Like Christmas but better.

Opening a kiln is somewhat like Christmas but better.

There has been a great deal of anticipation and several weeks of work.  I started mould making in the autumn.  The pouring occurred as soon as the holiday ended, with over a week standing in the cold.  As there were several hundred very small items the rubbing down took about ten days, Then came the first firing.

The first firing in which items that could be squashed to dust between your fingers are magically changed to items that are hard and make a distinct chink if you drop them on the kiln shelf (rather than placing gingerly.)  All of this is like writing your list, checking it twice and doing a bit of shopping.

Then comes the wrapping, or in this case, glazing.  The only items I usually glaze are doll’s fingernails, and eyes.  Rarely shoes.  But in this case I was glazing hundreds of small items in numerous colours, some of them very experimental.  What will occur?

About thirty years ago a new couple appeared at a miniatures show, exhibiting bone china.  They had booked the show before they opened the kiln, because you have to book months ahead for popular shows.  After opening the kiln they must have discovered that the glaze they used was unsuitable for either the type of clay or the size of the ware.  What they had to exhibit was their first table full of miniature plates, every one of which had curved backwards, (and they had arranged publicity.)

That could happen to anyone.  I once interviewed someone who said every time she put the kiln on she prayed to the kiln gods.  I’m not surprised, the variables are vast.

All the stuff to do with kilns is variable.  Every brand of clay is different, every batch of clay from the same brand can vary.  I have just discovered that the brand of clear glaze I have used for thirty years has been discontinued.  Various online suppliers of glazes are keen to assure me that theirs is a good substitute.  Ah, but will it work in miniature?  If you ring to ask they will want to know the size of the unfired ware, when you answer in millimetres they go very quiet because they don’t know.

Add to this the interesting fact that every time you fire the kiln the electric elements degrade so you can add variable firing times to the mix, and multiply it by the kiln engineer who put my temperature dial on upside down and couldn’t get it off again, so that I have to guess and stand bent double working it out before I put the kiln on…

There’s a mantra – clockwise reversed is still clockwise and forward to increase is still forward but the values are reversed though the click to full on, is now the click off.  I mutter, trying to stand on my head in the garage.

Then there is the placing in the kiln.  Some brave souls stack items in other items.  When I worked on the magazines we frequently received humorous photographs of vases welded inside baths and stuck stacks.

I do not do that.  I place every item flat on the shelf surrounded by its own half millimetre of space so thoroughly I could almost sell Airbnb flats professionally.  Though as items shrink and move in the firing they could well end up more attached than a newly engaged couple on Valentine’s Day.

Like Christmas I just have no idea what I am going to get.  Not a clue.

The kiln has just gone off but you absolutely cannot peek.

Years ago I read a book about doll making in the Victorian era which painted a picture of Victorian child workers taking very hot items from a kiln and throwing them in a human chain.  This description, which got published in a book, was completely fanciful.  You could not do that because by the time the items had got out of the kiln into the air they would crack with thermal shock before they got thrown to the first child standing with hopeful oven gloves.  I had a doll making friend who opened his first kiln too soon.  He retrieved the still-warm dolls and laid them on a wooden board in great excitement, followed rapidly by despair and a series of tiny ‘chinks’ as each doll cracked between the eyes in the thinnest part of the face.

Just like Christmas you have to wait, you cannot open the presents too soon.

I will wait until tomorrow and then feel the kiln.  If it has cooled I  might take the bungs out and let the air in.  If it is still warm I will wait.  I won’t know what I’ve got until I can unpack it.  There are three and a half shelves and I will have to wait until the last shelf at the bottom is cool too, to avoid thermal shock.

It is still alarming, exciting and unfathomable.

The best thing about it, is that, when I open the kiln to see what I’ve got, it won’t be socks or bath salts.


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