Sweetbriar: Handmade in Aurora
March 13, 2018
It’s been said that many hands make for light work, and that’s certainly the case with Sweetbriar, our newest collection of all-white ceramic dinnerware.
Light and lovely, Sweetbriar transitions easily from everyday use to extraordinary tablescapes. There are nine pieces in the line, and they’re rich with patterned details that include florals, checks, stripes, and dots, along with scalloped edges. Sweetbriar is designed to mix and match with the other pieces in the collection and with our other more colorful patterns as well.
Sweetbriar is produced at our studios in Aurora, New York. On average, a single piece is touched by the hands of up to 11 different artisans and takes up to two weeks to make. The steps in the process are shown in the accompanying video and are outlined below by Bill Mekeel, our product manager for pottery, who’s been with the company for 25 years.
Seven of the nine pieces in the Sweetbriar line—the dinner plate, platter, salad/dessert plate, charger, saucer, and two bowls—are formed by a RAM Press, a machine that presses a block of clay between top and bottom molds. When the pressing is complete, excess clay is removed, and the piece releases from the press. The entire pressing-and-release process takes no more than 30 seconds. The other pieces in the line—the teacup and the mug—have hollow interiors and are formed by injecting liquid clay into molds.
A newly formed piece moves next to a hand finisher. This artisan removes any remaining excess clay and, with a wet sponge, smooths any rough edges.
Greenware kiln fire
Now known as greenware, the piece dries until it is ready for its first kiln firing at 1750 degrees. The firing lasts for about 10 to 11 hours, and the piece remains in the kiln for up to 24 hours to cool properly.
Fire to bisque
After that first firing, we refer to the piece as bisque, although it is also called terra cotta because the item now has the brownish-orange appearance of a terra cotta flower pot.
Wax and glaze
The next step is to brush warm wax onto the base of the piece. Then, holding the piece with a pair of tongs, an artisan dips it into a large vat of glaze, taking care to evenly distribute the liquid. A quick tap to the waxed bottom removes the glaze from that surface so it will retain its terra cotta appearance even after its second firing.
After waxing and glazing, the item goes to our decoration department, where artisans remove excess wax from the bottom and fill any pinholes on the surface of the piece with additional glaze.
Glaze kiln fire
The next step is a second firing at 1900 degrees, which gives the piece its glossy white finish. If any pinholes remain, they can be filled with more glaze and the piece can be re-fired.
Second fire to quality control
After the second firing, the piece moves to quality control , where it is checked again. Pieces that pass inspection receive a final quality stamp and are sent to our warehouse to be shipped to customers.
Bill Mekeel says Sweetbriar focuses on the materials of our production and that each piece is truly handmade. What they have in common, he says, is that “the shadows of a playful relief dance beautifully on the white glaze wrapped around the earthy, rugged red clay body.”
We’d like to add that Sweetbriar is embossed and in bloom, and we think you’ll see that as well in every piece. The collection is versatile white as only MacKenzie-Childs could imagine it—full of darling details and stunning texture.