Focus on the making of the compost pot: interview with Etienne Drouilly from Potteries of Amance

While it took several years of work to perfect the system and design of the composter flowerpot, manufacturing the terracotta object requires serious everyday know-how. Etienne Drouilly, co-director of Poterie d’Amance, discusses the steps of pot making in this interview. From the development of his slip to the cooking of the piece, this traditional craftsman makes 100% French. An approach that makes sense and that touched the DNA of Transfarmers.

Etienne Drouilly fabricant du pot de fleurs composteur

Can you describe your background to us?

I had a classic career as a ceramicist. Three years in ceramic modeler school in Longchamp where I studied the design of molds and products. An internship where I was able to work more on the decoration and enamelling of ceramic objects. And finally, a training in enamel making in Switzerland before joining the Amance family pottery 30 years ago.

A few words about Amance Pottery?

Founded in 1892 by the Alsatian Vingerver family with the aim of exploiting the surrounding sandstone deposits, the small pottery-tile workshop only made utility objects in sandstone. Bought in the 1930s by my grandfather, pottery has grown. At that time, only terracotta flower pots were made there. But after the oil shock we had to develop and design more everyday products. Since the 1980s, horticultural potters no longer exist and we have adapted our production to current demands: tiles, tiling, garden pots with ridges, decorative accessories, etc. Today, we have mastered 7 different manufacturing methods, including prototyping, modeling, manufacturing, enamelling, decoration. Everything is done on site with respect for the traditions of French craftsmanship. We are also proud to be one of the few brands with the Living Heritage Companies label.

What type of craftsman are you? How do you work?

I strive to carry on the traditions passed down by my grandfather and which I in turn pass on to my daughter. My brother David and I work together and are part of a group of associate ceramists to meet various demands. We synergize our know-how with those of two other local partners in order to produce more and better. By making our own clay and our products from A to Z, we produce 100% French.

What are the characteristics of your red clay?

Our red clay is the land of Champagne. Today, very few ceramic companies use their own clay to make their objects. The quarry we operate offers us an artisanal clay with little iron oxide content, whose light and light color differs from industrial clays.

We harvest the soil and let it dry outside for 1 year before sheltering it in a shed for another year. We then powder it before adding water. This is what will create the slip that will be used for the pouring. Our earth is more resistant to cooking. In France, we are about thirty ceramists to have our quarry and only 3 or 4 to manufacture our slip.

What are the main steps in the production of your composter flowerpot?

In the morning we assemble the molds and fill them with the slip. For 4 to 5 hours, the mold will suck in the water and the earth will settle all around the plaster matrix until it forms the contours of the part. Stir well and watch the thickness of the wall of the pot that forms before removing the excess material.

In the evening we prepare the parts which will be unmolded the next day. Once unmolded, the jars dry in the open air for 4 to 5 hours. During this time, my brother and I carry out the finishes by hand (remove traces of the mold, stamp the logo, cut the openings of the composter flowerpot, sponge the pieces …). The jars will stay at room temperature for 6 days before baking for 18 hours.

What were the main constraints and difficulties you encountered? And what solutions have you found?

La forme est très complexe et cela crée beaucoup de tensions et de déformations notamment au niveau des bouches.

temperature et temps de sechage a surveiller dans l'atelier de fabrication du pot de fleurs composteurNous coulons dans un moule en plâtre à ciel ouvert, ce qui a comme particularité de former l’extérieur de l’objet mais pas l’intérieur. Les pots ne séchant pas de manière uniforme dans le haut et dans le bas, nous avons dû créer un nouveau moule tenant compte de ces différences de séchage. Nous surveillons le temps de séchage comme le lait sur le feu. Les pots ne doivent pas sécher trop rapidement au risque de se fendre. En 2019, nous avons d’ailleurs perdu une très grosse partie de notre production pendant la canicule. Il nous faut trouver l’équilibre parfait entre le temps et la température de cuisson (plus la température est élevée, plus la pièce est solide mais plus elle perd en porosité).

Nous travaillons avec de la matière vivante et créons notre propre argile qui présente des variations d’une fois à une autre. C’est un paramètre supplémentaire avec lequel il faut composer !

In total, how long and how many tries to get the Compost Flowerpot?

Empilement de pots composteurs en terre cuite dans l'atelier de la poterie d'AmanceDes centaines de pots produits et deux années de travail. Depuis septembre nous avons un nouveau moule qui pallie aux inconvénients que nous rencontrions avec le premier. Aujourd’hui nous n’avons plus aucun problème avec la taille des bouches. Aussi, les bords du pot sont plus costauds, les finitions plus belles et nous avons ajouté quatre pieds pour stabiliser l’objet.
Mais nous avons encore des pertes. On continue donc de faire évoluer notre travail. D’ici 1 mois ou 2, nous serons vraiment au point sur la production Transfarmers.

How many compost pots do you make per month today?

Nous sommes encore en phase de développement. Avec les chantiers qui se croisent dans l’atelier nous fabriquons jusqu’à 200 pièces par mois.

Etienne Drouilly avec Louis Jamin et Aliette Thomazo dans l'atelier des Poteries d'Amance

What did you like the most about this project? and are you proud of it today?

Outre le fait que l’équipe est très sympathique, c’est un produit novateur, écologique, pile dans l’air du temps et réaliste. Or, on sait qu’allier design et artisanat n’est pas toujours évident. C’est une corde de plus à notre arc et nous en sommes fiers.

Interview de Lola Colin

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