Each unique item of Venus & the Cat premium fine bone china homeware goes on a remarkable journey, from its initial inception on a sketchpad all the way to your home. Appreciating a mix of machine and century-old traditional hand crafting techniques, each item passes through over 20 pairs of skilled hands during the various stages of creation, utilising the skill base of over 130 years of handed-on experience, offering the sustainability of fully English made luxury fine bone china products.
The modelling department is the starting point for any bespoke product development. Technical drawings are produced in the first instance for any new concept, to allow for the required size and capacity definitions. Using a traditional lathe or hand engraving techniques, plaster models of shapes are physically made 13-14% larger than the anticipated product size to allow for the firing shrinkage of clay to biscuit firing in production. The original models (masters) are then used to make blocks and cases typically out of rubber or metal, moulds for production are made from these forms.
Working moulds are needed to produce any new and existing homeware.
Using a mixture of plaster of Paris and water a liquid form is poured into rubber blocks and cases. After 30 minutes the plaster of Paris solidifies, forming the mould within the case. The newly formed moulds are released from the case and given typically another 3-4 days of drying time.
Hand Bench Casting
Bench Casting is the process of shaping bespoke, limited run pieces. Using a liquid clay that is mixed in blungers, bench or hand casting allows the creation of more complex bespoke shapes. The clay slip is poured into the mould by a controlled gun and allowed to dry between 20 and 30 minutes before any excess slip is poured away, any waste is recycled back into the blungers. Because of the nature of casting the mould shapes used can be anywhere from 3 to 6 pieces and for each piece of mould this will typically leave a mould line that will then be individually fettled and sponged away.
Fettling and Sponging
From the bench cast processes, each item's seam lines are carefully and skilfully removed. Hand fettling and sponging is a traditional technique that removes rough edges and any seam lines caused by the number of pieces used to make up the mould, depending on the complexity of the cast piece. Firstly using a sharp metal hand tool, the excess rough seem line or edge is scraped away, then using a small wet sponge (usually on a stick) the fettled areas are smoothed over removing any trace of the cast lines. Shaped sponges are used for different areas of the piece to allow for the smallest and obscure areas to be cleaned.
Biscuit Firing is the first heat work that the Fine Bone China piece has which takes the clay from soft to a hard form. The clay wares are placed onto kiln trucks with spacing between the individual items, the biscuit firing produces temperatures of 1240 degrees over a 14-hour firing schedule, the heat work effectively burning the moisture out of the clay body of ware. The Fine Bone China body will shrink between 13% and 14% in the firing, so each piece of holloware is sat in a high temperature refractory called a ring to help maintain the shape of the items within the biscuit firing schedule.
The noisy area of the manufacturing process, but a very important one to remove roughness from the biscuit firing. Using small 4 mm square pieces of wood and stone mixed into a continuously rotary moving and vibrating machine, all the biscuit fired pieces are fed through the Vibro machines. The mix of stone and wood exfoliates the hardened biscuit pieces, removing any excess bits from the firing process and producing a smoother body ready for the glazing process. Any firing cracks or nipped pieces are selected and turned out at the Vibro stage, rather than being passed to the next stage of production.
Hand dipped glazing
Hand dipping glaze onto biscuit ware is a highly skilled and traditional manufacturing process. The smooth white finish associated with Fine Bone China comes from the glaze that is applied to the biscuit body. The glaze is a liquid glass, applied by hand dipping. Hand dipping is typically used on holloware where the physical piece is dipped into a tub of liquid glaze by hand with any excess glaze removed by shaking away with a skilled and consistent handshake movement. Once dipped, the piece is sent through a drying conveyor belt ready for firing.
All Holloware once glazed are then fired in intermittent glost kilns to melt the glaze onto the pieces.
The freshly dipped or sprayed pieces are individually placed on refractory batts on the glost intermittent kilns and fired at 1080 degrees over several hours. Each piece has part glaze removed from their bottoms to stop the glaze melting and sticking to the refractory during firing. The heat process melts the flux and silica oxide present (the main glass former of the glaze) creating an impervious layer over the biscuit pieces. The cooled fired kiln generates the beautiful white translucent finish synonymous with Fine Bone China.
All pieces from the kiln firing are then sent for glost selection. Each individual piece that has gone through the various stages of manufacturing thus far are selected and checked over to make sure that the white glazed pieces are fault free. Any pinhole or impurities caused by the glost firing are graded and passed either through to the next stage of decoration as best ware or back through the re-working process to mend the faults and return them to a best form. Any unrepairable pieces are turned out and marked as seconds.
The bespoke commissions from Venus & the Cat’s street artist collaborations are then silk screened from the original works and transferred onto the white glazed China. Silk screen printing involves printing multiple layers of colour through a fine polyester mesh directly onto a gum backed water slide decal paper. Each colour printed is a finely ground glaze frit that when fired fuses to the glaze of the piece, forming a durable product. Each colour printed is hand mixed to match to the original artwork.
The decorating firing is the adhering of any printed decal, such as the back stamp, to the glaze of the Fine Bone China pieces. The wares, once they have been decorated, have to be fired to anneal or fuse the decorations to the glaze of the China pieces. Pieces are fired in intermittent decorated kilns to 850 degrees over a period of 5-6 hours, this heat work during the firing process allows the glaze of the white ware to slightly melt and open up, in turn frit of the colour also melts to fuse to the white glaze which gives a permanent and encapsulated finish to the decorated decal and precious metals.
And so, after a rigorous, detailed, highly skilled process of creation a Venus & the Cat item of homeware is ready to find its new home.