Anybody can walk into a department store and pick up eight place settings of china, but that’s just not your style. Satisfy your inner plate maker and delight family and guests alike by choosing to make your own instead. It helps to know your way around different types of clay and if you have a kiln or pottery oven at your disposal, but if you don’t, this article suggests a few tricks for designing dinner plates that don’t require buying any raw materials. If you choose the first method and have little pottery experience, practice on small items first, then work your way up to service for 12. Why stop at eight once you’ve discovered how very satisfying creating your own tabletop art can be?
Choose a medium. There are various kinds of clay on the market. Choose earthenware, stoneware or porcelain, which are ideal for crafting dinner plates. Some methods call for wet clay that’s shaped and then hardened by baking (Method #1). Others use “slip,” a clay-based pouring material that requires a mould to hold the shape of the plate while it bakes and hardens (Method #2). Talk with crafters to get their recommendations – or try using several methods to see which produces the best result for your project.
Understand the general process used to make hand-thrown pottery plates: Prepare the clay mixture from a prepackaged mix. Shape it using a potter’s wheel or by hand. Decorate the surface and then glaze the finished product. Fire the dinner plates in a kiln or oven to give the plates their finished appearance and strength. This process also stops food from leaching into the pottery.
Try method #1 for making clay dinner plates: Use a ring of metal that’s a few inches shorter than your proposed finished plate to form a “negative space” on which to shape it. Slump the clay over the ring to fashion a rim around the centre perimeter. The clay you use will determine the amount of shrinkage that the finished plate will be subjected to, so figure a standard 10 per cent. Spray the rim with oil so that it’s easy to separate from the clay. Remove the plate from the metal rim after it’s fired.
Choose method #2 as an alternative. Shape snakelike coils from your choice of clay. Wrap the coils in a continuous circular pattern until the clay form is larger than the desired plate size (allow for 10 per cent shrinkage). Use extra water or slip to seal spaces between wrapped circles of coil and smooth the surface to your liking. Shape dinner plate lips from clay around the outer edge before firing.
Select the firing method that best suits the clay you’ve picked. Fire earthenware at low temperatures to bring out colour and create a beautiful finish, but watch for cracks and chips that form more easily than other clay types during the firing process. Stoneware, composed of heavier clay, is strong, thick and can be fired at higher temperatures. The most fragile and delicate of all dinner plate-making materials is porcelain. Composed of fine, white clay called kaolin and mixed with feldspar and flint, porcelain is also fired at a low temperature and is subject to cracking.
Get hypercreative by skipping the whole clay process and using already-made plates as templates for your one-of-a-kind tabletop creations. Purchase cheap white dinner plates (IKEA and dollar stores are great resources), PermEnamel® paints, surface conditioner and glaze. Wash and dry the plates, spray surfaces with the conditioner and then use paints and permanent markers to imprint your own plate art. Apply the glaze per package directions.
Try using a plate-making kit. Make-A-Plate® has been around for four decades, and while these kits have been used most often by kids, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t grab half a dozen kits to fashion service for six. These dinner plates are crafted of melamine so you probably won’t be putting them out with the crystal and good silver, but for casual family dinners, doesn’t your clan deserve dinner plates that are as unique as they are?