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Making Pottery from Clay Soil

May 15, 2012

Clay ArtMy four year-old has never met an art project he didn’t like.  Pottery in particular holds a particular mystique for him because of a pottery relic his dad made as a kid, sitting on a bookshelf in our sunroom.  I’ve heard that you can make pottery clay from clay soil, and since we certainly have enough clay soil to go around, decided to give it a try.

After I planted some mountain laurel in a new bed recently, I came out with some extra chunks of clay soil (I always amend the soil with peat moss and top soil when I’m Waterplanting into really rough areas, hence the excess).  Thinking about our possible clay project, I put the chunks into a 5 gallon bucket, covered it with water and let it sit several days.

Several days later I drained some of the water off leaving only a little bit of water at the bottom amidst the wet clay chunks (see picture at left).  Then I put in a few squirts of liquid dish soap and took a potato masher and set to work mashing up the clay chunks in the water.Adding Liquid Dish Soap to the Clay

Mashing the Clay Chunks

If you want really smooth clay, this mashing step could take a lot of work; you would also probably have to sift your clay soil beforehand to remove chunks of grass and pebbles.  This clay was for a preschool art project so I followed the close-is-good-enough rule of thumb here.

When it was relatively mixed together, we let the clay sit for between a week and two weeks so that it would harden to a workable consistency.  (You can see the difference in consistency between day 1 and day 10 in the two pictures side by side below)

Wet Mashed Clay Clay After Its Been Drying for Ten Days

After a lot of patience, our big pottery making day finally arrived.  I spread out a trash bag to do our work on and sprayed a cookie sheet with oil to put our finished products on.

Clay Getting Ready to Use  Happy Potter Potter Working Clay Creations Before Firing 1 Clay Creations Before Firing 2 Clay Creations Before Firing 3

Instead of letting the pottery bake in the sun, I cheated and put them in the oven for an hour at 350 degrees.  It was drizzling the afternoon we made the pottery so no place outdoors would work and with a one year-old around, I didn’t want to risk our wet pottery getting discovered and smashed everywhere.  The big downside to using the oven was that the pottery smelled terrible.  In the future, I think I’ll put everything to bake in the sun on top of our shed roof, though I think that “firing” process would take a week or more.

After hardening, T painted the final products and is thrilled with the results.  We have at least half the clay leftover so I stuck it into a trash bag in our freezer to pull out when we need another pottery frenzy.  If you have clay soil this is definitely a project to try… just plan ahead for how to contain the mess! (Hint: fill a bucket of water up to wash your hands off when you are making the pottery, and have some rags nearby.)

Final Products Painted 1 Final Products Painted 2  Final Products Painted 3 Final Products Painted 4

7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2012 2:05 pm

    That looks like fun!

    • Jackie permalink*
      May 15, 2012 4:58 pm

      It was fun, though it did test the limits of my four year-old’s patience because he was ready to make pottery on day 1, and it was 2 weeks till he really got to do it!!

  2. Liz permalink
    May 15, 2012 4:14 pm

    All I have to say is WOW. And did he make an E for Emery?

    • Jackie permalink*
      May 15, 2012 4:59 pm

      Not yet! Good thing we have half a batch of clay in the freezer! Maybe we can take it out and make Emery lots and lots of E’s to fill up her new bedroom walls. Tucker will surely be game.

  3. May 19, 2012 11:27 pm

    What a great way to make mountains out of clay mole hills! May I re-blog this?

    • Jackie permalink*
      May 20, 2012 6:51 am

      Sure, reblog away! Turns out we have both clay and mole hills but no mountains. 🙂

  4. May 21, 2012 12:30 pm

    Reblogged this on Grandma's Fun Factory and commented:
    How much fun is this? This activity takes patience, time and clay soil.

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