Tag Archives: ceramics

Where the Time Goes – of Raku and Coffee

I am not going to write one of those posts about all the stuff I should be doing next year, beginning right this minute. There isn’t much of a point for me. I have really adopted a life of living every second how I want to, need to. I don’t ever feel much like ‘oh, where does the time go?’ these days. It’s been a very big year filled with a lot of new things – completing an immigration sponsorship, learning to be married, raising a new dog, a brand new job, and a lot of new responsibilities and life changes.  I have about a million plans for next year but the biggest one being about me and my incessant worry about getting things done. Hence the reason I don’t need to write about it. I will do it. That’s just what I do.

Something I am starting to find a lot more important is letting myself be an artist, not a crafter or a maker. I will do more art for art’s sake, not for sale.  I will still be spinning yarn, dyeing, doing ceramics and all the other fun stuff I do, but the items I sell will likely be ever so slightly more limited, or at least created when the mood hits and not ‘oh my gosh, show time’ mode.

The holidays were a lot of fun and I was spoiled to bits – I received a little getaway for February to a hotel I quite like, a yearly membership to Toronto zoo where I like to take pictures and make high-pitched cooing sounds at animals, and many other things…including a Raku kiln built by my husband and father. I am too excited to start making pieces to prepare for a firing.

I went to a Raku workshop in November with the members of my pottery guild and my heart was stolen. What a process! It’s amazing to take something dull and white, get to handpaint it (my favourite way to glaze), and then set it on fire, watch it burn and smoke and then wait only a few minutes until you are left with a shiny, blackened, cooked, smoky, amazing piece of work transformed from chalky, gritty clay. My favourite piece of the day was one I will never give up likely- this bowl.

It was a risky piece as my lack of knowledge of Raku at the time didn’t account for someone having to handle it with tongs, so the lacy bit at the top was worrisome for the instructor, and me. However, what a worthwhile risk! The colour is hard to capture – it’s like an oil spill on cement…with a auburn’ish overtone.

Needless to say, I will be chasing more knowledge about this in the coming year and really taking my time to expand my horizons in sculpture/decorative work.

From the same day, this is one of my favourite shots – my husband unveiling his work with our instructor, Denise.  She is the most amazingly kind, and skilled potter.

Mike is relatively new to ceramics. He has been working with clay for about a year and a half. I decided on a holiday once to send him to pottery classes at my guild and his interest was sparked in a lot of different ways. I have always felt like my husband is drawn to being more of a patron of the arts, willing to support anyone who is doing anything, helping them finance equipment, giving of his time, etc. But, what he may not always realize is that he has a really amazing way of putting a unique touch on anything that he makes. A lot of math and planning flow from him….and interesting fingerprints follow in everything he makes. In this photo, Denise was really interested by the geometric forms, staircase and construction technique in this sculptural vase. It turned out so amazingly and luckily it hangs out in my house.

With one of my families, we do a ‘handmade xmas’ each year and with each year, the spectrum of what to makes feels a little tighter but I take it as a challenge. This year, I was watching a documentary called ‘Bitter Coffee’ about the issues surrounding fair trade and coffee and thought to myself …’hmm…I wonder if people roast coffee, in their own homes? I wonder if that is something people do?’ so I started doing research and found indeed that people do it. It led me to a website called Sweet Maria’s where there is information, tutorials, advice on tips on literally everything relating to coffee. What appeared to be the quickest, and cheapest way to roast our own coffee was the purchase of a popcorn popper – you can actually roast your own beans in an air popper. Although it was intriguing, I started to feel like it was a bit more dangerous and tedious than I desired. Over time, the lid of the popper will melt, and it’s plastic. So, I was sort of steered toward a higher end option. Then I found a Behmor coffee roaster and found it was the mid-range model that would work best for this.  I went to Green Beanery in Toronto. The staff there were really nice and spent time answering our questions and showing us different kinds of coffee and flavour profiles. So, we got started with the suggested Guatemalan Antigua – a good medium roast. I also picked up a package of different coffees from around the globe and some Choco espresso.

We brought the machine home, and did some more reading, and prepared that very night to roast some coffee. It was exciting to have cut out that whole ugly coffee seller market from this process and just do it ourselves from beans acquired in a friendly, fair way. We roasted the Guatemalan first – some for everyone, and then some Decaf for the dad-folk, and some Mexican for the spicy wee sister-kid. Each roast was a new experience, new smells from grassy to nutty, to chocolately…..to that deep roasted coffee smell after the beans settled for 24 hours.

The brains and braun behind the operation was totally the husband. He did most of the roasting, watching and waiting. Coffee roasting is sort of based on a few things..

Pick your roasting profile – the length of time you roast, and how hot. There are a lot of suggestions online and in the documentation you get with the roaster.

First crack – this is when the coffee bean first splits and starts to shed it’s ‘chaff’ – which is sort of like the outer kernel of popcorn. This stuff is what makes roasting coffee slightly dangerous as it can catch fire in the high heat environment of the roaster. It is louder, popcorn like pops.

