busy for some weeks catching up. But then, I’m always a bit busy. I’m that sort of bloke.

I picked an arm-full of spinach for dinner, about 30 or so leaves. I finely chopped the stalks and sautéed them in a little EV olive oil with onion and garlic. Janine came into the kitchen and stopped dead in her tracks. “That smells delicious! What are you cooking? Just smelling that makes me hungry! What is it?”  I tell her that it’s just olive oil, onion and garlic so far, but it sure smells like every great meal that you can remember. There is something so essential and flavourful about it. I’m starting to make a simple spinach and 3 cheeses dish for dinner. I don’t want to see any of that wonderfull spinach go to waste. it’s a simple, quick and healthy meal. I gently fry the onion mix for a few minutes to get it soft, then add all the roughly chopped spinach leaves and a tiny dash of water, turning them often to steam them and sweat them down to a soft state. Once softened, I add 100 grams of gorgonzola dolce for the delicious sharpe tang and a little sweetness, some grated cheddar which melts out into the sauce and finally, I add half a block of fetta, as small cubes, this is for some texture in the finished dish, as fetta doesn’t really soften. It also adds the only salt in this dish. It all mellows out into a lovely creamy sauce all through the sweated spinach.

I served this with a few steamed potatoes dressed with a little olive oil. A simple and quick evening meal.

We have a little left over that I put in the fridge for lunch tomorrow. I take one sheet of puff pastry cut into small squares, add a dollop of the spinach mix and fold over diagonally, then bake at 180 for 15 mins or until golden. These little traditional parcels make a warming and easy lunch instead of a sandwich. Nothing left over and nothing wasted.

While I wasn’t cooking lunch and dinner, I have been making pots for my show at Sturt with Sandy and Meg, opening on the 24th.

Sericite porcelain dishes with pigments and on-glaze gold, platinum and copper lustres

Winter Solstice, frosts, patchwork and clay/glaze making

The Winter Solstice has come and gone and the days are going to start getting longer and the nights shorter, but the coldest part of the winter is probably yet to come.

We had a crackerjack frost a few days ago, Everything so shimmering silver/white. This mornings frost was much more mild, with just a light dusting of white in the open spaces, less so under the bare branches of the cherry trees in the Chekov orchard. The winter is really just starting, so there will probably be a few more frosts yet where that came from.

In the evenings, as there is nothing worth any attention on the idiot box. I have started to repair another pair of jeans. 

These jeans are about 4 or 5 years old and the front of the thigh part has worn through. That is the most usual place for wear for me. They were the cheapest brand of jeans. 

I had already replaced the pockets with some excellent, robust, pale yellow, linen cloth that should outlast the original flimsy thin cotton that wore through in just two years. Initially in the pocket where I carry my car keys, but then the other pocket as well, just after that. Then it was the edge of the pocket where the new linen lining meets the blue denim.

I reinforced that edge with some red Japanese silk, It look great when it was fist done, but it isn’t really up to it, and is already starting to wear through, so will also need to be redone in the future.

This time I added a front panel of indigo dyed cotton that I bought in the markets in Kyoto a few years back.

Every time I go to Japan, I keep my eye out for street or temple markets where I can find lengths of indigo dyed, or other interesting old fabrics. These are usually some old piece of clothing that someone has unpicked. The hems and loose threads along the edges where they were stitched together are often still visible. Much of this old cloth was woven on small looms in bolts that were only 13” or 330 mm wide. The clothes were assembled by stitching these long thin strips together, to get a wider fabric.

It is an interesting phenomena that cloth dyed in indigo does not rot easily, nor is it eaten by bugs. It seems to last for ages. It certainly makes good patches for work wear like shirts and jeans.

This pair will be good for another 5 years if I keep up the maintenance. The pair that I’m currently wearing to work in the pottery are over ten years old now and still going OK. They have patches on the thighs and knees, as well as new pockets.

My woollen jumper was new in 2004, or 2006. I can’t quite remember. It has quite a few patches of repair, where I have darned the holes where moths have eaten through it, or sparks from welding spatter, or possibly damage incurred during stoking the wood kiln have made holes in it. They all get mended in what I think is a complimentary colour to make a colour spill pattern. It’s a work in progress, It’s 16 or more years old and still very warm and wearable. I like to make things last. i never want to throw anything out until it is really worn out. Repair and reuse, before finally recycling.

