Jenny asked for a teapot – another artifact that I don’t often make, mostly because I don’t have the space in by cupboards or on my countertop for teapots and their appendages. Therefore, my teapot-making skills leave much to be desired.
I’ll keep at it, though, because practice really does make perfect. Additionally, I actually learn something about my work every time I make a pot – even those I think are very well-thrown or made. Adjustments here and there lead to improvements.
Such is my journey.
“There is a bird who by his coat, And by the hoarseness of his note, Might be supposed a crow.” – William Cowper
Thirteen weeks after placing an order for a portable Shimpo Aspire, I finally – finally – received the replacement wheel head for the wobbly wheel I’ve periodically posted about. I willed myself to wait, patiently and calmly, for resolution.
When I opened the box, I eyeballed the replacement plate. It’s surprisingly lightweight – constructed from aluminum. Makes sense for a portable wheel.
Dane had all the right tools, so he did the honors. Then I took the wheel for a dry run. Not sure that the wobble’s better. There’s still a shimmy. It’s noticeable, but possibly less so than the original wheel head.
The shimmy isn’t as much a side-to-side movement like before. Rather, it’s a lopsided up-and-down wobble. It was a little challenging to throw even the smallest amount of clay. Centering was fairly easy, but I found I had to slow my wheel speed down significantly to center and pull the clay.
Take a look.
I wonder if I can dink around with it to make some adjustments. Another option would be to have a tool and die shop make a new plate that is precisely planed, drilled and calibrated.
Here’s my dry-run cup – not the best camera angle, but I wanted to show my work at center to edge.
Overall, I’m disappointed in Shimpo and this particular product. I’ll test it out over the weekend and decide whether to return it.
“All your life is such a shame. All your love is just a dream. I dreamt I saw you walking up a hillside in the snow, Casting shadows on the winter sky as you stood there Counting crows. One for sorrow, two for joy. Three for girls, and four for boys. Five for silver, six for gold and Seven for a secret never to be told. There’s a bird that nests inside you, Sleeping underneath your skin. When you open up your wings to speak, I wish you’d let me in.” – Counting Crows, “Murder of One“
Here in Southeast Michigan, it’s a winter wonderland. We got walloped yesterday by a storm system that brought an abundance of snow and rain, followed by more snow. Around 6:15 p.m., I headed out to Frandor to pick up a custom-framing job, and found my car and our little corner of the world glazed in a thick sheet of ice. I made it home before the rain made the roads dangerously icy. After making dinner and taking care of the dishes, Dane and I watched a few episodes of Star Wars Rebels. I awoke this morning to a beautiful blanket of pristine, undisturbed fluffy stuff all over everything.
When I’m not doing transit work, I routinely wake up in the early morning hours while the rest of the household sleeps. I love this time to myself. I tuck Dane in, give him a kiss and steal away to the kitchen. There, I brew myself a spot of tea – the English way, with a splash of whole milk and sugar. I prepare a little plate for breakfast – buttered toast and homemade jam, scrambled eggs, or an apple, pear, orange or grapes. As a side note to those who are serious tea lovers, I recommend Creamy Earl Grey from Light of Day Organics in Traverse City, Mich. (https://lightofdayorganics.com/order/creamy-earl-grey-tin_3191/). Be warned though: At $44 per 3.75-oz tin, it’s a luxury. Still, it’s the very best Earl Grey you’ll ever taste.
Full cup of tea in hand, I burrow in “The Nest” – home base for Crackin’ Crow Pottery, aka, my studio.
This past week, Daner installed little hooks in the floor joists and strung lights and ornaments overhead. I absolutely love what he’s done with the place. Sure, it’s still an unfinished basement, but it is perfect for my clay space, and these are a cheery and welcome addition. Stream my favorite music or podcast from my laptop, and I’m in business. Today I listened to NPR’s Short Wave about none other than the intelligence of crows – so relevant, wouldn’t you agree?
Jenny, my LA Daughter, has been longing to return to her life in LA as a pyrotechnic professional. Like many others, hers was disrupted by COVID. She’s grateful to have been on assignment for a Justin Bieber concert since shortly after Christmas. When she’s here at home, she frequently seeks solace in The Nest. You’ll find her there, quietly sipping tea, watching movies online or reading.