Second crack – this happens within 30 – 90 seconds after first crack usually and sounds like ‘Rice Krispies’ …little crackles…when the rest of the chaff starts to blow off of the beans. This is the fine line between well roasted coffee and burnt! So, you need to be mindful at this point.

Cooling – the roaster has a COOL button that will blow cold air on the beans. They still roast for a few seconds after this so you have to consider this in the time you are roasting.

Let em sit – for about 24 hours.

Smellllllll…..them….mmmmmm! They smell so amazing after they sit. I even ate a few…and they tasted so fresh and popped in my mouth. But I’m kinda weird.

We are keeping a roaster’s journal of our times, experiences and the smells and tastes of each roast…in an effort to better our roasting. The morning after the roast I setup a tasting. The tasting consisted of 3 small bowls of coffee. The first was just black, the second with milk froth/crema on top. And, the final was good ole milk n’ sugar like a lot of people drink their coffee. We were overall really happy with the first roast and felt like pros to begin with. It was a nice no-curve way to learn something new and cool. Although we aren’t actually pros, we have not burned anything or tasted anything we didn’t like – so I would say overall this is a pretty tame hobby to get in to.

24 hours after roasting…

Time to make some New Year’s eve lasagna with the boy.  More blogging soonish…

Octopus Bowl and Dyeathon 3000!

As my friend Emily once wrote ‘I want to take over the world with clay and fibre!’ and I can completely mirror her statement in that mission now that I have started working more at the pottery studio.  There is something really nice about just getting to take your time and try to perfect every part of the working with clay…from the time that you center it on the wheel, to feeling it move between your hands while you shape and rise the walls of the cylinder, trying to keep things even with the power in your own hands, to the creative process it can take once it has formed into something like a mug or bowl or whatever your heart desires. I spent some time last weekend just throwing forms and practicing my forming skills and now the pieces are all leather hard and ready to be worked with. Lastnight I went to the studio and sculpted a squid which I attached to the lid of a lidded bowl that I have been working on. I forgot to bring my camera to snap a shot of it though. However, in keeping with my love of the ocean and sticking a bit to a theme, I brought a bowl home with me and decided to apply an octopus to it. So, today I spent some time carving the octopus and here are the results so far – there is still some touching up to do.

I have also been dyeing up a storm for The Black Lamb – Blue Faced Leicester roving and bamboo sock yarn.  I have figured a really wonderful technique to really saturate the BFL with colour. I find that BFL is very hard to get true colour and a lot of saturation with. It is a dense fiber and the colour has trouble sticking and penetrating into it. The fibers are medium soft (when natural and processed into roving) and it does not take colour the same as superwash products or a finer wool such as merino. However, I love BFL for it’s smell and its feel. It is a warm fiber and very home like in some way. Here are some of the braids I dyed up:

My technique essentially is this:

  • Soak the roving in hand warm water with a drop of dish liquid so that mild bubbles form. Press the roving under the water so that it can fully absorb. No scouring needed but just a gentle swish once or twice. Allow to soak for 15 minutes.
  • Pull up carefully out of the water, bundling and gathering the roving into a neat tripled over length. Squeeze the water out in sections only slightly so that about half of the water retains but it is not soaked with water pouring from it.
  • Place it in it’s tripled over lengths down on a tray with edges that you can use as a dye tray. The secret really is low water absorption with the actual dye process (when dye is added).
  • Mix up your acid dyes with hot water. I use jars (medium sized) with citric acid or vinegar and first mix up a paste, then add more acid, then the hot water. I don’t boil the water but use the hottest water that comes out of the tap. Stir the dye up well ensuring no flecks or clumps.
  • Pour your dye over the roving in the method preferred ensuring to saturate the entire area as much as possible. It is likely there will be some white sections – this is OK. I tend to dye a section at a time. ie. red for the first third, yellow for the second third, orange for the final third – crossways on the roving. But, feel free to hand paint and drip as you wish!
  • Wearing a plastic glove or a bag over your hand, press down firmly to allow the dye to press through the fibres. Do this with the entire roving surface. Do not move hands around. This will cause felting.
  • The next part is the steaming. Prepare a large dye pot of clean water to boil. Place a metal strainer or colander (not used for food) inside the pot similar to a double boiler. This will be your steamer.
  • You can choose to then wrap your roving entirely in plastic wrap but this was too much of a doddle for me so I used plastic bags (thin and clear) and placed one roving inside each bag.
  • Firmly press the bag down to let as much of the air out as possible, then twist the tops to keep a seal.
  • Place the rovings inside the colander and put the pot lid on top.
  • Allow to steam for 20 minutes.
  • Remove the roving from the bags and allow them to cool until you can handle them.
  • Rinse in hand warm water – you should see very little dye water rinse from them unless you have certain colours that simply act this way. (Seabreeze always wastes a lot for me no matter what).
  • Gently squeeze water out and hang to dry