We introduce you to this type of ceramic and explain how to value, care for and preserve, even restore, our earthenware, with simple tricks. We help you avoid common mistakes in their use.
Nowadays we frequently renew our everyday objects. The throwaway culture and plastic utensils have been imposed on us. Fortunately this is changing, we can care for and maintain those old earthenware dishes that are in many homes and that are sometimes thrown away because some loose pieces have broken and are no longer useful.
Have you thought about restoring the pieces you already have, and even putting them together creating a “new” dinnerware exclusive to you, for example, by simply painting your earthenware dishes yourself?
TABLE OF CONTENTS
WHAT IS EARTHENWARE?
It is the fired clay from which tableware is made. It is composed of fine clay baked below 2200º F.
Beautifully decorated earthenware set by Artesanias Nothofagus
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EARTHENWARE AND PORCELAIN?
The fundamental thing is to know at what temperature earthenware is fired, since the usual is not to exceed 2200º F, the common is to use between 1800º F and 2100 ºF in the firing of this material.
However, for porcelain, higher temperatures must be achieved, which can reach 2700 ºF or more.
Earthenware is quite porous, hence it is glazed to make it waterproof. Porcelain is waterproof. Its composition contains large amounts of kaolin (sometimes more than 50%), quartz and feldspar. Due to its porosity, earthenware is less resistant and hard and weighs less.
In addition to aesthetics, which is why porcelain is more commonly used, earthenware dishes are less frequently found in the hotel and catering industry, due to their lower resistance.
As for the origin of earthenware, its difference with porcelain is that the latter is more modern, it was not until the fourteenth century that this type of pottery came to Europe, and until the eighteenth century that it could be manufactured. In China its origin is much earlier, in fact it is curious that the term in Chinese to refer to earthenware and porcelain is the same, which has caused some confusion in the West among scholars of the history of ceramics.
Over time, different production methods, styles and applications have been characterized.
We will define some differences according to their origins and places of production.
Pieces of an antiquity greater than that of the Stonehenge complex have been found. After the arrival of the Roman Empire, earthenware production was further refined and gazing was included to make it waterproof, using lead galena fired at low temperature, something that is not used today. In the 16th century, high quality works were already being produced and factories began to proliferate.
The Churchill brand stands out among the English earthenware tableware, one of the best known for its quality and tradition. This company started in 1795 and today it is a worldwide recognized brand.
It arrived in Italy in the 13th century from Spain. During the Renaissance, the term majolica was used to define a type of earthenware with a white tin glaze and later decorated with oxides. The word majolica comes from the Italian “maiolica“, and etymologically it is said, on the one hand, that it means Mallorca, as the name of the Spanish island through which the Mediterranean exports passed, and on the other hand it is said that it means Malaga, another place of passage of trade between the two countries.
Its production dates back to the Neolithic period. Although pottery is as old as mankind, it is believed that there was a boost in the production of earthenware pieces from the Roman Empire, on the one hand, and on the other from the Arab culture that reached the Iberian Peninsula. In Portugal there are also many areas of great richness in clay, such as Aveiro and Leiria.
Portuguese ceramics production, particularly earthenware, has a rich tradition in terms of the decorative motifs used and the great variety of colors, which is characteristic of much of its craftsmanship.
Nowadays, the Portuguese earthenware of Caldas da Rainha is very well known, where a beautiful museum is dedicated to it.
Earthenware bowl made in Portugal
ITS USE IN BATHROOM ELEMENTS
In general terms, porcelain is better for this use, a material with more advantages, more resistant, more durable, etc., however, earthenware is used because it is cheaper and weighs less. For sanitary use, several layers of glaze are used for proper impermeability and durability.
WHAT IS THE TYPE OF EARTHENWARE USED TO MAKE PLATES OR VASES?
A glazed earthenware is used, although in its base and exterior surfaces the original texture of the clay is often maintained. Earthenware with a white glaze is used, but it can also be of other colors. Depending on the quality of the glaze and what it protects, it can be more or less scratched by the use of cutlery and will better withstand the passage of time.
Something important in the pieces used as tableware is that they must resist high and low temperatures, as well as sudden changes between them.
As for the clay used in the earthenware, this can determine whether it is suitable for firing at a higher or lower temperature.