I recall years ago a noise that came from the basement. Startled by it, I went to investigate, only to discover that she was the source of the noise. I was surprised, because I thought she’d gone to school. She admitted, when she didn’t feel like dealing with the pressures and stressors of high school, she’d hook out and hide in the basement. Only after Dane and I left for work did she emerge to enjoy the run of the house. Little did she know, I’d taken the day off. She’s 31 now, and I smile to see that she still retreats to the same basement to get away from it all. She returns from her Bieber concert Wednesday. I know she’ll be pleased by the lighting update, which makes The Nest significantly more inviting and cozy. By the way, Bieber’s crew was so impressed by her stage work that they invited her to be part of his year-long international tour in May 2021.
I’ve been tinkering around in The Nest, organizing, throwing, wedging, trimming and cleaning. Here’s what I’ve been working on.
“If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows.” – Henry Ward Beecher
There’s nothing quite so satisfying as a kiln firing that goes off without a hitch.
For several Barnies, that happened Saturday, Dec. 19. Jane, Barb, Sid, Liisa, Leah, Jim Reinert (every potters’ mentor) and I – participated. It was the first firing for us in many, many months, due to COVID and a transition in ownership at the Red Barn – both of which slowed some of us down.
I had nearly 11,000 cubic inches of ware to bisque and glaze. I loaded two electric kilns to bisque my work. I then spent a grueling 14.75 hours at the Barn on the 5th, waxing pot bottoms and glazing my work.
Barb and Janice loaded everyone’s pots into the kiln on the eve of our firing. Jane candled the kiln that night, and I met her around 10:30 the following morning. It was chugging along at around 900 degrees when I arrived. Our goal was to keep the temperature rising; to achieve and maintain reduction.
Our fire was a beautiful, cloudy orange, and the pressure inside the kiln caused the flames to flick out of every opening, which told us we had successfully balanced the gas and oxygen levels inside the kiln to achieve a reduction atmosphere. Jim stopped by at around 3:30 p.m. After checking all the peepholes, he gave us an encouraging thumb’s up and estimated that we still had at least five hours to go. Cone 07 was flat, Cone 6 was at 11 o’clock, and Cone 8 had softened. At the top peephole, our witness cone softened as well.
“Maintain reduction, and you’ll be in great shape,” Jim said. And that’s what we did. Our progress couldn’t have been better orchestrated.
Shortly after, the fire turned a bright whitish-yellow, and the kiln temp gradually crept upward. By 9:30 p.m., Cone 10 was at 3 o’clock, and Cone 11 was at 2 o’clock. We turned off the gas and shut things down. The proof would be in the pudding.
Pottery pickup was Tuesday, the 22nd, and it was like waiting for Christmas. I’m thrilled with the quality of our firing – I think everyone was. In Jim’s words, “Segar Blue is a good indicator of reduction – and your Segar Blue turned out perfectly.”
Jim congratulated us all for a perfect kiln firing. It really was the best firing at the Red Barn.
My ware was either commissioned or requested as holiday gifts, so I felt tremendous pressure to produce results. I’m pleased to report that they’re all on their way to homes in Hawaii, New York, Denver and Michigan, where I hope they’ll make meals a little more joyful.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!
“Nothing is unreal as long as you can imagine like a crow.” Munia Khan
Quick update: I ordered my Shimpo Aspire Oct. 16, and have traded emails with a couple of employees at Clay-King and Vijay at Shimpo. Vijay promised to send me a replacement wheel head and belt.
I have yet to receive my new, balanced wheel head. I reached out to Vijay at Shimpo again on Nov. 30. He reported that, due to the Thanksgiving holiday, the container shipment was delayed and that he hadn’t received any updates.
I emailed him again – on Christmas Day – just to remind him that I’m still waiting and would like an update. I received an out-of-office email, indicating that he’s on holiday until Jan. 4 – not a big deal. Besides, it’s not like I’m going to be traveling anywhere anytime soon to make pots with it, now that winter (and 20-degree temps) have settled in. I can throw in my home studio or at the Red Barn.
I’ll wait to hear from Vijay in early January about Shimpo’s progress. With COVID and businesses shut or slowed down, I refuse to be the asshole customer. I do want resolution within a reasonable time frame, but I am also a reasonable consumer.
