Pinch pottery is a great way to get started with clay because it doesn’t require the use of expensive equipment or large amounts of space. In fact, you can do it right in your own home! And even if you don’t have any experience with pottery yet, this method is easy enough for any beginner to master quickly.
What are Pinch Pots?
Pinch pots are small, round clay pots that are formed by hand. The name comes from the way you form them, wherein you gently pinch from the center of the ball of clay to shape it into a bowl or vase.
Pinch pots are quick to make and can be decorated with patterns or designs using a variety of techniques, such as carving, painting, glazing, decals, and enamels.
What is a Pinch Pot Used for?
Pinch pots are very versatile. You can use them as planters, jewelry containers, cups to drink from, bowls to eat from and to keep small amounts of herbs, spices and other dry ingredients like tea leaves, coffee grounds, salt or sugar. You can even use them to store homemade face masks or body lotions in your bathroom cabinet.
Pinch pots are extremely stylish as decor around your home. Plus, you can even make them into very beautiful jewelry. That’s right! More info about this below, when we talk about pinch pot designs.
What is the Pinch Pot Technique?
Making pinch pots is a great way to get started with handbuilding ceramics. Sergei Shatrov, who is the Coordinator at Clay Talk Ceramic Centre in Eltham, has long been a practitioner of the pinch pottery technique. Here, he gives us a quick tour of their studio and talks about his passion for the craft.
The nice thing about this technique is that it doesn’t require a pottery wheel or even electricity; all you need are your fingers, time, and patience while relaxing to your favorite music, tv show or podcast! Sergei breaks down the pinch pot technique in four main steps:
First, form a neat ball of clay the size of a soft ball by gently shaping it in both hands until it’s as round and even as you can get it.
Pressing your dominant thumb (right thumb for those right handed and left thumb with dominant left hand) into the center of your ball of clay, and with the other hand cupping the ball, gently pinch with your thumb or fingers from the centre of clay, rotating the ball in your other hand, pinching the sides together.
As the piece grows outward and up, put it on a piece of newspaper or thin board, turning it gently and continue to carefully pinch the clay to the desired shape.
Finally, smooth out your pinch pot by gently using the back of your teaspoon in small circular motions over the entire surface of the pot. This is called burnishing and it gives a beautifully subtle shine on your pot as it dries out. More details on polishing your pinch pot even further in Tip #7 at the end of this article!
Along the way, if you make a hole in the piece, don’t worry! Just get a little bit of extra clay and patch up the hole or tear. You can also use basic home found tools or even old cutlery such as a barbeque skewer or back of a teaspoon to create grooves or patterns.
How to Make a Pinch Pot: Video
If you’re looking for a more visual demo of the pinch pottery technique, this video will walk you through the process of making a basic pinch pot from scratch. It’s quick and easy!
The technique is simple, but like everything in life, it takes some practice to get it right. It’s best to start small by making something small and round – for example, a small 10cm diameter bowl. Once you feel confident in your skills, you can move on to larger pieces, such as tea pots or vases.
5 Pinch Pot Designs for Beginners
The pinch pot is a versatile vessel, and you can use the technique to make many different types of objects. Here are five ideas for beginners who want to try their hand at making pinch pots.
Pinch Pot Idea #1: Thumb pots
Thumb pots are about the size of a kiwi fruit but can go as large as a mug. Since they are typically made of clay, these small pots are best kept in a dry place.
Usually found in a kitchen, these small pots are traditionally used to grow seeds, until the seedling is ready for transplanting to a more suitable size pot. Despite its utilitarian origins, thumb pots are also used as an item for decoration. When adorned, they are useful for storing small items such as buttons, earrings, candles, or your go-to lipstick.
Pinch Pot Idea #2: Serving ware
A unique platter or salad bowl can liven up any meal, as well as turn into a conversation piece if you’re hosting. Bonus bragging rights for making the piece yourself. 😎
But don’t make just one! Keep a stash on hand for determined guests who might want to buy the pretty pinch pot centerpiece off your own dinner table. Pro tip: When setting your table, place your best pinch pot on a plate and then, surround it with some dried flowers, fruit or other décor as desired. An instant ice breaker, at the very least.
Pinch Pot Idea #3: Beads
So, pinch pottery as jewellery… Making your own beads to personalise your accessories or for use as supplies for your own beading hobby can be a rewarding venture, both creatively and financially.
