Purple Clay Teasets

There are different versions concerning the first time people making purple tea pots. Some believe that they were made as early as in the Song Dynasty, yet scholars prefer the Ming Dynasty. In the Ming Dynasty, making bulk tea promoted the development of purple clay pottery, At least, purple clay teawares from mid-Ming Dynasty were found in the area of Yixing.

The first known master of purple clay pottery was Gong Chun during the region of Emperor Zhengde(1506-1521), the Ming Dynasty. Gong Chun, whose original surename was Gong ( different tone), was a boy servant of scholars in his early years. It is said that when he was accompanying his master in JinSha Monastery, Yixing, he secretly learned how to make purple clay pot from an old monk. He made a tea pot, and the finished piece looked simple and lovely. Thus the pot became famous in a short time and people called it “ the pot of Gong Chun”. Therefore we can conclude that the development of purple clay pots from coarse handicraft to arts and crafts creation should be attributed to Gong Chun.

During the region of Emperor WanLi (1573-1620), the Ming Dynasty witnessed many master craftsmen of purple clay pottery, who had their own unique skills, especially Shi Dabin who represented the maturity of purple clay pottery making craft. At this time, there were 3 purple clay pottery models and each mode had its masterpieces. The pots followed the artistic and humanistic features of the models of copper, tin utensils and Ming style furnitures. This period was the first peak in the history of purple clay pot making. After the initial stage of prosperity in the Ming Dynasty, purple clay teaware saws its new peak. The Qing Dynasty witnessed a great increase in the skill of purple clay pottery making, which featured delicate pot base, orderly products and many master craftsmen.

There were more types of purple clay pots then, with different shapes and colors. Red and purple clay were mainly used with other colors like white, black, yellow, pear-skin and preserved egg. New skills in pot making and decoration emerged, so the royal palace also showed interest in purple clay utensils. They were made as tributes, and special pots with more delicate decoration appeared.

Craftsmen engraved flowers, birds, mountains, rivers, calligraphies and paintings on the potteries. They chose geometric shapes, so that they could have larger smooth part to display what scholars prefer, such as calligraphy, painting and seal cuttings. Purple clay pots carried more humane appreciation of beauty, which integrated literature, calligraphy, painting and seal cutting. They became both practical utensils and craftwork of appreciation.

Components and Types of Purple Clay

The main mineral compositions of purple clay are quartz, clay, mica and hematite. They are evenly mixed, which can be described as “clay-quartz-mica” with high iron content. The processed purple clay contains more quartz and iron, which looks purple and purple red. This clay is very plastic. After being fired, the utensil will have fine sand and smooth surface and the cross section of the pottery looks very delicate. Purple clay comes in many types, among which purple, red and green clays are mainly used to make tea pots. These 3 clays are found in different seams of ceramic clay. After processing, the finished products is called “nature color pot”. Under the ingenious arrangement of craftsmen, the potteries can have various colors, like begonia red, red purple clay, sunflower yellow, black green, white sand, light black, pear skin, bean green and new copper green. All these colors, plain and elegant, come from natural materials.

Types of Purple Clay Pots

There are mainly 3 types of purple clay pots: smooth pots, engraved pots, and tendon sack pots, each with many subtypes.

Smooth Pots

Smooth pots refer to geometric shape pots with smooth and plain surfaces. They can be divided into 2 types, round and square.

Round pots, the cross section of which is round or oval, have outlines combined by curves of different directions and curvatures. This kind of purple clay pots stresses an appropriate proportion between each part as well as the smoothness of curves. The pots stand detailed appreciation and manifest a lively and docile beauty.

Square Pots, which may be rectangle, hexagon or octagon, have outlines combined by ridges of surfaces or intersections. This kind of pots stresses orderly lines, surfaces, and distinguished outlines in order to show lively and powerful masculine beauty. Mitral valve pots, summon pots and ladle ridge pots were famous pot types in the Ming and the Qing Dynasties

Engraved Pots

Engraved pots, also called “carved pots”, mainly use engraving skills. These pots focus on vivid imitation of natural items, so that people will feel their marvelous arts when making tea. They come in 3 types: firstly, those pots with plant-like shapes, like plum blossom pots, pine tree pot and bamboo pot; secondly, those with fruit shape, such as pumpkin pot, chayote pot and lotus root pot; thirdly, those with animal shapes, like fish changing into dragon pot, also those with an animal-shape handle. In addition, some purple clay pots have anaglyph. Since the anaglyphs on the pots are outstanding, those are also categorized into engraved pots.

