What is Earthenware?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Earthenware is a type of pottery that is fired at low temperatures, which means that its mineral components do not vitrify, or turn into glass. As a result, it is porous and opaque, and it retains a rich clay color. Earthenware has been made for over 9,000 years all over the world, and it continues to be a popular type of pottery. Many traditional pottery styles use it, including brightly colored Mexican pottery, Japanese raku, and terra cotta.

Most earthenware classes provide the necessary facilities such as kilns and pottery wheels.
Most earthenware classes provide the necessary facilities such as kilns and pottery wheels.

The blend of materials in earthenware varies, depending on the region, but it generally includes minerals such as quartz and feldspar, along with ball clay, a very plastic natural clay, and kaolin, or china clay, a more mineralized form. These materials are ground so that they have an even texture, and they are worked on a wheel or by hand into the desired shape. Earthenware is first bisque fired and then fired again at a temperature which may be higher or lower, again depending on the style.

Earthenware clay is usually pulled from river beds.
Earthenware clay is usually pulled from river beds.

Plain earthenware is not watertight, because it is so porous. Terra cotta is an example of this type, and is left unglazed or lightly glazed for the purpose of growing plants. Pottery to be used as dinnerware and art is usually glazed for decorative and practical reasons. In the case of dinnerware, glazing prevents fluids from seeping into and through the earthenware, and the glazing is often quite colorful and beautiful as well. Art pieces made with this pottery may be glazed or covered in a thin layer of slip, a suspension of clays in water.

Often, earthenware has a radiant base color; the red of terra cotta is familiar to many people, but it can also be beige to cream, dark brown, or even almost black in some cases. This base color is determined by the clay which is used in the mixture. Often, the pottery is partially glazed to allow the natural color of the clay to show through, as is the case with raku.

Crafts made with earthenware are readily available, ranging from commercially produced dinnerware to Japanese tea sets which have been made by hand. Many beginning potters also play with it, since it is more forgiving than ceramic and finer clays. People who are interested in learning pottery can generally find classes offered at community colleges and art centers. These classes also provide the necessary facilities such as kilns and pottery wheels, allowing people to see whether or not they like pottery before committing to any serious investments.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


" Earthenware has been made for over 9,000 years..." What 9000?!


I am learning about earthenware at school and that it is fired at low temperatures, but that is all i know.


Earthenware is a wysiwyg medium, without the blessings from the fickle kiln gods that often save anotherwise mundane stoneware pot. A full mastery of the craft is required for good results with earthenware. Stoneware is probably a better medium for beginners. The clay is usually more plastic and acceptable results are more easily obtained. Of course, mastery is required for great results in any craft.


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