How our terracotta tiles are made…
Our tiles follow the traditional handmade clay tile process which goes back to medieval times and beyond around the world, a process which is becoming rarer as each year passes.
As somebody who has worked in fine ceramics for many years, I find traditional ceramic processes fascinating, especially those which involve very little or no mechanization. Which is an excellent definition of ‘handmade’ – no machines!
Our tiles follow a complex two to three week process, which ensures that each tile is unique. Before this can begin, the clay is mined from local or regional sites, and then two or three different clays are mixed in small pits by hand and foot. After being mixed and left to mature for three to four days, the clay is then ready to be placed into moulds, which determines the shape of the tile. The use of two or three clays is crucial, as it creates a much stronger tile and leads to a more beautiful, smoother tile.
At this point, the ‘wet’ tiles have a high level of moisture, and need to dry slowly in the shade (but sometimes in the sun if it isn’t too hot), which takes five or six days. Depending on the climate, sometimes a small amount of water is added to the tile surface, to ensure that it doesn’t crack.
Once the tiles are sufficiently dry (at which point they are solid and very strong), they are packed expertly by hand into our specialist wood fired kilns. The tiles are fired for 3 days (72 hours), gradually building the temperature for 24 hours, until it reaches a maximum of 1000 to 1050 degrees celcius. In the final 24 hours, the heat is gradually lowered until the wood is burnt out, and a few days later the tiles can be removed from the kiln. The wood firing is very important, as it leads to the creation of many unique tiles, where the flames come into direct contact with the tiles.
Although there are many more minor details in the process, that is the age old handmade terracotta process that each tile follows. The only modern practices that I use are the occasional use of a clay grinder, and the development of an afforestation project to offset the use of wood in our kilns. So our tiles truly are as handmade as you can get, a process which I very much love and respect.