I just took a selfie of my Sunday morning jeans. I never take selfies. This must be the first time I’ve put one up on this blog. I’m dressed up to receive some very good friends for Sunday lunch, so I’ve got my best pair on. I’ve been working on these jeans for many years now. I still work in them, but this morning they are straight from the wash and are lovely and clean and suitable to welcome our close friends in. I wouldn’t wear them to try and pass through customs in. But my friends know and understand me. They won’t be affronted.

Actually, I think that work like this is verging on Art. If not a work of art, then its certainly involves some aspect of creativity. I don’t just slap on ‘iron-on’ patches from a sewing shop. I mix and match the patterns and colours to suit my mood and proclivity. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Even the arse end has some good work on it. This wear can be attributed to sitting on the wooden saddle-like seat of the ‘Leach’ treadle potters wheel. The slight swivelling/rocking motion of kicking the treadle with one lag seems to cause the butt end to wear out?

This last week we have made new batches of clay bodies to re-stock the clay boxes. I made a batch of the Mittagong halloysite porcelain from the mafia site. 

This weathered stone is pretty well kaolinised, or in this case ‘Halloyositised’. This makes the stone somewhat crumbly and easily crushed, because the mica and felspars are broken down and weathered from igneous stone to clay-like substance, this causes the loss of some of the alkali fluxes. The stone can then becomes slightly clay-like and less stone-like. However, this creates a minor problem, because as the stone becomes more friable and easily crushed. It can’t be put through the jaw crusher, as the increased clay content causes the crusher to clag up and jam. 

There are two options. The first is to calcine the stone in the bisque kiln and then it will become dry and brittle and easily passed through the crushers and ball mill, but this will completely eliminate the plasticity. So I only do this if I intend to make it into a glaze. If I want to make a porcelain body, I need to retain the plasticity, so the way to extract the clay fragment is to soak the sample in water and then stir it up into a liquid slip. This is called ‘blunging’. However, to make it smooth I need to pass it through a fine screen to eliminate all the unweathered stone fragments that are mostly mica, felspar and silica. In this case, I want all these minerals in the finished porcelain body to create the flux to make it melt and become translucent. This problem is solved by then ball milling the grit residue on the screen and then remixing to two together. This is a rather long and tedious job and I used to do this before I got a roller mill.

The best machine for this kind of material is a roller crusher. I actually have one of these, but it was burnt in the fire and I haven’t managed to find the time to rebuild it. It is still sitting on the crusher room floor in pieces waiting for a quiet period when I get bored 🙂  so that I can find the time to repair/rebuild it. Watch this space. Everything gets done eventually.

In the meantime, in the absence of any mechanical assistance. I decided to crush all the material by hand in the large mortar and pestle, before ball milling it all into a fine porcelain clay body. I used to do this when I was at Art School, as a mortar and pestle was the only piece of crushing equipment that I owned at that time. I still hand-crush small samples up to a few hundred grams for initial testing of field samples. It is quicker than cleaning out one of the bigger machines after use. It’s just like all those kitchen gadgets that are supposed to save so much time, but end up taking longer when you factor in the cleaning and drying, and then reassembly time before returning the gadget to the ‘stuff-that-is rarely-used’ cupboard.

Once reduced to a suitable size, it goes into one of the the mills.

After ball milling, I pass the slip through a 100# screen to remove any coarse particles that may have escaped milling. This halloysite porcelain sample has some iron contamination, so appears a little yellowish in the slip form. This slight iron staining helps create a lovely mahogany ‘flashing’ on the surface during wood firing. The Mafia halloysite is quite variable and is prone to severe warping during the early stages of firing when the halloysite tube-like clay crystals break down and re-form as fractured platelet shards. In this unstable state, the pots can warp and/or crack, so I have found it wise to blend it with some of my other porcelain clay or plastic kaolin to help stabilise the body.

In this most recently collected Mittagong halloysite sample, the site had been eroded badly in the recent rains and all the best and whitest, material had been washed away. Simply because it was the most friable and easier to dissolve in water. Because the remaining material was less weathered and darker than I wanted, I blended it with some more reliable local kaolin based porcelain. 