Tendon sack pots

Tendon sack pots are also called “tendon-line pots”. “Tendon sack” refers to curves like pumpkin ridges or chrysanthemum pedals on the pots. Then craftsmen take these separate “tendon sack” to make a pot. They have to ensure the sameness between the out surface and the inner part, the close and fitted mouth and the lid. These tea pots show a geometric and orderly beauty.

Storage and Maintenance of Purple Clay Teasets.

Daily maintenance is crucial in storing purple clay tea sets. In fact, a finished purple clay pot is very fragile and the spaces inside the clay became loose since the pot is fired. Thus, it may expand with heat and contract with cold. The maintenance of tea pots can improve its structural features. Some people treasure it and store the pot on a high shelf. This is actually ruining it. In fact, the purpose of maintaining the pot is to upgrade its “fragrance” and “brightness” and to show its elegance.

Purple clay pot will not look bright if collectors do not maintain it, no matter how outstanding the pot is. Especially those ancient pots with carved painting and calligraphy, they will have more stereoscopic patterns and elegant feeling after long time maintenance.

1.Both new and old pots should clear from dirt before use. Use boiling water to wash an old purple clay pot before making tea. When use a new pot, clean the inside and outside with water. Put the pot into a cauldron without grease and boil it with water. Add tea after boiling and extinguish the fire soon after. Use this temperature to simmer the pot. Take the tea out when the water is cooler and boil it again. Repeat this process 3 or 4 times. Then the clay smell will go away and it can moisten the new pot with tea at the same time.

2.Greasy dirt is the biggest danger to purple clay pots, so do not try applying oil to make the pot look brighter. Keep the pot away from oil when use and maintain it. Greasy dirt should be cleaned at once, or it will leave marks and affect its absorption of water. Use fine cloth soap to wipe it gently and lightly stroke it with hands to manifest its original look.

3.The more the pot is used, the more tea it will absorb. When the pot absorbs a certain amount of tea. The tea will permeate to the surface and give it a jade-like brightness. When making tea, the surface temperature of the purple clay pot is very high. Wipe it with wet cloth for many times until it cools down. Or pour the first round of tea in the cup and add boiling water into the pot. Then pour the water in the cup to the body of the pot in order to maintain the pot with tea. Stroke it gently with hands when the pot cools down. In addition, wipe the pot with the tea dreg in the pot to both clean the dirt on the pot and brighten its body.

4.Use a small soft brush or some clean cotton to wipe the pot when needed. Then wash it with boiling water and wipe the pot dry with a clean tea towel.

5.Some people leave tea dreg or water in the pot as they reckon this is good for the pot. Actually, after a period of time, bacteria will grow in the pot and emit odor and sour smell, which is harmful for both people and the pot. Clean the pot as soon as it is used by taking the dreg out and cleaning the inside and outside with hot water. Do not leave water stain or dreg behind. In addition, open the lid a little bit in order to dry the pot quickly as well as prevent it from having odor. If the pot is mildewed and smelly due to carelessness, fill the pot with boiling water after taking out tea dreg. Keep the boiling water for a while, pour it out and soak the pot in cold water. Repeat this process 2 or 3 times, then the odor will go away.

6.Give your purple clay tea pot a rest after using it for a period of time. Dry out the clean tea pot in a ventilated place. Try to seal the pot when storing. Try to avoid dust or grease in storing the pot, or the bright glaze may be damaged.

The Construction of Purple Clay Pot

The Lid: After finishing the pot, craftsmen should meet 4 requirement to make the lid and the mouth: straight, close, orderly and suitable. “Straigt” means that the lid should be made in a very straight shape so that when serving tea, the lid will not fall off. “close” refers to the tightness between lid and mouth, where even “a piece of paper or hair can not fit in”. “Orderly” means the shape of the lid and mouth must be orderly and easy to turn. “Suitable” implies the tendon patterned square (or hexagon/octagon) lid should be able to open and close smoothly. In other words, they fit each other closely without change of the pattern.

The Spout: It requires great skills to make a good spout. The length, thickness and position of the spout should be appropriate. Its inner wall must be smooth and clear to let water out fluently. When the user stops pouring water, a good spout will not drop and drip. The root of the spout, where water comes out, is easy to be stuck by tea leaves. Since the mid Qing Dynasty, craftsmen have made it into a net shape.

The Handle: Made for the people to carry the pot. The 3 main shapes are the level handle, the handlebar and the hoop handle.

The Body: The shaping of the purple clay pot, the main part of the pot.

The Feet: The feet are closely related to the stability of tea pots and its design affects the look of the pot. Therefore, craftsmen pay great attention to the design of this part.