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Cheers to Handmade Mugs

Mugs are my most sold item. Am I surprised by that? Not really. I thought it might be interesting though, to do a deep dive into why mugs are the top seller for most potters, how they fit into our everyday lives and my thoughts on making everyone's favourite ceramic item.

A mug sat on a wooden table with a red herringbone blantet, pair of glasses, pastry on a plate and hadrback book.

Maybe there's room for one more

So, why do people buy mugs? From my experience selling at markets it's a pretty even split between buying for your own kitchen cupboard and buying them as gifts. Online it is harder to tell as you don't get that personal interaction but I think the lean is more towards gifting. For those buying for themselves, I think it tends to be more impulsive, they have picked it up... and not put it down again.

"My mug cupboard is full already."

The mug is still in their hands.

"I really do have too many."

Hands the mug over to me and gets purse out.

"This one will be my morning tea mug, I'll make the room."

Do you see what happened there? Mugs are the easiest pottery purchase to justify if you aren't in need of anything. They are so easy to fit into your daily routine, you know exactly what you will use it for. Especially if, like me, you are a "I have a different mug for each hot drink" type of person.

They can also be markers of occasions and milestones. New house? New mug. New Job? Your new desk needs a new mug. Fancy new coffee machine? Needs a fancy new mug.

green mug on its side on brown wrapping paper with scissors, paper tape and twine.

I think it is for similar reasons mugs make great gifts. You know there's a high chance your gift will be used, it is a ubiquitous kitchen item yet it can be made so personal as a gift from someone. "I got you this one because the glaze matches your kitchen perfectly and I know you love the colour." "I got you this one because it has ferns on it and it reminds me of that day we went for a long summer walk and got lost in the woods."

Mugs as part of ritual

Every morning, I come downstairs, give the dog her breakfast, then grind my coffee and pop the kettle on.

Every morning, I take the dog for a walk and then pop the kettle on.

Every evening, I take the dinner plates out and pop the kettle on.

Mugs of various hot drinks punctuate my day as it begins, as I change tasks and as each one ends. These are mostly personal rituals as I currently spend much of the day alone.

However when shared with others the offer of a hot drink becomes an act of kindness. I was recently in hospital for a minor day surgery and after each other person came out from their operation they were offered a cup of tea and a biscuit. Something to comfort them after what feels like a lonely ordeal, to bring them back to themselves as the anaesthetic wore off.

A handmade teapot pouring tea into a cup and saucer.

A mug of something warm is often the first comfort offered in times of stress and sorrow. It provides something to focus on, the pattern on the mug may allow for visual or tactile distraction perhaps. Of course, the contents of the mug soothes the soul too.

Mugs that break our hearts

I have used the same mug as my morning coffee mug for about 10 years now. It is sentimental, I bought it from Alford pottery in the town I lived as a child. That pottery formed my early fascination with throwing pots and it is a practical mug, it holds just the right amount of coffee to wake me up and the soft blue glaze soothes me into the day. The longer I use it the more precious it becomes to me and therefore the more terrified I become of my clumsiness finally sending the handle flying or chipping the rim. I have also just learned that this pottery is closing so the mug's replaceability would no longer be an option.

A pale blue Alford Pottery Mug

With this possibility haunting me, and having sold mugs to people replacing unfortunately damaged favourite ones , I think a lot about the material qualities of ceramics. Treated well they can survive for, well, thousands of years. I have seen whole, unbroken, ceramic pots in museums that are over 3000 years old. Yet it takes one knock or one drop and it becomes a lesson in letting go.

This is of course a biased thought as a maker and seller of mugs but my thinking is that a mug broken is an opportunity for a new, preferably handmade one to enter your daily routine. Perhaps the old one's handle was never quite right for your fingers, maybe it was a little too big or small. We can keep hold of sentimental feelings for the one that has gone and make space in our hearts for a new one.

Mugs in the Making

Probably by my third or fourth thrown pot I was learning how to add a handle and made a tiny (See: clay shrinkage) mug. In fact. even before this, on my induction to the ceramics workshop during my masters, I hand built a wonky, tiny mug. It sits on my shelves now as the grandmother to all the mugs that followed and a reminder that I began wanting to create pots to bring calm and nature into our everyday moments.

small wobbly cup and saucer with leaves drawn on

I have found making mugs both deeply enjoyable and equally frustrating over the years. There is so much to consider if you want to make a mug that functions and looks good. Adding the handle at the right time, the weight of the finished mug, the suitability of the glazing and many other aspects that have I honed throughout the years.

Let's look at the anatomy of a Ridge & Furrow mug and discuss the reasoning behind the design choices I have made and adjusted since I made my first mug in 2019.

A green mug with ferns drawing around the middle and a rounded unglazed base.

  1. The turned out lip. This is a feature on my morning coffee mug and I implemented it in my mug designs right from the beginning. The lip of the mug curves out to sit comfortably against your own lower lip as you take a sip.

  2. The comfy handle. Handles were my nemesis for a long time, I pull them directly off the mug and for a long time they were very thin and sat a little too far out of the mug. I had lots of comments about people preferring a thinner handle but I knew it needed to be comfortable too. So, here we have the spacious but balanced, slim but comfortable handle.

  3. Tactile decoration. As an avid reader I have always loved the tactility of spot gloss on the front cover of a book. The unglazed decoration on my work is partially inspired by this. I also like the earthy tone of the bare stoneware as it compliments the glazes so well.

  4. Toasty Edges. This is a feature of the clay and glaze combining to give warm hues at the edges of the glaze. It simply adds to the cosiness of the mug.

  5. A rounded bottom. The ultimate design addition for mug huggability. If, like me, you prefer to cuddle a hot drink, you will appreciate the way this sits in your palms.

There are very few mugs left in my shop at the moment so if this has convinced you that you can squeeze another on the shelf or perhaps that it's your gifting solution then pop over to the mug section of the shop here.

Two cups of fruity tea have been consumed in the writing of this blog post in my white fern mug (kept for myself because it cracked at the base of the handle after I knocked it before glaze firing). Oh and a cup of decaf coffee made with one of my filter drippers because writing the alt text for the images was getting to me.

A pour over coffee filter sat on top of blue mug. A gooseneck kettle is pouring into the top.

So, cheers to handmade mugs. Do you have a favourite mug? Do you prefer a different mug for each different drink? Let me know in the comments.

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