Nell’s sister is businesswomen Emma Bridgewater, so it was only natural that a few years back Nell and Emma put their heads together and the Giffords Circus limited edition Emma Bridgewater mug was created. Each year a new limited-edition mug is designed and produced in Emma’s Stoke-on-Trent factory, and the mugs have fast become a firm favourite of Giffords Circus fans and Emma Bridgewater fans alike. Here's a look at the process that goes into making every mug…
Each half-pint mug begins its life as clay which is dug out of the ground in Devon, Cornwall, Wales or closer to home in Staffordshire. This is where the saying ‘pot holes’ originates. It is mixed into a secret recipe by two Potteries-based suppliers and then brought to the slip house where a machine called a blunger mixes it into a liquid called ‘slip’. From here it is pumped by pipe into the casting shop.
The casters are highly trained with years of experience and they make around 30,000 pieces of pottery a week. They fill the mug moulds with the ‘slip’ and ‘bit in’, or fill in, the top indent where the handle joins. The moulds are then left to dry for up to 24 hours and it is the skill of the caster to know when each piece is ready – depending on weather conditions, temperature and even the day of the week.
Once the mug is taken from the mould it leaves the casting shop to be ‘fettled’ and ‘sponged’. The two halves of the mould leave a tiny seam in the clay where they have been joined and this seam is removed by hand by the fettlers. They will scrape away the tiny line of excess clay before passing it on to the spongers who make it perfectly smooth.
Next, it’s time for firing, mug goes into the 950-degree heat of the biscuit kiln for its first firing. Even here there’s great skill involved in the process. A ‘placer’ fills a kiln truck full of ware but needs to know where each piece should be placed to ensure it doesn’t overheat and crack. It can take up to three hours to stack each truck before it’s wheeled into the kiln for seven hours of firing.
Once the biscuit selector has inspected each piece it moves on to the decorating studio.
There are more than 40 full-time decorators in the studio with some of the steadiest and most creative hands in the business.
The hand cut sponges are dabbed into paint and applied by hand in each decorator’s chosen pattern before being glazed. It is a mark of pride in their work that sees each decorator sign her work.
When the mug has been fired once more in the kiln it is ready for a rigorous inspection. Every single piece of ware is checked by hand before embarking on the final stage of their journey – to your homes!
A huge thank you to Emma Bridgewater and all the team for showing us around the factory. Find out more about factory tours by visiting www.emmabridgewaterfactory.co.uk Giffords Circus mugs will be on sale online and in our on-site shop from the 4th May 2018 www.giffordscircus.com