It’s a stormy morning in October. British potter Rebecca Williams pulls on her boots and traipses out to her garden studio in Emsworth, Hampshire. It’s a small space which is home to her three electric kilns, and filled with racks of stoneware colanders, butter dishes and lemon juicers. Lately, she has been gathering driftwood on the shoreline, a five minute walk from her house. “It takes a long time to find each piece,” she says, as she turns over smoothed, sea-tossed wood in her hands. These select pieces of driftwood will become the handles of spoons created for TOAST, with hand-moulded ceramic heads.
The garden was empty when Rebecca moved into her home 12 years ago, having relocated to the area from Chichester, and she built the studio seven years later. “I’ve always liked a slower pace of life,” she says. “Emsworth is a small place, but there are independent shops, and I love to be by the coastline.” Her two border terriers, Bertie and Rosie, accompany her on strolls to the harbour each day. Bertie is in the studio with her, sitting contentedly alongside the shelves stacked with ceramics, and Rebecca’s three kilns. “It suits me to have three smaller kilns rather than one large one,” she says. “I only want to fire them when they’re full. If the kiln isn’t full, the pieces inside will react differently. It’s also a way for me to reduce firings, which are energy intensive.”
Each piece she creates is defined by her signature – a chalky white shade. “I make the glaze myself from clay, dolomite, feldspar and tin. It’s not soluble, it’s all in suspension, so you have to keep stirring it to make sure it doesn’t settle,”says Rebecca. It’s the common thread that links each one of her pieces, and is so specific that she consistently uses the same suppliers for the materials. “Most potters will have many different types of glazes, but for me, it was never about creating lots of different glazes. It was always about the form.”
It was about five years ago that Rebecca started creating ceramics for a living. “It started as a taster course at a local studio,” she says. TOAST New Maker alum, Blue Firth, happened to practise alongside her. During that time, Rebecca was working in a corporate marketing job. “I thought I loved it, but it started to make me stressed. After I had my children, I never went back.” Pottery was just a hobby at first, before the ceramicist who was teaching her encouraged her to open her studio for the local Arts Trail.
When Rebecca first started pottery, she worked in porcelain, and has since moved exclusively to stoneware. “It was hard to work with two different clays, because they would get accidentally mixed together on the bench, or the wheel,” she says. Clay is weighed out on her vintage set of scales. “I don’t know how accurate it is compared to modern ones, but because I use it consistently I know exactly how much clay I will need for a butter dish, even if it’s not a standard measurement.”
For her most recent TOAST driftwood spoons, she rolls small pieces of clay into spheres, before hollowing them out with a pointed wooden tool. After being bisque-fired, they’re dipped in her glaze and fired again, emerging a soft, shell white. Finally, a wooden dowel is hidden within the head and the driftwood handle, securing them firmly together. Creating the spoons is a lengthy process, governed by the tempestuous nature of the sea and what it chooses to offer up. “Gathering the driftwood has been a six-month process, and it’s given me a new appreciation for the coastline.”
Interview by Alice Simkins Vyce.
Photographs by Maria Bell.
Rebecca wears one of our dresses from a previous collection.
Shop the Rebecca Williams Driftwood Spoon.