common questions

What does “Reannag Teine” mean? How do you pronounce it?

Liking the Gaelic language—and wanting a unusual, unused company name—we took “Starfire” and did a rough translation using a very useful online Gaelic dictionary. Many thanks to the creators of that wonderful resource. The Scottish Gaelic words are from An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language, written by Alexander MacBain in 1896 and revised in 1911. And, amazingly enough, we by chance picked worked that are pronounced phonetically: "reenneg teen."

reannag: a star, Irish reannán, Old Irish rind, constellation

teine: fire, Irish teine, Old Irish tene, g. tened, pl. tenti

Does the triangle knot have a meaning?

That piece of knotwork, also known as the triquetra knot, has had different meanings put to it over the millennia that it has existed, once being known as Odin's knot among many other names.

Common modern interpretations include it being the "trinity knot" or, more universally, the "love knot." Other trios assigned to its points include truth-knowledge-nature, birth-life-death, and maiden-mother-crone. The number 3 also held significance with many Celtic deities. It most likely began as an ornamental design among the Picts and has been found as far back as 100 CE, three hundred years before Christianity entered the Celtic lands. The triangular motif dates back even further, found commonly on many kinds of pieces from 400 BCE, which means it probably traces back far beyond that time.

The reason that we use it here is very close to that: it is a convenient, simple, and ornamental design that is easy to draw freehand and to elaborate upon in series or in complexity—and we like the way it looks. (BCE stands for "Before the Common Era" and CE for "Common Era," commonly accepted denotations among archaeologists and historians these days.)

The same holds true for many other traditional designs we use: there are the modern interpretations of the symbolism found within the patterns, and there is the archaeological and historical extrapolation of what it meant at the time of its creation. We use them here for cultural and artistic ties.

Could you make a set of... ?

Sets of a given item are possible, but remember: all the pieces are individually hand-made and hand-painted so no two pieces will or can be identical. Even pieces made in the same sitting will vary somewhat in height, width, and shape. They are not mass-produced from a mould and the designs, with few exceptions, are not from a stencil. Each piece of the set can be nothing other than unique, though obviously part of the set as a whole. For examples, please look here.

Do you take special orders?

Yes, we will. We are limited to the size of pieces as our kiln is only so big. If you would like a piece with your SCA device on it, we will need an image of it emailed to us. We then will be able to give an estimate of cost based on its complexity and the amount of work involved. To see examples of past custom pieces, please look here. Since every design is hand-drawn, we do not change a special fee for custom work.

How do you place a special order? Email us with what you are interested in, including design, colors, choice of clay,  sizes and shapes, types and number of pieces, any source information or references pictures you wish. we will reply with a quote and time estimate.

And for those businesses out there, yes, we do take wholesale orders. Contact us for a quote, and for more information read our brochure (PDF).

How long does it take you to make those things?

It depends on the piece, the weather and our current workload, but here is an overview. First the piece has to be formed from wet clay, a process that can take anywhere from a few minutes for  simple thrown forms to hours of construction over the course of days for large, multi-piece forms. After a piece is complete, it is allowed to dry out completely, which can be a day or two in the summer to weeks in the winter, weather permitting. Then the piece goes through a day-long firing in the kiln and another half-day cooling down, and it is ready for either under-glaze decoration or its final glazing. The pieces that are simply glazed must sit for a day to dry fully before entering their final day-long firing, but the pieces receiving under-glaze decoration must have their pattern penciled on before they are painted on then fired again for a day, and another half-day in cooling, to set the under-glaze. Only then will those pieces receive the final glaze and enter the final firing. After the kiln cools, the pieces are taken out, inspected, photographed, weighed, recorded, and ready for sale.

Do you use a stencil?

We very seldom use a stencil on our pieces, especially on the thrown pieces. Most decorations are individually drawn each time. Few pieces can take a stencil larger than two inches square. Tile projects are the main use of stencils, because they are the only surface flat enough and consistent enough for them a stencil to be of any use. Almost all other pieces have their design drawn on freehand. That is one reason why none of our pieces are exactly alike.

Where can I find your stuff?

See our Calendar page for a full listing of our events and the shops local to us you can find us in. You can contact us directly if you can't get to one of our events and we will see if we can help you.

What care does it need? Will the pattern wear off?

Wash them in your dishwasher, and don't worry. Our pottery is safe for the oven, microwave, and dishwasher. The patterns will not wear off since they are under the shiny over-glaze. Made to be sturdy enough for years of traveling to and from wars and feasts, we personally just layer our pottery dishes in napkins or hand towels for transport so they don't rattle about--and they generally go home in the ice-chest. We pack our stock in the table clothes you see them displayed on.

Do you have the rules to the games you make?

Yes, we have a page for the rules of the games.

How is the pottery made? Which of you does what?

