Ceramic use and Tablecloths

I have been caught up on notion of how ceramic tableware is used when tablecloths are present; particularly as there is a distinct lack of both ceramic and tablecloth in convenience restaurants.

The History of the Tablecloth website makes some very clear points about the tablecloths continuing importance in dining culture. Key points to take from this are :

  1. Recording of first tablecloth mentioned in c.103 AD.
  2. Used for catching spills- some tables were too ornate to be disguised by fabric.
  3. Tablecloths were used by all from Middle Ages onwards.
  4. White tablecloths were a sign of status- having enough staff to keep them clean and bright.
  5. The rich would have bespoke tablecloths to fit their grand tables.
  6. …although multi clothes were used to cover very large tables.
  7. Linen was expensive, often obtaining the stature of a family heirloom.
  8. In later centuries the tablecloth was decorated with luxury fabrics like lace and embroidery.

Having looked also at this ceramic piece from the Holburne collection for another project I am working on, I was interested to find out that the tablecloth would be removed before dessert.




Was this for cleanliness? Or an opportunity to show off your table and your linen? Does the length of the tablecloth have a historical/social significance?

As ceramics disappears from all manors of eating establishments, it is interesting that ceramic tableware and tablecloths remain united in fine dining establishments and at home. Could this link be made even more inextricable or combined even?

In a bit to understand this further I have begun to create a ceramic tablecloth – an object that could harness the decadence and practicalities of ceramics and tablecloth combined.

In order to achieve this successfully the signifiers for a tablecloth are:

  1. Folds/gatherings
  2. Creases (sometimes)
  3. Hem
  4. Draping over the surface edge

This maquette for a larger tablecloth has provided a clear insight into the practical difficulties in achieving a clay version of fabric.


  • Thickness
  • Draping/cracking
  • Crispness/ironed effect
  • Drying/firing

What’s also interesting is that the wet clay will record any human interaction. The idea of creating a raw tablecloth, using it for a dining experience and making this record permanent through firing may provide evidence into the social motions and movements of our tableware as we eat.

Are there patterns to our dining culture? Is lunch different to dinner and so on?

Update – 5 May 2016

Using a porcelain slab I wondered whether it would be possible to create a tablecloth and plate combined, uniting both functions in one.


Getting over the slump

I’ve been a bit stuck the past couple of days, unable to see truth or purpose in any of the work I have been making. In order to move on from this I’d like to summarise what I know about eating culture and what I have been able to observe and determine from my research?

  1. Convenience food is dominating lunch times.
  2. Convenience restaurants are suited to ‘on the go’ lifestyle; quick service and public (bench) seating.
  3. Convenience food is fast.
  4. Convenience food is eaten off premises.
  5. Convenience food is eaten on premises in disposable packaging.
  6. Convenience packaging is single use.
  7. Convenience food is mass produced.
  8. Convenience packaging is mass produced.


  1. Ceramics remains prevalent at home and full-service dining.
  2. Ceramics is being replaced in all other places aside from those mentioned above.
  3. Ceramics is often used with a table cloth.
  4. Ceramics is often used with slow food.
  5. Ceramics is often made for Michelin restaurants.


  1. The knife is disappearing from English eating habits.
  2. Paraphernalia is used to match the culture (chopsticks, spoon, hands, bread) when dining out.


  1. I love eating out.
  2. I love cooking.
  3. I use paraphernalia to match the cultural roots of the food (chopsticks etc) even at home.
  4. I set out a full place setting but often the knife goes unused.
  5. I cook dishes from different cultures and chefs.
  6. I’m currently interested in Yotam Ottolenghi – his food is great and his cultural capital is vast. (Gay Jew from Jerusalem, string of London restaurants, recipe books, writes for the Guardian)
  7. Cooking food from chefs I perceive to have integrity adds to my cultural capital.
  8. I tell people about recipes they should attempt.
  9. I cook nothing from Anthony Worrall-Thompson or Gary Rhodes.
  10. I have a guilty pleasure for McDonalds and KFC but cant face eating it publicly.
  11. I buy my food from Aldi, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and local independent retailers.
  12. I feel comfortable telling people I buy from the aforementioned retailers. 
  13. I’d love to be vegetarian.
  14. I can’t digest vast quantities of dairy without embarrassing myself.


I dont eat:

  1. Dairy from cows – cheese, milk, ice cream, butter.
  2. Cucumber.
  3. Black pudding.
  4. Olives.
  5. Cold cured meats like salami.
  6. Pork.

Potential ideas from this reflection on action

  • Ceramic food in disposable packaging – slip coating disposable packaging didn’t work as mentioned in the previous post. If the packaging cant be ceramic, maybe the food can. 
  • Portraits of people from what they don’t eat; highlighting the middle class obsession with dietary disorders and the  moral high ground of food origins. (Veganism, buying local, responsible products)
  • Highlighting the connection between the remaining constant link of ceramics and tablecloths. 

