As part of the Collier's Wood Spring Art Festival, Merton Abbey Mills were offering a free one-day taster pottery wheel throwing class at their Wandle Heritage Watermill. Usually their classes are held at the weekend at £15 on Saturdays for a forty-five minute session, or £25 on Sundays for a, hour and a half session.
The taster course was running between 11am-1pm in twenty minute slots. I went over at 11am, but all those slots were already taken, so I was given a voucher for 12pm-12.20pm. While I waited, they also had a table set up for basic clay modelling; it was mainly for children, but since I don't look my age, the organiser thought I fit into that category and offered me a go. When I told him I was 22, I don't think he felt, he could then deny me the clay.
While I waited, I made an attempt at a Golden Snitch; it started off well, but the wings were too heavy and it kind of fell apart. By that pint it was time for my class anyway, so I abandoned my snitch and made my way to the lesson.
The class is run by Claire Bradfield and Stephen Llewellyn, who have both been potters for thirty years. It was Stephen who was giving the free taster session, and his experience showed immediately. In a brief demonstration he threw his clay on the wheel, and I was mesmerised as the thick lump spiralled into a beautiful spire. He then moulded the clay with his hands and within seconds had a beautiful bowl.
I started off doing what he said, spinning the wheel with my foot on a pedal, then cleaning the previous clay off with my thumb. Stephen, the started me off by throwing the clay on the wheel, wetting it, then turning it into a spiral. He then guided my hands around the clay to form a basic shaped bowl.
It was then my turn to try by myself. My attempts were somewhat less than inspiring. I felt like Margo Ledbetter from The Good Life (8 minutes in on the video), unable to get the right speed and sending my clay flying off the wheel. Every time I got a basic shape, I would then lose it and it would all fall apart. Part of the problem was that I kept forgetting to keep my wrists firmly on the surface of the wheel while it was spinning, and then forgetting to use a sponge to absorb the moisture. By this time, my twenty minutes were up, but fortunately as no one else was coming, he let me continue. It was a good thing too, because otherwise I would not have produced anything.
Over the next twenty minutes, I started to get the hang of it (just about), remembering to keep my wrists down, and use a sponge once I'd finished getting my basic shape. I managed to create something half-way decent, and for a first try (or perhaps forth), I'm pretty happy with the results.
The class was a lot of fun, despite my ineptness, and it has definitely made me interested in booking more classes. The classes are between 11am-3pm and taught in small groups, meaning you get a lot of attention, and Stephen can teach you according to your skill skill level. There is no need to block book, so you can choose how many lessons you want, and can simply decide on the day if you want to go go back next week. You can either book at the Watermill or by calling 020 8647 0076 Weekdays or 020 8543 6656 at weekends.