Ready for the long and complicated answer, folks? Remember, this is a family business: keeping it in the family isn't nepotism--it's sound economic practice for us--outsourcing an activity would cost money. To use historical type terms in the creation of the pottery, we have the master, the journeywoman, and the apprentice. Each of us has our specialties and assigned tasks, but help out across jobs during impacted time schedules. Often our days start before 6am and may not end until after 10pm. Potters work to the time-table of the clay, not the one set by the clock.

The start of the journey of the creation of the pottery could be said to start with the delivery of the clay (yes, we get our clay pre-mixed so we know for certain there's nothing nasty in it and that the product is consistent). The journeywoman and apprentice, being younger and more fit, get the clay off-loaded and into storage. Every other day on average, a 25lb bag of clay is fetched in, generally by the apprentice. The journeywoman then cuts and weighs the clay hunks at the dictation of the master for the pieces to be thrown that day, handing them over in sequence to the master to throw, then taking the thrown pieces to be placed on the drying shelves. it is also the journeywoman's duty to keep the throwing water topped up, the throwing towel fresh, and any necessary reference images for the day's throwing visible. This keeps the throwing-productivity of the master high. Scrap from the pancake-thrown platters is taken away by the apprentice to make dice and eye-ball monster figurines. The apprentice is also responsible for clearing away clay build-up in the wheel-head.

Start of Throwing
Finished thrown forn with documentation it was based off of
Animated GIF of throwing

As the pieces dry, the journeywoman preps any handle material needed for the day's pieces, and when the handle material reaches the correct dryness the master pull it into the proper handle shapes--which then have to dry again before being attached. Once the thrown pieces have released from the batts, the Journeywoman hands the pieces to the master for attachment of multi-piece vessels, handles, and the application of the maker's mark. depending on the weather this initial drying time can be only a few hours or could be measured in days. If items such as Greek rhytons are being made, the hand-sculpted structures such as the animal heads are rough-formed by the journey woman for the master's approval, allowing the master to spend her greater skills in the fine sculpting and figuring of the pieces and the highly technical attachment of the heads to their thrown necks, and the delicate attachment of handles, ears, and other components. The journeywoman takes scrap from the handle attachment process and creates game pieces, pendants, and moulded dice. Some wares, destined for Italian or Middle Eastern designs, receive a coating of white underglaze at this point. Completed pieces are taken by the journey woman into the drying room, and once bone dry she loads the pieces into the computer-controlled Skutt eletric kilns. Generally, the master is busy during this process, painting on previously bisque-fired pottery. A few pushes of buttons, and the kiln fires itself to over 1850 F, an 8-16 hr process.

Once the kilns cool back down under 160 F (as little as 12 hrs after firing completes), the journeywoman unloads the kiln and brings the bisqued pottery into the work area. Generally, the master is busy during this process, painting on previously bisque-fired pottery.

Here is where is gets complicated: Small game pieces are immediately set aside to be high-fired. Larger game pieces and a portion of the pendants are sorted as to what color they are to receive and handed over to the apprentice to apply the color (underglaze) to. Carved game pieces, the rest of the pendants, and period wares are sorted as to what glaze they are to receive, their undersides waxed if applicable to prevent glaze from bonding the piece to the kiln shelf and set aside in the glazing room. Waxing is done with a segregated set of brushes by the journeywoman. Measuring cups are marked by the journeywoman, waxed and added to the to-be-glazed area. Generally and as usual, the master is busy during this process, painting on previously bisque-fired pottery.

Discussion of what design may go on a given vessel may start before the vessel is thrown or as late as when it comes out of the first firing. Custom pottery has a set design from the very beginning. Others may be period reproductions specifically thrown or otherwise built to receive a particular design...

...an interjection... The start of the journey of the creation of the pottery could also be said to begin with research. Some lines of research are based on customer requests--or tangents off those initial lines of inquiry. Some are based off the necessarily somewhat erratic acquisition of books on or containing references to or images of period pottery--books found by either the master or the journeywoman (or increasingly, brought to the our attention by our kind customers and friends, as it seems to be a trend that they have started in bringing us books). Customers and fans occasionally send us links to interesting pieces or to good museum websites, and it is the task of the journeywoman to sift through these and develop folders and files and bookmarked pages of the hazy goal of "good reference material" (and often used as a basis for her original artwork). While eyes are busy with screens, books... and painting... discussion of the research takes place constantly. It is from this pool of sifted reference material that the master will plan what to throw, what designs are to be applied to the grander wares, etc. Documentation write-ups are done by the journeywoman, who is more talented in writing (and because the master is generally busy painting).

...the remainder of the pieces are assigned designs "by committee" (though the master has the deciding vote): one or another of the team of three will point out a design out of stock, a popular one, a fascinating new design amongst recent research, or a perfect shape to which apply one of the journeywoman's original designs. It is the journeywoman's task to sketch the placement and layout of a given design, to a greater or lesser degree of detail, onto a piece using graphite (which burns away in the kiln). Sketches of very familiar designs are often rather cursory, while new or elaborate patterns may be redrawn multiple times before the piece is finished with the painting process.

