Earthenware (What is it? How is it Made?)

Discover the rustic beauty and practicality of using earthenware, its rich history, how its made and several sites that sell earthenware online.

Various clay earthenware on display at a store.

From porcelain to stoneware and other types of pottery, there are so many choices when you are choosing dishware. There are many options when searching for dinnerware, but four main categories stand out. When searching for your perfect set you should be aware of the differences between all four.

Your dinnerware can be made of ceramic, glass, porcelain, stoneware, or earthenware. All of these different types of sets fit into the four categories of server ware, dinnerware, silverware, and drinkware. No choice is wrong, but different options will fit different people better depending on their likes and dislikes.

Earthenware is glazed or unglazed pottery that has been fired below 1200°c or 2192°F. When fired at this temperature, earthenware is nontransparent and non-vitreous. Non-vitreous implies that the pottery is still soft and is able to be scratched with a tool to create designs or textures. Earthenware is most commonly used in roofing tiles, terracotta pots, and other low-fire ware.

Related: Bakeware | Types of Sculpting Clay | Types of Dishware | Types of Mixing Bowls | Types of Plates

History of Earthenware

Earthenware makes up most bricks that have been used to create buildings throughout history. Earthenware was also used to create most, if not all, of the pottery in Europe prior to the seventeenth century. Fired earthenware dates back to as early as 25,000-29,000 BC. Most early pottery in Greece, Rome, Egypt, Persia, and some parts of China was made of earthenware. After the boom of earthenware was over, stoneware made its way into history.

How is Earthenware Made?

A man creating earthenware on a potter's wheel.

Earthenware pottery is made by being fired at a temperature of 1200°c or 2192°F. The difference between earthenware and porcelain or stoneware is that it has not yet hit the point of vitrification. This means it has not turned into glass and can therefore have water flow through it or absorb it into it.

Earthenware can be covered in several different ways. It can be glazed, like many other types of pottery, or it can be decorated with a slip. A slip is a clay mixture that can be added to pottery prior to firing it. Although earthenware does not have to be glazed, for decorative and practical purposes it usually is.

Earthenware Uses

Earthenware can be used for many different things, especially around a home. The most common uses for earthenware include roofing tiles and terracotta pots and dinnerware. Earthenware is generally the most economical choice for dinnerware. It is not as hard as stoneware, however, which may make people shy away from it. Most tile that is used for roofs is also made of terracotta earthenware.

Pros of Using Earthenware

Various colorful and detailed earthenware on display.

First and foremost, if you love the environment, terracotta of any kind is a great choice. Terracotta has an earthy and natural quality that is attracting house moms and tree huggers alike. The manufacturing process of earthenware, especially terracotta, is very simple. The simplicity allows it to be much more eco-friendly than other options.

The process of terracotta is as simple as using clay to form a shape and then firing it in a clay oven. The process of making terracotta does not include any harsh additives or chemicals which is also a major plus for those of us who are wanting to pay more attention to what we surround ourselves with.

When terracotta is made correctly it can last a very long time. It can be added for both indoor and outdoor uses, making it versatile as well as durable. This makes sense, as we still find terracotta pots when digging up the remains of our ancestors. Terracotta pots and tiles can last a lifetime and beyond if crafted correctly, making it a perfect option for people who like to have home items for many years.

Cons of Using Earthenware

Due to the process of making earthenware at a lower temperature, it can sometimes crack or chip. When buying earthenware pots or dinnerware it is important to find quality products. If earthenware such as terracotta is not made correctly, it will chip. When terracotta is not sealed correctly it can absorb water, ruining your dishes or tiles. If not sealed terracotta will absorb water quickly.

This can be bad for both dinnerware and tiles in your home as the water may deteriorate the items faster. The absorption of water over time can cause terracotta to crack. This means that more maintenance is required for this material. Re-sealing terracotta is vital for longevity.

Because earthenware is a natural product it will differ in color. If you are using terracotta tiles in or one your home, it is important to recognize that all pieces will not look the same. Like brick, every piece is a little bit different. If you enjoy differentiation in colors with tile, this may not be a con for you. If you are going for an even look with little to no differentiation, earthenware is most likely not for you.

Where to Buy

Various Javanese desserts in earthenware pots.

Dinnerware

  1. 4-Piece Madera Terracotta Place Setting — CB2
  2. Tara, 12 Piece Dinnerware Set, Terracotta — Lulu and Georgia
  3. Terracotta Salad Plate, Handmade Pottery — Vaidava Ceramics
  4. Shift Burnt Lava Rectangular Stone Server — CB2

Pots and Planters

  1. Terra Cotta Porch Planter Cream – Threshold™ — Target
  2. Collette Handcrafted Floral Terra Cotta Planter — Pottery Barn
  3. Unglazed Mid Century Modern Plant Pot — The Potted Earth Co
  4. Pink & Terracotta Hanging Planter w/ “Dash” Design — Half Light Honey
  5. Hand Painted Black Raw Terra Cotta Planter — Sensibly Curated

Terracotta Tiles

  1. Terracotta Roof Tile — Ludowici
  2. Authentic Handcrafted Terracotta Tiles — Terramano Tile
  3. Floor and Wall Tiles — Marble Systems
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