Saturday, 12 March 2016

Emma Bridgewater factory tour

I love collecting cups, mugs, teacups, saucers and teapots, so when I knew there was a chance of a tour around the Emma Bridgewater factory I was delighted. The other week I was fortunate enough to be able to go on one of the morning tours around the factory and was astonished by the whole process of creating some of our favourite pottery. Up until this point I had been quite ignorant as to the mechanisms of how the pottery is created. I was left in awe at the sheer craftsmanship and skill that it took to create each piece individually. 

It all started with a teacup & saucer 
The Emma Bridgewater factory is located in the heart of pottery making, Stoke on Trent. It is directed by Emma Bridgewater and her husband Matthew. The whole collection is hand painted and the process to actually creating our favourite pieces is long and extensive. There is a firm guarantee that your product will have had time, care and patience put into it. Emma has said that her eureka moment came when she was hunting for a teacup and saucer as a present for her mother. She said she couldn't find anything that she could picture in her mother's kitchen, thus came the idea to start designing pieces that could belong in any home yet still maintaining British tradition  I was eager to go and see for myself the process of how the pottery that ends up on our kitchen tables is created. I mean if it's good enough for Kate and Wills to visit, then it's good enough for me!






An early start
The day started in the seconds' store, which is where anything that doesn't meet the rigorous standards test is sold at a slightly reduced priced. These items are considered not good enough to sell in the main store, however this is from a professional eye and if I am completely honest, on 80% of them I couldn't see the errors. The seconds' store is a great way to build up your Emma Bridgewater collection fairly quickly for a little less. 

Part of the seconds' shop
When 10am came we then proceeded with the tour which goes up to groups of 15. Although due to it being a weekday and the earliest tour slot, there were only 4 of us! Our tour lady Julie was highly informative and the knowledge she had of the entire company and each department was amazing.

Locally sourced clay 
The first step of the lengthy process is the slip casting. Which involved mixing the clay in a machine delightfully called the blunger. The clay is all sourced from Britain from Wales, Cornwall and Staffordshire.   


The blunger machine AKA the machine that mixes the clay.

The mould & liquid clay 
The next stage is to fill the mould with the liquid clay. The clay absorbs moisture from the slip and depending on the pattern is left to set to a certain thickness; this can take between 15 minutes to an hour. This has to be done very precisely as giving the clay too little or too much time can result in the piece being unable to proceed to the next step. However silver linings and all - the clay can be reused!

Filling the mould with the liquid clay.
The pottery setting ready for the sponging and fettling department. You can notice which ones are nearer to being ready by the colour - the darker it is the more set it is. 
Some of the pottery that doesn't meet the standards to proceed to the next step. We were allowed to smash a few as we walked past; releasing some pent up anger!
Making it perfectly smooth
After the piece has been left to set it is taken through to the sponging and fettling department, which gets rid of the seams and makes it perfectly smooth ready to be decorated. They are then baked in the kiln at 1000 degrees!

The sponging process.
What struck me the most was the craftsmanship of how each piece was individually handmade. There is something so personal and traditional about knowing how much time and effort has been put into your piece. The staff were all beyond friendly and helpful, they were also more than happy to have photographs taken and explain their individual role further.


A traditional method
The patterns are transferred onto the products by a method called sponging, which was a decorative technique used in the 19th century. The sponge is synthetic and the pattern is done using a soldering iron, which we were told is done by one lady for the entire company (of course there are stand ins for when she is away!) Some of the designs are so intricate and detailed that it takes an enormous amount of skill and patience to solder each sponge individually.

Unfortunately we were not permitted to take any photographs in the decorating department due to the fact they work on their designs months in advance. The company like to keep the secrecy of new products as it keeps the excitement and magic of them coming out.

A biscuit without a brew?
Decorating the pieces also requites a skill of consistency, patience and an eye for perfection. The sponge patterns are placed onto the pieces which are known as biscuit. When it is called biscuit it basically means before it has been glazed! The biscuit is incredibly absorbent and the paint will be absorbed into the pottery immediately. 