Years ago, this process was simpler: the journeywoman drew and the master painted the designs with underglaze or with wax resist, but this is not the case anymore. With the addition of the elaborate painting of the Italian, Greek, and some of the Middle Eastern reproductions, the master is so, so busy with these skill-intensive paintings that the journeywoman is needed to do some of the less-skill-required underglazing such as the black ground of the Greek wares and some of the Middle Easterns, the wax-out patterns (though the master does the majority of the color inlays on the darker clays in that wax technique). An Italian platter can take 8-12 hours, or more, to paint with all it's delicate lines, elaborate detail, and finicky underglazes; this is master's work. Simple black designs like the Greek Octopus or the Iranian Tile pattern can be completed by the journeywoman's skills. Even this is a simplification of this stage of the process. Completed pieces join any pottery waiting to be bisque-fired.

Once the design is complete, most pieces require the design to be set-fired in the kiln to prevent the blurring of the painting when the glaze is applied. Simpler designs and wax-based designs are added to the collection to be glazed. Into the kiln the journeywoman puts the pieces again (generally, the master is still painting more pieces as she does this). A few button pushes and "Mr. Skutt" does the firing, which can take as little 4 hrs if there is no greenware in the kiln. (By the way, the master may take a break from painting to do more throwing, attach handles, or sculpt heads for rhytons...) Once the kiln cools to 160 F again, The journey unload the pieces, waxes the undersides to prevent shelf-stick, and spends several hours carefully brushing even coatings of glaze onto the pottery. Generally, the master is still painting more pieces while this is happening, as the painting takes more time than any other step.

This is the stage which requires the most care in loading the kiln, as the glaze will go through a state of being molten glass on the surface of the pottery, and molten glass is "sticky." When pieces "kiss" at this stage, the pieces become adhered to one another, the kiln shelf, or the kiln stilts, which is not fun. Though they often pop free, this leaves an extremely sharp defect that must be filed smooth or refired to repair. This is why the journeywoman does her best to avoid this--burnt fingers are one thing, but dripping blood is another. Need it be mentioned again that the master is painting during this? While the kiln takes 6-14hrs to get up to 2150 F and another 12+ hrs to cool, more throwing, drawing, and painting occurs...

When the pieces come out of the kiln this time, they are finished. The journeywoman unloads the kiln and photograph the pieces (to document what we have done)--while the master still continues painting.

The additional, non-ceramic tasks of the apprentice include: tech support, general fetch-and-carry, and keeping the other two "entertained" while they work.

glossary of terms

Bisque: (bisk) first firing, generally to cone 05; as in bisqued (fired once) or bisqueware (a piece that has undergone its first firing), not yet food-safe

Butterbells: also known as french butter dishes, the dish consists of two parts: the lower cup which is filled with water, and the inverted cup portion in which the butter goes.

Cone: kiln temperature ratings: lowest around cone 020 up to 01 then to cone 1 up to cone 10 or higher. Low-fire is generally cone 06 to 03, most clays are not yet vitreous. Mid-fire is cone 4 to 7, most clays become vitreous. High-fire is cone 9 and up, clays like true porcelain become fully vitreous and attain a fine high glass-like ring

Glaze: a thin coating of glass, applied before the final firing as a blend of powdered minerals mixed with water, either commercially bought or formulated in the studio

Greenware: clay not yet fired, anything from wet clay to dry

Grog: finely ground fired ceramic material added to clay to add strength and reduce shrinkage

Kylix: "a type of wine-drinking cup with a broad relatively shallow body raised on a stem from a foot and usually with two horizontal handles disposed symmetrically."

Pipkins: medieval cooking pots

Raku: pottery taken from the kiln red-hot and placed in burnables, like sawdust or newspaper, causing rainbow, crackle, or metallic finish glazes and turning the bare clay gray to black with the smoke; NOT food-safe

Rhyton: is a container from which fluids were intended to be drunk, or else poured in some ceremony such as libation. The conical rhyton form was known in the Aegean region since the Bronze Age, and elaborate animal-headed and figural ones developed later.

Sand: added to clay to add strength and reduce shrinkage

Slip: liquid clay, either for attaching pieces or decoration, used only on greenware

Sgraffito: a scratched or incised design; this is also the root word for graffiti

Skyphos: a two-handled deep wine-cup on a low flanged base or none. The handles may be horizontal ear-shaped thumbholds that project from the rim, or they may be loop handles at the rim or that stand away from the lower part of the body. Some have one horizontal and one vertical thumbhold handle.

Underglaze: colored, matte substance like glaze but with no melting agent, so it will neither seal the surface nor run, used to create designs

Vitreous: clay becomes stone-like and non-porous, suitable for food or drink when glazed correctly