Needless to say, you don’t have to buy beads, you can make them yourself with a bit of clay and supplies. You get to make and use the exact types of bead you want for your design. Remember, though, that you can charge a premium for handmade beads; they exude a charm you won’t find in the machine-cut kind!
Pinch Pot Idea #4: Ceramic pets
Kawaii is the “culture of cuteness” in Japan, which has taken over global merchandise. Because who can turn away from round little figures with large Ghibli eyes and small mouths, begging for you to pick them up?
While these clay cuties here are not necessarily Japanese, you do get the same feel-good vibe. This is a great way to add little clay characters to your home or office. They will brighten up your spaces and add smiles to the people around you!
Pinch Pot Idea #5: Mugs and cups
Starting your own coffee shop? How cute would these quirky beverage holders look to your patrons? A little bit of whimsy never hurt anyone; it can even be your shop’s trademark characteristic. No store-bought cups and mugs here!
Drinking from a mug that doesn’t look like a dozen others in the cupboard can give your customers the extra kick no coffee buzz can match. You can make your cups as tall or wide or curvy as you want, fashion a handle tailored to your grip, and paint them in the colours that you or the people you want to give them to will absolutely adore.
Some Tips for Perfecting Your Pinch Pot Skills
Designing a pinch pot is simple and straightforward and easy to understand. Even children can uncover the connection between form and function (maybe even some math).
Ready to start working on your pinch pot ideas? Sergei shares some expert tips on how to improve your pottery skills.
Tip #1: Experiment with different shapes and sizes
What’s great about the pinch pottery technique is you have the flexibility to configure it into anything that satisfies your curiosity. Want to make a miniature decorative piece? You can vary the size of the pinch pot simply by changing how much clay is used. Or how about making them in the form of animals like a pig, chicken or cat, such as in the kawaii tradition?
Tip #2: Know your clay type
There are three basic clay types: Earthenware, Mid-fire, and Stoneware clay. If you intend to fire the clay with some glaze in a pottery kiln, it’s important to know what kind of temperature it fires to. If you don’t know what clay type you have, have no fear; just show the kiln technicians the label from your bag of clay and they will assist you in taking it to the right temperature.
Tip #3: Find the right consistency of clay
To improve your pottery hand-building skills, first you need to find the right consistency of your basic material: clay. Experienced potters say the ideal consistency is about three parts clay to one part water. This ratio ensures that you are able to knead your clay and make sure it is soft enough so that it can be worked with your fingers.
If the clay is too firm, you won’t be able to work it. Always make sure to keep your clay wrapped up well, and spray a little water into the bag to maintain its soft consistency.
Tip #4: Use simple tools to create texture
Some pinch pottery designs involve applying patterns to the surface of the clay for a more aesthetic appeal. This is less complicated than it sounds! You can take the simplest tools and create sophisticated textured effects.
For example, you can press your clay with a fork. Or you can employ mixing and kneading different coloured clays to add a more interesting and unique quality. You can even use small fibers kneaded into the clay or add sand or gravel to give it a rustic texture.
Tip #5: Keep your pieces dry until they’re fired
While you are assembling it, keep your pinch pot damp by putting it in a food container or wrapping it in a bit of plastic, especially if you’re returning to it later to finish it. Once you’re done, remember to let your piece dry until it is fired. Should you want to brush or smooth back the clay before firing, wait for it to fully dry first; you don’t want unnecessary fingermarks on it. Be careful once the clay dries and how you handle it, as it becomes brittle, and if broken before firing, will be irreparable.
Tip #6: Pack your unfired pots well for transport
If you are transporting your pieces to a pottery kiln that’s away from your home or studio, place them carefully in a flat thick bottomed cardboard box or plastic crate and use soft packaging materials around, to make sure they don’t move or rub up against each other.
Tip #7: Polish your pots for a finished look post-firing
After firing your pinch pot, you can then polish it further, to achieve a more finished, professional look. Just pour a small amount of oil in and wipe the pot with a cloth as you turn it. This is an easy and effective way to bring out the natural beauty of your pinch pot. It’s important to use a soft cloth and do not use too much pressure, so as not to mark your pot. This technique works really well if you first burnish your pinch pot in the early part of the process, as mentioned earlier in this post.
And voila, just like that, your pinch pot is done! Will your creation be the next #ceramicsofinstagram hotshot? Perhaps, just a handmade little treasure you’d rather just share with close friends and family during the holidays? The only limit is your imagination. Whatever it is, we hope your new skill will adorn your life in unexpected ways.