“Be like a crow, in patience, hard work and efforts.” – Vijay (not related to the Vijay referenced above)
I recently posted that the wheel I purchased from Clay-King wobbled. I emailed Clay-King on Oct. 23 about my observation, attaching video proof of the wheel wobble. Three days later, I received a response from Shane at Clay-King:
“We are sorry to hear about this! We have contacted Shimpo about your wheel, and we would like to see a video without the bat on the wheel head before replacing. If you don’t mind, please send a video with the bat removed from the wheel head.”
I could see where this was going.
I replied, “It is hard to tell from the wheel itself, but if you look at the shadow to the right of the wheel, you can clearly see the wobble, which is affecting every single Dirty Girl bat in the 10-pack I purchased, as well as the two blue plastic Shimpo bats that came with the wheel. All bats appear to wobble substantially more at their edges than the wheel head itself, which is far more discernible to the naked eye.” I closed with a polite demand: Replace my wheel or give me a full refund without restocking fees or shipping.
This time Erin responded: “I don’t see a wobble from the video. I sent it over to Vijay at Shimpo and he doesn’t either. If you want to take a video from the side that would be helpful.” Erin asked me to email the next video to Vijay.
Me to Erin: “I clearly see the wobble, and so do two others who have seen the Shimpo. I don’t otherwise know how to explain the fact that every single bat I’ve tried wobbles, including Shimpo’s bats. I acknowledge that it’s difficult to see the wheel wobble in the video because of the glare on it, but the shadow very clearly shows wobbling.” I told Erin I did not want a refund. I wanted my wheel to work properly.
Vijay to Me: “Thank you for those videos! They were perfect.”
A good start, but then Vij writes, “I hope you’ll agree with me in that the issue is more in the bat than in the wheel head itself. That is, there is no appreciable amount of movement up/down – side/side in the wheel head, without the bat. With the bat on, yes, I definitely see movement. Regardless, I can send you a replacement wheel head and a new set of bats if you would like.”
Me to Vijay: “I strongly but respectfully disagree … there may be a mechanical defect … concerns about its integrity, useful life … how is it that all twelve bats are the culprit, not the wheel? … haven’t been able to use for two weeks … disappointed … something is wrong … do not want my money back; want equipment that is problem-free … Shimpo must account for product quality. Nothing less will suffice.”
I then called Runyans in Clio, Mich., and asked if Tony could take a look at my Shimpo. Granted, I didn’t buy it from Runyans which, at that point, I regretted. Tony said he’d take a look but would have to charge me $48 for the first half hour; more if more time was needed. I chucked the wheel into my car and drove 71 miles northeast to Runyans. Tony took a look at my wheel, then at the two Shimpos on display. It was immediately clear that all three wheels demonstrated the Same. Exact. Problem. Tony grabbed his tape measure and measured the distance from the rim of each of the three wheels to the outer-most rim of the two bat pins anchoring the wheel heads in place. In each case, there was at least a 1 cm difference in the distance measured. Mystery solved. And while Tony devoted more than a full hour of his time to attend to my dilemma, he wouldn’t charge me the $96 I rightfully owed. He wouldn’t charge me a cent.
Before I left Runyans, Vijay was in my inbox: “I informed our warehouse to pull and test an Aspire to replace the one you have. It will be fully inspected before we ship it.” Vijay promised to send two replacement Shimpo bats.
Me to Vijay: “Given what I learned from Tony, I would prefer Shimpo to consider a replacement wheel head after all, making sure that the plate is completely level and the bat pins are properly drilled and equally distanced to eliminate the wobbling. I think this would be the most efficient solution for Shimpo, Clay-Works and me. I will not require replacement Shimpo bats as the wheel head appears to be the problem and not the bats.”
Vijay to Me: I will make sure we send you a new wheel head and confirm the holes are drilled properly. As well, that thumping is likely a “kink” in the belt. It occurs when the belt is sitting for a while (from our factory, across the pacific, then to us) in one position. The “kink” develops at the point of the small pulley. More often than not, through use, the thumping smooths out as the belt warms up. If it doesn’t, a new belt can remedy the thumping. I will send you a new belt as well.”