Chopsticks and Signifiers

When I began making my own press-mold porcelain chopsticks (from previous article), I thought a pair of two same length sticks would be enough to quantify as chopsticks.

The pair of porcelain sticks perform exactly like chopsticks (as seen below), they can lift food from one place to another. But they are difficult to recognise as chopsticks when not in action.

So what signifiers does a chopstick possess that informs the viewer of its authenticity?

This video, following the making method of wooden chopsticks provided some key insights.

In this video the man makes two chopsticks cut from a tree on his own land. Important stages in this process include:

1) two lengths of the same material

2) two lengths the same size

3) tapered ends

4) decoration (somewhat minimal)

So if I am to produce objects that can be recognised as chopsticks I must achieve all four signs.

Potential, and ultimately minimal, decoration could be achieved with a simple enamel glaze in the traditional porcelain style of blue and white.

Similarly I am attempting methods to refine the tapering process in order to achieve desirable objects. Potentially these objects could bring opportunities for ceramics to be used in conjunction with convenience meals.

Making the Disposable Indisposable

In a bid to unpack how a lack of ceramics from convenience restaurants is impacting our eating culture I started to collect convenience packaging from lunches.

From past experience I had known that certain materials can be dipped in slip, fired and turned into ceramics – something permanent. My attempts are as follows:

The paper container adhered well to the slip, only offering a few cracks thankfully. However, the water resistant cups were less receptive to a coating of slip; the severe cracking clearly visable and destroying any resemblance to the objects original form.

I for one have become someone who devours instead of eats; so by turning the actual container into ceramics, I hope to comment not only on the disappearance of ceramics, but making a ceremony from what has become an insignificant experience.

Update: 19th April 2016

I had hoped that the coats of slip would stay in tack enough to be glazed for strength. Unfortunately, despite several coats of slip the pieces are decadently fragile.


With further reflection I would have to battle with the very nature of this process in order to get even vaguely suitable results. My concern is that the nature of this process is terribly unreliable and would often produce inferior products. It seems likely that I will shelve this process and seek alternative routes to express the disappearance of ceramics alongside slow eating.



Is Ceramic Tableware Disappearing?

My recent experience at The Little Fish and Chip Shop in Southwold, alongside dining  at Friska and other convenience restaurants (fast food outlets and cafes), made me realise that the desire for disposable tableware is having a significant impact on our dining experience.

I’ve been on an Easter break the past two weeks and have used this time to visit friends on different coastlines. The emerging spring weather has afforded me the opportunity to dine alfresco and the go to dish is fish and chips.

Arriving on the Isle of Wight a friend and I headed straight to the best chippy we knew, Corrie’s Cabin. Despite the extra financial cost, I was surprised to see that I was being served my meal in a polystyrene tray. Now, coming from the Isle of Wight I know that it can be a bit behind the times, but I would have thought that the best chippy in Cowes (one that goes so far as to make it own tartare sauce – demonstrated below) would have been thoughtful enough to consider the appeal of its takeaway packaging.


Alternatively, The Little Fish and Chip Shop placed most of its contents in degradable, branded packaging. Situated in an affluent seaside town the shops decor of copper topped tables, blackboards and graphic logos demonstrated a clear, almost tangible ethos. I knew that I was going to get my grub thoughtfully wrapped.


This meal was the extreme of disposable delights. Having travelled by car/train/ferry to my Easter holiday destinations the range of meals consumed from ports, service stations and supermarkets was dramatic. Staying with friends and having some poor weather meant it was also desirable to order food in. An insight into my two week break food intake looks something like this:

  • Sainsbury’s x 3
  • Tesco x 2
  • Waitrose
  • Fish and Chip shop x 2
  • Domino’s Pizza
  • Indian (Takeaway)
  • Chinese (Takeaway)

So that’s 11 dining experiences where disposable packaging was used to serve my meal. I ate out a great deal too, but all of these meals were served on ceramic tableware – the fad for slate thankfully seems to have passed. Ceramics clearly retains a sense of permanence in evening restaurants, commonly accompanied with table cloths. Where tablecloths have been removed I have experienced meals served on wooden boards, metal trays and enamel dishes.

As I articulate my experience here is does seem that ceramics is disappearing from our daily eating culture; grabbing a sandwich from Sainsbury’s, sushi from Tesco or a Hotbox from Friska, we no longer need ceramics in our busy lives…at least at lunch time.

Post Update: This picnic (consumed 17 April 2016) is testament to the lack of ceramics being used. Some foods were assembled at home, whilst others were purchased spontaneously from a supermarket.