This is a quick and easy project for all those gardeners out there who might like to make their pots more exciting with individual plant stakes. If you don’t garden yourself, the stakes make lovely gifts to give to someone who does
You will need:
White stoneware clay – stoneware is preferable for items that will be placed outside because the clay vitrifies in firing, making it impermeable to water. Earthenware always remains porous to some degree, making it more susceptible to weather damage
Rolling pin, plastic sheet, roller guides
Working on a sheet of plastic, reduce the bulk of a block of clay. It must be a large enough block to cut up to make two or three slabs of different leaf designs.
Beat the clay with the side of your rolling pin, working in measured, even strokes from one side of the clay to the other, to avoid making deep grooves in the surface.
Roll out the clay between your roller guides, making sure it’s wide enough for a good arrangement of leaves.
You will find that periodically turning the slab will make rolling much easier, and ensure it’s an even thickness.
Smooth over the surface of the slab with a rib to compact the clay once rolled.
Arrange letters into the herbs’ individual names.
This is a child’s set of letters, which clip together for accurate spacing. You can find similar in places like HobbyCraft, or search online.
Prepare your first herb sample by separating the leaves from the main stem. This is only necessary if the stem is woody and bulky because this would impress too deeply into the clay and be unsightly. Certain herb leaves are beautifully displayed individually, like the sage shown here, but much will depend on the plant type itself.
Cut off a section of slab, large enough to make several stakes about 3cm wide.
Position the leaves over the surface of the slab, with the underside of the leaf on the clay, in a random but neat arrangement.
Roll the leaves into the clay – with the roller guides still in place on either side of the slab.
You may find it easier to roll the leaves into the clay in stages because they have a tendency to curl up when too many are positioned at once.
Once the whole slab has been completed, carefully lift the leaves off the clay with a pin.
Using a roller guide or a ruler as a width measure, cut the slab into strips with a sharp knife.
Using a cookie cutter, or something similar, draw a small circle on a sheet of card, then carefully cut it out.
Place the card circle at one end of each stake and cut around the edge as shown, to round off the tops.
You might ask ‘why not cut the ends with the cookie cutter’, but it’s difficult to do this without cutting into the clay lower down with the opposite side of the cutter, spoiling the surface. You can find your own alternative to making a template if you want to.
Run your fingers along the edges of each stake – front and back – to soften and round them off.
TIP Certain letter stamps don’t release easily once impressed in clay. To overcome sticking problems, try dipping the stamps in cornflour prior to impressing. The flour will burn away in firing, leaving no residue
Impress the herb name into the clay just below each rounded end.
Cut the opposite ends of the stakes into points with a metal rib or knife.
You can make stakes of different lengths to fit pots with herbs at different stages of growth.
Continue to make more stakes, impressing different herbs into the clay for each type.
Once you’ve made all the stakes required, allow them to dry out on a mesh like a cake rack, or sandwiched between boards, to keep them flat.
Bisque fire them when dry.
Decorating the stakes
You will need:
Underglaze colours of choice – 2 or 3, plus black
A palette for mixing colours or small containers
Transparent glaze – optional
Begin by painting in the herb names in black, then wipe back the colour with a damp sponge so that it remains only in the lettering.
Slightly water down your first underglaze colour – it’ll be easier to apply if slightly thinner and will better fill the texture of the leaves.
Paint in the leaves carefully, trying to contain the colour as far as possible.
Again, wipe back the colour with a damp sponge so that it only remains to highlight the veining of the leaves.
Paint in a second colour, darker but complementary to the first colour, in selected areas only of each leaf.
Finish by painting in a really contrasting colour as a highlight, again in selected areas only.
Repeat the process with different herb samples. You can use a different colour palette or the same one because the herb leaves themselves will each have their own character, enough to make the stakes look different.
You can glaze the upper face of the stakes with transparent glaze if you want a shiny finish or simply leave them unglazed and fire them up to stoneware temperature. Make sure the undersides are clear of glaze before firing, or the stakes will stick to the kiln shelf.
Herb stakes, fired and ready for planting.
This project first appeared in issue 27
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