They say persistence pays off. It can, I agree, but the path to resolution requires a willingness on both sides to meet somewhere in the middle. Vijay is innately a standup guy. His reputation precedes him. While it took us a hot second to see eye to eye, he was professional, polite and respectful. As soon as the replacement wheel head arrives, I’ll take her for a spin – fingers and toes tightly crossed – and share my impressions.
The crow commands, the captive must obey. – George R. R. Martin
Whilst I am a potter, I have a number of interests beyond the art of ceramics. In that realm – the realm of clay, that is – I enjoy sculpting, for example, though I’m not ashamed to say, I am a horrible sculptor. I love the human form, but I’ve never really studied it – human anatomy, musculature, bone structure, body proportions, etc. Had I taken the time, I’m certain that I’d pick it up quickly. I realize and accept, however, that I may never truly master pottery or sculpting. As long as I enjoy the journey, I’ll immerse myself with reckless abandon in these pleasures – it’s time well-spent.
Honestly, when you get right to the heart of the matter, “making” things – keeping my hands and my mind busy – well, it’s so fulfilling. I also enjoy knitting, which I learned when I was nine – 51 years ago! My family lived in Sagamihara, Japan, at the time. I was in fourth grade, and a classmate taught me how to crochet a chain. That’s it. I would do the chain stitch until I ran out of yarn, unravel the chain and start over. I had no idea what to do with the chain or what its functionality was, let alone how crocheting might be useful. I had no concept of stitches or patterns. I’d just learned how to make a slipknot and a chain.
On weekends, Mommy took my siblings and me by train from Sagamihara to Tokyo, where we’d visit her sister, Auntie Wako. During one of our many treks to Auntie’s home, she watched as I made a chain and unraveled it repeatedly. She asked if I wanted to learn how to knit.
“Sure,” I answered.
Auntie gave me a pair of knitting needles and a ball of yarn, and she taught me – very patiently – the basics of knitting: how to cast on, how to knit, how to purl and how to bind off.
It consumed my time and attention. My work was horrible. My rows were askew. What was supposed to have been a square was a misshapen mess. I was so proud of my work.
“Keep practicing,” she said. “Don’t give up. It’s hard at first, but you’ll get better.” So I knit on. Eventually, my misshapen mess became a neat little square or rectangle. My stitches became more even and my rows, straighter. She’d fix my dropped stitches, and I’d carry on. I knit headbands, mostly, and dish towels.
I kept those needles (I still have them), and I kept knitting headbands and dish towels. I went from elementary school in Japan, to middle school and high school on Okinawa. Along the way I learned to sew, thanks to Mommy, who is still a phenomenal tailor. Sewing has and always will be her thing; the thing that brings her joy and helps her find peace. She taught me how to purchase fabric, the importance of neatly pressing my work; how to cut my fabric, how to mark it, how to sew and how to finish. I sewed an wore clothes she made me, and then I sewed and wore clothes I made.
I graduated from high school on Okinawa and went to college in Denver. I got married, moved to Italy and got pregnant with my son. I sewed my maternity clothes and his baby clothes. After he was born, I picked up my needles again when he napped. I borrowed a knitting book from the library. It had patterns for children’s clothing in it, so I knit a sweater for my son. Then I taught my neighbor, Maria Trexler, how to knit the same sweater for her two daughters. I borrowed another book from the library with patterns written by Kaffe Fassett, ordered one of his sweater kits and started knitting a pullover. Unfortunately, in the move back to the United States, my sweater kit went missing. For the next 20-some years, as I raised four children, balanced a full-time job and went to college to finish my bachelor’s degree and pursue a master’s degree, I worked off nervous energy by making towels again. I sewed a bag for a yoga mat and a multifaceted yoga pullover for my daughter; I sewed a knitting-needle holder for myself, for my two daughters who took up knitting, and for a niece who also loved the craft. As my sewing skills evolved, I got a little more adventurous with yarn and needles, and made hats, scarves, wraps, sweaters, tunics and ponchos for family, friends and for me.
Auntie and Mommy are now in their 80s. After knitting so many gorgeous sweaters for so many decades, Auntie’s hands ache with arthritis. She stopped knitting. Ma still sews, cooks and bakes. She is the oldest member at her gym, and loves Zumba, high-intensity interval training, Pilates and body sculpting with weights. She’s given up gardening and pottery. Like her sister, her hands are arthritic. Her knuckles are knobby now, and her fingers are “ma-ga-teru” or bent in places.