It often happens that the porosity that gives us the clay we use in the creation of plates, bowls, etc. and temperatures no higher than 1,200ºC, gives us a result that, due to the resistance and other characteristics of the earthenware, could well be called
. That is, the different ceramic classifications often overlap.
On the other hand, in the ancestral handmade pottery that is still practiced today, people do not use the Internet to choose what kind of clay to buy to make earthenware, but they use what they have at hand, the one provided by the soil of the place where they live. This type of pottery using clay as it has been traditionally done for a very long time to make plates, bowls and so on, is something that is worth seeing and makes us value more the fact of having a handmade earthenware tableware in our home, and take more care of it.
We encourage you to take a look at this inspiring video that shows how to make clay dishes, in an artisanal way, with just your hands and a mold. (In Spanish)
HOW TO CARE FOR AND MAINTAIN YOUR TABLEWARE
By using a proper way to clean the utensils, taking care of sudden changes in temperature, restoring the small damages they may have with the use, in short, we can keep an earthenware tableware for a long time.
We can also “update” it or unify disparate pieces (because they come from different sets and have larger or smaller sizes) by simply painting it.
On the one hand, we give a more current and modern touch to our collection of plates, mugs, etc.
On the other hand, it often happens that we have different dishes and many of them have had “casualties”, pieces that break, and we find ourselves with several sets that do not have enough services for all the guests. A great way to give dishes another life is to bring them together and unify them into a “new collection”.
If we leave aside reusing them in a functional way, another idea is to incorporate those beautiful pieces as decorative elements.
Earthenware plate painted by Artesanias Nothofagus
HOW TO PAINT CHINA PLATES
A special type of paint is used for porcelain or ceramics in general, there are also water-based markers for this material. This is important, it is not the same to paint the outside of the cups, for which there is a great variety of materials, than to paint the parts that will be in contact with the food, such as the inside of the dishes, for this you must find the right materials and enamels for food use and follow the manufacturer’s advice.
However, for the outside of the parts and all parts that will not be in contact with food, it is simpler.
Prior to painting, clean the surfaces well and remove any debris they may contain, using hot water and dishwasher. Then dry completely.
Now we can paint the pieces. Then we must let the paint dry between 24 and 72 hours, then put the pieces in the kiln for 35 minutes between 300 and 580 °F. After painting we also have the option of applying a coat of special varnish for this use, some people prefer a glossy enamel because it is more beautiful, the main thing is to protect our “work”. before finishing with the theme of painting insist that if it will be for food use we must take care to choose the right materials, drying time and the necessary cooking time at the appropriate temperature indicated by the manufacturer.
A very nice work of Artesanias Nothofagus.
HOW TO WASH DISHES
It is advisable to wash the pieces by hand and avoid the dishwasher, which will be more aggressive with them, we will always achieve a better result and “punish” our dishes less.
Although some manufacturers will tell us that there is no problem with this, dishwashers use higher temperatures in relation to manual washing and consequently are more damaging in the long run to the surface of our dishes. Especially avoid putting in pieces that have been hand-painted.
On how to clean old chinaware, it should be taken into account that with the use and temperature changes, small cracks are produced, where debris can accumulate and mold can appear inside them.
The trick to avoid this is to occasionally soak the crockery in hot water with bleach for a few minutes (beware of a sudden change if the pieces are cold) and then rinse well, this will also help to whitening earthenware plates and cups if they were originally enameled in that color.
Another less aggressive option is to use baking soda and vinegar.
Another recommended trick is to use a cloth soaked in Vodka and rub the surface to be cleaned.
HOW TO SEAL A CRACK IN THE EARTHENWARE
A home remedy was to put the piece in milk, boil it for half an hour and then let it dry, then wash it and that was it.
Now we use transparent epoxy glue, or special white glue, or polyvinyl acetate for ceramics, which are also used to join broken pieces. To glue earthenware simply clean and dry the area where we are going to use the glue, apply it and then leave it in the kiln between 120 and 270º F for 30 minutes depending on the instructions of the manufacturer of the material we have used to glue.
Nowadays we are less bothered aesthetically by the small cracks that are produced by the use in our crockery, for example we have the oriental idea of not disguising them, but repairing them in an ostentatious way according to the Japanese method ” Kintsugi ” which, on the mass that filled the breakage applied gold powder which made it more attractive and gave it a special beauty: the beauty of what has been used and what has endured over time.