What is Earthenware Pottery?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

Earthenware pottery is a kind of pottery made from clay. It is usually white, beige, or red. This kind of pottery is popular because it can be hand made and is an enjoyable crafting hobby for many people. Depending on the skill and experience of the crafter, the resulting pottery can be quite simple, an object enjoyed for functionality and the natural beauty of its materials, or quite magnificent in its craftsmanship.

Earthenware pottery is commonly made in arts classes.
Earthenware pottery is commonly made in arts classes.

It is common for children and young adults to make earthenware pottery in arts classes and summer camps. This craft project is not just for young people, however. Small, simple kinds of earthenware can be made with very little equipment. A pinch pot, for example, only requires clay, water, and perhaps a small knife in order to score designs into the clay. More advanced kinds of pottery require a pottery wheel and materials to put a glaze on the pot.

Advanced pottery making requires a pottery wheel and materials to put a glaze on the pot.
Advanced pottery making requires a pottery wheel and materials to put a glaze on the pot.

A pinch pot is a kind of earthenware pottery that is made simply by using a pinching motion to shape a small mound of clay into the shape of a pot. A pinch pot is usually about the size of a small tea cup or even smaller. One of the keys to a pinch pot is making sure that the base of the pot is level so that it won't tumble about when it is set down on a flat surface. Some more advanced kinds of pinch pots have raised bases or even small feet.

A pottery wheel is especially important for tall bowls and vases as these kinds of earthenware pottery cannot be made using a simple pinching motion. Well, perhaps, they can, but it would be very difficult and tedious to make this work and the clay might begin to dry before the project is completely shaped. A pottery wheel spins the clay and allows the potter to get the most effect out of each motion. Using a pottery wheel takes skill, which can be learned through pottery classes.

For earthenware pottery that will be used to serve food or drink, it is important to glaze the clay after it has dried. This is because clay used for earthenware pottery is quite porous and therefore is unsuitable to contain foods and liquids unless it is glazed. There are a number of courses and even retail locations that specialize in glazing where novices can learn the process.

Earthenware clay is usually pulled from river beds.
Earthenware clay is usually pulled from river beds.
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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Discussion Comments


@lighth0se33 – Your piece sounds complicated. I had a lot of trouble getting the hang of the wheel in college, so I made mostly warped pieces on purpose.

There were a couple of projects that required me to make smooth bowls, but when the shape was left up to me, I went asymmetrical every time. I made a couple of disproportionate cylinders that resemble twisters, and I have been using them as pencil holders on my desk ever since.

There is something special about using earthenware pottery that you have made yourself. It may look funky to everyone else, but to you, it is special. I still look at my twisted cylinders sometimes and marvel that I made those.


I have several plant pots that are earthenware pottery. I like the natural look of these, because they seem to have risen right up from the earth.

I have a lot of red sand in my area, so the red pottery really does look like it came out of the ground in my yard. That is one reason that I grow plants in containers. The red earth is not good for plant nourishment.

The pots are heavy, and they will chip off in bits if you drop them on concrete. My dog pushed one big pot over, and I lost a sizable chunk of it.

I usually dig a small hole to rest the pots in out in my yard. They are less likely to tip over this way.


I majored in art in college, and I had to take a pottery class. I wasn't that skilled at three-dimensional art, but I did make a couple of large vases from clay that I still use.

I made a giant vase in three separate pieces. I used the wheel to make two small cone-shaped piece open at both ends and two large bowl-shaped pieces. After I had spun these out, I used extra wet clay, a knife, and my hands to seal them together.

The two cone-shaped pieces went on top and bottom, and I fused the two large pieces together in the middle. The vase is so huge that I can put flowering tree branches in it for decoration.


Raku pottery is my favorite. It goes through a complicated firing process that results in no two pieces looking alike.

The pottery goes through a series of firings and is cooled in water. It ends up with an iridescent glow that reminds me of a rainbow colored pool of oil.

I got to make some raku pieces in college. I made a bowl that turned out to be a deep purple filled with iridescent green and yellow. I had no idea what colors it would end up with, and that was the appeal of making it.


Having access to some kind of studio that has a pottery kiln can be a big help. The average person doesn't have something like a pottery wheel or kiln in their home.

Something like a kiln can be pretty expensive to purchase and maintain for an individual person. The first time I took a pottery class was in high school.

While I love unique, hand painted pottery, this is something I didn't enjoy that much. I am not a very artsy or creative person so didn't even know where to begin with this piece of clay in my hand.

I also felt like the clay left my hands feeling dry and cracked. For someone who loves pottery, this probably sounds crazy, but it just wasn't for me.

I will stick with buying pottery pieces that are already made by people who are talented and really enjoy doing it.


@julies - I understand your comment about enjoying working with clay. I volunteer in an after-school program for at risk kids, and pottery is one of the activities we have available for them.

For many of these kids, this is one thing they really look forward to every week. There is something about creating something with their hands that helps them work through some of the frustrations in their life.

We usually start out with pinch pots since that is so easy to do and gives them a good idea of what working with clay is like.

Once they get the hang of that, we move on to bigger and more complicated things. It is fun to see their confidence increase and their creative minds go to work.

When they realize they have taken a lump of earthenware clay and made something beautiful from it, it really helps them feel better about themselves.


The first time I took a pottery class I was hooked and found it very relaxing and therapeutic to work with clay.

I don't have any special pottery tools at home, but there is a pottery studio close to me where I can go "play" anytime I am in the mood.

This is a great place where you can go learn about pottery and design and paint some of your own creations.

This is perfect for individuals or for a special group like a birthday party. This was a big hit with my daughter and her friends for her birthday.

Prices are reasonable with some starting out at $5 and going up to more expensive pieces around $50, but you can choose anything in your price range.

Once you have created and painted your piece, you leave it at the studio and it will be ready to pick up in a week. After that, the pottery pieces are food safe and can be put in the dishwasher and microwave.


I think handmade pottery is special - whether you are giving it as a gift to yourself or someone else.

I have a set of earthenware pottery that I have purchased over time. There is a lady who has a pottery shop in a town about 60 miles from me. I could not afford to buy everything at once, so have purchased the pieces little by little.

The quality of her work is really professional, and I always get compliments on her pottery. These pottery pieces are much more unique than a set of dishes you would buy at most stores.

In addition to the dishes, I have bought a couple of pottery vases that match the dish set. When I put some flowers in the vases, this really makes the table place setting look special.

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