I have been finding the loading and unloading of the porcelain balls into the larger porcelain ball mill jar quite hard on my back as I age. I have had to load the balls in and out in small handfuls. It takes time and requires and lot of bending and effort. So recently, I built myself a couple of new PVC ball mill jars. These a significantly lighter, although the porcelain balls still weigh quite a bit. For these lighter PVC jars, I made a stainless steel mesh inset for the spare lid. I can easily change the lids and simply up-end the jar over a bucket and let the charge all drain out. I partially refill them with fresh water, roll them along the floor to rinse the balls clean then re drain into the bucket.

The jars are then ready for a refill and to be used again. The balls never leave the jar. So much quicker and easier.

These new PVC jars are made from cheap, standard, over-the-counter, plumbing parts. They are larger, but lighter, than the old one, and I made them so that I can fit two of them on the roller at once. So now I’m able to get more done in the same amount of time..

As I have been throwing and turning the porcelain. I have been collecting the turnings, they pile up like so much fettuccini pasta strands in the hopelessly small Shimpo wheel tray that need to be emptied every few minutes. In the old pottery, I took the plastic trays off and had the wheels in enclosures, so that all the turnings just spilt out onto the floor, but it was a big job to clean it all out and wasn’t suited to the sort of work that I now do, that involves using a large number of different, experimental, small batch, sericite and halloysite porcelain bodies.

So I persist with the tiny tray so that I can recycle each different sericite porcelain body separately to maintain its integrity.

I have been collecting and drying the turnings, then calcining them in the bisque kiln and finally ball milling them to a fine powder to make a porcelain glaze from the porcelain body.

The raw, dried turnings

The same turnings after being fired in the bisque kiln. The low temperature oxidised firing turns the calcined porcelain slightly pink.

The powdered glaze material in the ball mill after milling, ready to make porcelain glaze. 80% porcelain body and 20% lime.

A simple glaze recipe, Self reliance all the way along the line. DIY.

Nothing is perfect, nothing is ever finished and nothing lasts.

Winter Solstice, and making pots for the wood kiln

This week we have experienced the longest night, and also the coldest day – so far.

We awoke to a fantastic white shimmering frost. All the paddocks were bright white for a couple of hours until the sun light reached them and burnt it all off. The sun rises at such a shallow angle in winter, it takes a long time for the sunlight to get higher in the sky, and then cast its bright energy onto the fields.

We have been making work for the first firing of the new wood kiln. This job was one of many put on hold while we made work for the ‘Pop-Up’ Open Studio weekend. Now that this is safely behind us, and with a little bit of liquidity to keep us afloat. We can concentrate on making the work for the wood firing.

I started last week by chopping wood and making clay. Now we are enjoying the fruits of that labour. I started with making the largest pieces, as these will take the longest time to dry, especially in mid-winter.

These big platters and dishes are 400 mm. dia. Janine has started by making some press moulded square dinner plates. These are an order that has flowed on from the Open Studio sale last Xmas.

I have also managed to get a couple of half-days in the veggie garden, so it is starting to look loved again.

The garden always looks so much better when there are a few rows of carefully weeded and tended seedlings and sprouting seeds coming up. I just made it, getting these leeks, onions and garlic in before it is too late. It is really too late for a good garlic crop, but this is the 3rd planting, so we will be OK. I also put in broad beans, peas and transplanted seedlings of Brassicas that I managed to sow 6 weeks ago. Everything is a bit ‘just-in-time’, but it will do to get us through this tough time of transition from Bushfire residue chaos into New, comfortable and productive post-fire life.

We have been enjoying a few very nice meals recently. Janine cooked 2 big spinach and cheese pies to feed all our helpers over the long weekend pot sale. But at the last minute a couple of our friends, Warren and Trudie, caught Covid and couldn’t turn up to give us a hand. Luckily our other friends Susan and Dave stayed on for an extra day to help us out. Because we had fewer people here, there was an excess of pre-cooked food, like two spinach and 3 cheeses pies, a lovely dish of mussels in rose wine and home made tomato passata, flavoured with a liberal sprinkling of chillis.

Ricotta, plus coarsely chopped Fetta for texture and the sharp spike of gorgonzola to lift the flavour profile and stop it from being too bland.

Janine and I were eating spinach and cheese pie for days. I tried reheating and serving it in a few different ways. One favourite was serving a slice with a home made tomato passata sauce bottled in the past summer, this was served with slices of chorizo, olives and capers. That was my favourite combination, combined with side of a small amount of sautéed mushrooms in garlic and olive oil.

It’s a tough life, but someone has to live it.