When season six of The Great Pottery Throw Down wrapped up this March, I had found myself itching to try my hand at something ceramics related, inspired by the tears of Keith Brymer Jones and the warm, cosy feeling each episode exuded every Sunday evening on my screen.
Living in Stoke-on-Trent, I have been born with an innate passion for pottery, from my Emma Bridgewater mug collection, to my Staffordshire Dogs duo, often finding myself flipping over crockery to discover the ‘made in Stoke-on-Trent’ backstamp. And in this industrious city, we’re not short of ceramic-centric activities to get stuck into.
I’ve already painted a pot at Emma Bridgewater and walked the cobbled streets of Middleport Pottery, but fancied something even more hands-on for 2023. I wanted to throw my own pot – just like the contestants on the show.
Shortly after the show’s final, I booked myself on to one of Love Clay’s pot throwing sessions. They’ve proven incredibly popular, often booked up months in advance, with the odd spot or two available between now and December.
I arrived at the Fenton-based factory one sunny Saturday in June for the one hour session guided by skilled Master Potter, Jon French. I explained that I’d never touched a lump of clay in my life, but was met with an apron and enthusiasm – this session requires absolutely no previous experience, making it perfect for complete beginners of all ages.
The session began with an inspiring demonstration from Jon, who explained how to wedge the clay before effortlessly showcasing the art of pot throwing. His expertise and passion is infectious, and the way in which he explained every movement at the wheel made it incredibly easy to follow and replicate.
With apparent ease Jon moulded his clay, manipulating it with his hands into various shapes, explaining how to achieve each one and the best techniques to use. Before long, it was time to give it a go ourselves, with a good 40 minutes to attempt to create something worthy of a place in the kiln at the end of it.
As nervous as I was excited, I found a free wheel and assumed the recommended position. Elbows in, arms down, back hunched slightly over the wheel. I threw my first lump of clay onto the wheel, finding the right pace with the pedal as I centred it, working the clay up and down, getting a feel of the material as I pondered what I might make. As the clay spun against my palm I knew exactly how Keith Brymer Jones felt when his art teacher passed him his first lump of clay and the possibilities he held with it.
I found the whole process incredibly therapeutic.– a delicate balance of pressure and patience – and with it came 60 minutes of blissful escapism. A whole hour without looking at social media, worrying about what was going on outside or the latest headlines.
Jon and Rae, of Rae Downey Ceramics, were on hand to help out and finesse some of the pots, offering feedback and fostering creativity, encouraging each and every potter to explore and experiment. Despite being a total novice, I felt a real sense of accomplishment with every pot I crafted. My first pot was tall and vase like, but my wheel speed was too high and one knock turned it into a sort of inverted jug – but there was still something incredibly beautiful about its imperfection. Whether my pots turned out exactly as planned or took an unexpected twist, the journey itself was thoroughly enjoyable.
My final pot was a bowl-like piece, only about three inches tall and not much wider, but Jon assisted me in cleaning up the lines and getting it off the wheel to be fired. The £35 workshop price includes the firing of up to two pots, with each additional piece costing £5. I had three of my four pots fired and glazed. I left the workshop feeling so uplifted and relaxed, and waited a couple of weeks until I received an email to say my fired pieces were ready to collect.
I have never loved anything I’ve made with my own hands. I’m too much of a precisian. But there was something so wonderful about these wonky pots that made them absolutely perfect. What’s more, is that their simple white glossy finish allows them to slot seamlessly into any room, and they’ve found themselves a little spot on our lounge bookshelf where I can look at them each day and feel a real sense of pride. The bowl is particularly handy for keeping little bits and bobs I’d otherwise lose, like my airpods or SD cards.
From start to finish, the whole experience was nothing short of an absolute joy, with a sense of creativity and wholesomeness that felt like a warm hug. The one-hour session was well-structured, catering to complete beginners like myself and pottery enthusiasts alike, and the small group setting offered an intimate atmosphere with ample time for one-to-one support from the hands-on tutors.
From a grey lump of raw material to fired and functional finished pieces, the Love Clay throw a pot experience is such a beautiful way to connect to the centuries-old craft that has defined Stoke-on-Trent’s identity.
Fancy having a go yourself? You can book on the Love Clay Throw A Pot session here.