 The difficulty of the design depends on how many sponges and colours are required for that piece; the more there are the longer the piece will take. 


The finished decorated pottery ready to be stamped and glazed. 
Reaching high standards
Each piece is stamped with the signature of whoever decorated it (so I guess you can't escape if you do make an error haha). It is then dipped in a glaze for the finish and baked in the kiln for the last time. Before you can buy it the pieces are checked for blemishes to ensure that they are up to the high standards the company demands. 

They passed! The lucky ones who made it to the finale of being in the top shop. 
A new found appreciation and admiration
I have to admit I came away from the tour with admiration to the brand, the products and what they stand for. To people who may question the prices for being too high, you have to understand the amount of time and dedication goes into each piece of pottery. The British handmade quality speaks volumes. 

Tea & cake by a polka dot Aga, what more could you want?
After the tour had concluded we decided to stop in at the quaint cafe situated in the middle of the seconds' store and the main store. The cafe was completely decorated with Emma Bridgewater (of course) which was surrounding the grand Aga which stood in all its glory. It was really lovely that your drinks and food are served in the Emma Bridgewater pottery. Again this is something I highly doubt you would get from many companies and it just added the British vibe of drinking tea from a teapot and eating cake from a cake plate with a fork. 
The amazing polkadot Aga!

The cafe kitchen feel decor. 
A very British cup of tea, carrot cake and a hot chocolate with the works; all served with various delightful Emma Bridgewater designs.

My favourite Emma Bridgewater collection
My personally favourite Emma Bridgewater range would have to be Rose & Bee.  I adore florals and there is something so pretty and chic about this range. It reminds me of something you would find in a country farm house. The roses are sprinkled around and pulled together by a blue Persian border. I also learnt on the tour that the bee's are placed in various different places on the items to add a unique finish! As well as pottery there are now tea towels, tins and even bedspreads with this design which is perfect if you're like me and obsessed with it!


The Rose & Bee collection in the shop amongst the Pink Hearts collection. 

The start of my own collection
A quick look around the main gift shop only made my love for Emma Bridgewater grow more. The quintessential English vibe brought an element of tradition yet the pieces were so flexible they could be used in any decor - from traditional to modern. I think that is what makes Emma Bridgewater so special and unique as a company, the pieces are versatile and are designed for living.

I couldn't leave the day without buying my own piece from the seconds' store; and when I saw a black and white cat mug I knew it was the perfect find for me. I think I love it so much because it reminds me of my own cat Scrappy with that cute little smile (yes I am slightly obsessed with my cats!)



Overall I would recommend the tour to anyone as for £2.50 per adult you get a wealth of knowledge and appreciation to the world of design and craft. Also if you do decide to buy from the shop you can use your ticket to get the £2.50 taken off your purchase; as if you needed a reason anyway to buy something...

I think this could be the start of a whole new collecting adventure for me!

Emily xox 
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8 comments

  1. This is such a lovely post. I enjoyed going on the tour by reading about yours. The designs are beautiful ☺ x
    Sharon from rosieloveslife.blogspot.com

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  2. This looks really good, would love to do it! That polka dot Aga is amazing!! x

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  3. what a great post. Loving the cat mugs too as I have a cat with similar markings. Only Wishing the Emma Bridgewater factory was closer.;)

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  4. How fab! I wish this wasn't so far away as it'd be fab to do with my Mam. EB has a piece of my heart from right back during my 1st ever job over 10 years ago. I don't actually own any myself as I'm far too scared to break anything but I do buy it for my Mam and Dad :)

    Really, really enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing.
    xo

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  5. Aww I love Emma Bridgewater! That cat mug is too cute :)

    X Emma | www.missemmacharlotte.com

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  6. Love the Emma Bridgewater China especially the little dinky coffee mugs they do. That was a really interesting post, I loved it! I'd love to go there myself.

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  7. I've just got into EB with my first lot of sale items - I went for Black Toast, Black Wallpaper & Marmalade. Have a feeling it's going to become an addiction eek x
    Charlotte
    www.thehomethatmademe.com

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