Ceramicist Clare Gage combines her love of textiles and porcelain to create unique pottery pieces
Clare Gage’s unusual take on porcelain fuses her two favourite crafts with stunning results. Claire’s designs start life as hand woven pieces of fabric, which she weaves herself, before transforming them into bespoke moulds to create porcelain tableware, vases and even jewellery. The ceramicist’s unique signature cups and saucers have even appeared on TV in a starring role on BBC2’s Great British Menu! We caught up with Claire in her home studio in Chesterfield for a cuppa (well, what else?) to find out how she turned her childhood hobbies into her full time job…
How did you learn to be a ceramicist?
I started learning both my ceramic and textile skills when I was about 10-years-old. My dad would take my siblings and me to a family pottery class and I also spent many a happy afternoon doing embroidery with my mum. I studied contemporary applied arts at university and specialised in textiles and ceramics. There I learned more advanced techniques in both weave and slip casting, which helped me to develop my signature style. It was a surprise to me that I brought out my old childhood skills in the designs that became my first professional range, but I like to think the hours spent playing with fabric and clay as a child helped me along the way!
What’s the first thing you ever made?
I made a cup for my school teacher with his name on it. I remember it was very thick and very heavy. I’m not sure he ever drank a cup of tea from it, as it would have weighed a ton!
What made you decide to combine ceramics with textiles?
When I was at university I couldn’t tear myself away from the yarn cupboard in the weaving department, so I knew textiles would need to be part of my design process. I enjoyed the tricky technical side of developing a pattern and bringing a design to life row by row. I also fell back in love with ceramics as I remembered all the tricks of working with clay that I’d learnt at the family pottery class. I often find that learning a new technique is a great source of inspiration for me and when I learned about mould making and slip casting it sparked an idea about capturing the textures of textiles that I’d be working on.
Can you explain your design process?
Once I’ve designed a shape and style for the finished ceramic I look at how I would create it in fabric. Each of my pieces starts life as a textile model that I make by hand. I choose fabric that I’ve woven or knitted, or lovely textured lace, and used it to sew a fabric version of the final porcelain piece. I then create a plaster mould from this, which allows me to slip cast using porcelain clay. Out of the mould comes a porcelain version of the textile piece. I then add details to this, such as stitches and buttons, to really add to the textile feel of the finished porcelain piece. This is then fired and glazed, so that it’s a functional item and you can have a lovely cup of tea from it!
How do you find running your craft business from your home?
I used to have a separate studio, but since becoming a mum I’ve set up my workspace in our lovely big garage, which means I can pop in and out when I need to. I love the idea of a beautiful organised space, but in reality I’m a bit on the messy side. I always leave the studio covered in clay with a smile on my face. A lot of my time is spent on making my porcelain products, but when I get the chance to design and make a new piece I’m able to bring out my loom and focus on the fabric side of the designs.
What inspires you?
I find learning new techniques really inspiring. Once you’ve learnt how to do something you can push the boundaries with that technique. You can try it in an unusual material or scale, be creative about experimenting and it can result in a really unique finished piece. I also find materials very inspiring, getting my hands on a beautiful piece of lace can set off all sorts of ideas for a finished ceramic piece!
Who are your favourite makers?
I love Lucy Palmer’s intricate jewellery designs. She creates a beautiful little scene on each piece. Helaina Sharpley creates fantastic wirework works of art. I have a little miniature piece, which I love and I dream of adding some more wirework cups and saucers to my collection.
What’s your favourite thing to make?
My favourite design to make is the Lace Cup as this was the first design that I made using this technique. I remember the thrill of seeing the first cup coming out of the mould, it was magical!
Do you do any other craft mash-ups?
I have a range of jewellery, which brings my love of textile through onto silver designs. The lace textures are so pretty and the technique means the detail is recreated really nicely on the silver. I love the phrase craft mash-up, it’s a great way to describe how I work!
Name three things you can’t live without?
- A cup of tea -I like to use it as a chance to create a moment of peace in a busy day.
- Cosy jumpers – Especially in my studio which can be a little on the cold side.
- My family – It’s the most important thing to me and, as a team, the whole Gage family is a key part of my business success and happiness in general. We really know how to work together, you wouldn’t believe some of the crazy projects we’ve made happen over the years.
What does making mean to you?
I think making is just part of who I am. It’s always been my first suggestion for an activity and my first consideration for solving a problem. Let’s hope my children feel the same way as they’ll be many crafty afternoons ahead of them! I hope to pass on a love of making to the next generation and keep creating myself while I do.
Clare’s top three tips for creating ceramics
- Embrace prototyping. Clay often does unexpected things and you really have to test an idea before you achieve what you were hoping for.
- There are lots of techniques and choosing the right method can help get the end result. Have a browse through some pottery books to see what can be done. Then just have a play around.
- Take time to play and you’ll learn lots about how clay behaves. Be ambitious with your ideas and then embrace prototyping until you get what you’re after!