Have you ever wondered how those charming English bone china teapots are made today? Even with some automation, it is still a fascinating, hands-on process.
Starting with a clay mix of various ingredients such as local clays, flint, feldspar, quartz and bone ash, a liquid clay suspension is created. This is called the slip. In high quality bone china, the bone ash content is at least 30% and can go as high as 50%. A higher percentage makes the finished bone china stronger. Bone china will be thinner and more translucent than porcelain with a softer visual quality to the pattern designs. Heirloom Bone China has a very high percentage of bone ash thus making it a high quality bone china.
The clay slip is poured into the molds and allowed to sit for a predetermined amount of time. It is then poured out of the mold leaving a hardened film on the mold walls. This creates the hollow body of the teapot. For many teapot shapes, the handles are created from separate molds. These are attached separately. If you happen to have a teapot or tea cup with concave impressions on the inside where the handles attach to the body, this is the mark of a single piece mold in which the handle is part of the mold and was not attached separately. An example of a single piece mold is the Heirloom Elizabeth Grey Violets Bone China Tea Cup.
Many teapot shapes are made from two molds, involving two pours: one for the body and one for the handle. This is not counting the lid. Other shapes require three or more pours for the various pieces: handle, body, spout and in some cases feet. In the case of the Heirloom Elizabeth Grey shape teapots, there are four separate pours required, again, not counting the lid.
Once the teapot pieces are removed from the molds, they are cleaned up and the various pieces are attached to the teapot body and placed on racks to be fired at very high temperatures. After the firing process, they are inspected and cleaned up before a dip in the glaze and another firing.
After the second firing, the teapots are inspected again. The ones that pass are ready for the decoration. For some shapes the decoration is hand applied while other shapes are decorated with the assistance of a machine. Once the design is applied, the teapot will undergo a third firing which burns away and changes the colors of the pattern while permanently adhering the design decal.
The final step is gilding which is the application of any gold paint accents. This decor is applied by the artist with the use of a brush, a wheel and a steady hand. The gold decorated teapot will undergo a fourth and final firing. The gold paint really does have gold in it to produce the bright gold luster.
While some machinery is used today in the making of English bone china teapots, it is definitely a lovely hand crafted product. Click here for a start to finish look inside one of the Roy Kirkham potteries in Stoke-on-Trent, England.
Geniune English bone china teapots by makers such as Heirloom Bone China and Roy Kirkham are still carefully made with an eye toward beauty and pride in the tradition of British tea!