One day, I know arthritis will cripple me as well. My vision will start to go, and I’ll tire easy. For that reason, I feel an incredible sense of urgency to cram as much as I can into my life and to do all that I want while my hands can still make. I want to sit with my husband, my mother, daughters and son, and hold their hands while mine can still show them I love them … to grow flowers and vegetables and trees before age and time makes me too frail.
One of the women at the Greater Lansing Potters Guild who assisted my instructors in the past popped by our raku firing yesterday afternoon. She and her husband are getting ready to travel to Florida for the winter.
“My hands ache so much when I throw clay, so I’m just not throwing any more,” she said.
I’m committed to making with intention. The dinnerware set I’ve been wanting to make for my family, well, I’m making them. I like seeing Mommy’s blue chawans in my cupboard, next to the brown plates I made. Whether in my clay studio or my various projects bags, I have several works in progress – a one-armed wrap for my oldest and youngest daughters; a shrug, a longer sweater; fabric for a wool skirt; dog-eared recipes in books and magazines; bulbs and seeds – all organized and ready for my hands to make them into something.
What I love most about making is showing my Mom what I was able to do because she took the time to show me how. I see the sheer joy on her face, and I hear it in her voice when my daughter asks, “Can you show me how to make this, Grandma?”
Her legacy lives on in each of us. What were labors of love for her, she has passed on to us and, in doing so, has made our lives richer and so much more fulfilling.
“We cut over the fields at the back with him between us – straight as the crow flies – through hedge and ditch.” – Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist
As I suspected, there’s definitely a problem with my brand-new Shimpo Aspire. It’s off center, but I can’t determine where. You can actually hear or feel the wobble as the wheelhead spins. It emits a gentle “whompa, whompa, whompa,” almost like a washing machine whose contents were unbalanced in the basin … except there’s almost no sound. I tried to throw some clay on it, but as soon as I made the first pull, I could see that the wall of the pot was thicker on one side than the other.
I grabbed my level and checked to make sure my workbench, which the machine was situated atop, was level. It was, as was the wheel, in all directions. I’m going to have to research this wobbly-wheelhead problem. In the meantime, I emailed Clay King , where I purchased the wheel from.
“The wheelhead spins, but it actually sounds like it is off center,” I wrote. “Please advise.”
“Angels and crows passed each other, one leaving, the other coming.” Jerry Spinelli.
Walking into the house after work tonight, I was greeted by a box that contained my new Shimpo Aspire. She can go from zero to 230 rpms and weighs all of 25 lbs., the same as a bag of clay, which means I can chuck it in the trunk of my car and take it on the road. Or, next spring and summer, I can set it up outside and throw pots on the back deck. Tomorrow, the Dirty Girl bats I ordered for this particular wheel head (which, at 10 inches, is smaller than my two Skutt wheel heads) are scheduled to arrive. I’ll give her a spin over the weekend and see how she performs.
Right out of the box, I plugged her in, and she sounded a little “warpy.” The Shimpo comes with a 5-year warranty, though I’m not sure yet what, exactly, that means. The two plastic bats that came with it are obviously off center, so I may find out soon how the warranty works. I ordered mine with a foot pedal, which is massive, especially for my size 4 feet. So, yeah, I’ve got a shrimpy l’il Shimpo with a big foot.
Details soon, but don’t expect me to write a product review – there are far too many as it is on the Interweb.
“We heap up around us things that we do not need as the crow makes piles of glittering pebbles.” Laura Ingalls Wilder
Hate to post and dash, but I’ve got to turn in before midnight – not because I’ll turn into a pumpkin but because my brain will be like mushy pumpkin tomorrow if I don’t get some sleep.
I managed to throw a couple of pots yesterday morning. I let them set up for a few hours, exposed to the cool temperature. By the time the dinner dishes were washed, they were leather hard and ready for me to trim.
My favorite is the short one that’s tapered at the bottom and flared at the top. Which of the two do you like most?
“Nothing is unreal as long as you can imagine like a crow.” – Munia Khan