Category Archives: Crafty

Starting Simple

These small spouted cups are documented in Rebay-Salisbury et al. The one on the left is one of the cups documented in Dunne et al. as having contained ruminant milk. It was found in Grave 80 (of a child under age 6) of the Dietfurt-Tennisplatz site, dated to c 800 to 600 BCE. On the right is a cup found in a settlement context, in Regensburg-Harting, dated to c 1200 to 800 BCE. It is described as “contaminated, low level of lipids.” Both the originals reside in the Historisches Museum Regensburg.

The Dietfurt cup is completely round from the top, but I ended up making it in an oval shape. I ended up making the Regensburg-Harting cup in a slightly fatter, spherical shape (it is described as “lemon shaped”), with 3 feet. I couldn’t tell from the photo whether it had 3 or 4, and I go back and forth on whether I screwed up. Still, these little cuties crack me up with their exaggerated duck faces.

I did a little burnishing on these, just to smooth out the surfaces a bit. Both were started as pinch pots, which I think is the most likely technique for making cups of this size (easy to work in the palm of one’s hand). I made the straws by rolling some clay and, after it set up, using a coring tool to take out the middle. This could have been done with a thick needle or wire, especially with such a short straw.

My earthenware adaptations of the Bronze Age Dietfurt and Regensburg-Harting cups, made using a pinch-pot technique and coring tool for the straws. These are made using Standard 104 earthenware and were bisque fired and not glazed.

A Cup With Feet

I had made one attempt a couple of years ago of a cup with feet and an animal head spout. It fell over at some point after it was bisqued and before I picked it up, and its head popped off, but also its proportions were terrible and its feet awkwardly placed. As I was exploring the sippy cups that had been featured in the lay media articles when Dunne et al. came out, I entered into the wide world of Hallstatt zoomorphic vessels and found many different examples with different proportions, some with 4 legs. Celtic groups in Bronze Age Central Europe (referred to as Urnfield, Hallstatt, and La Tène cultures, among others) were pastoral, and they included a lot of cattle imagery in their material objects. They also added human feet to many of the smaller vessels.

During this period and before, zoomorphic vessels are found pretty much everywhere you look, throughout the world, of varying sizes, sometimes with wheels, in excavations of residences and temples. There are also examples of vessels with human feet, notably a famous Egyptian bowl and an Iranian amphora that ups the ante with shapely ankles as well.

Earthenware jug with animal-head spout, Iran, c 1450 to 800 BCE
Bull rhyton, Cypriot, c 1450 to 1200 BCE
Ram-headed vessel, Mesopotamia, c 2500 BCE
Bowl with human feet, Egypt, c 3700 to 3450 BCE
Vessel with two feet (and shapely ankles), Iran, c 1000 to 800 BCE

I was already charmed by the Bronze Age sippy cups, but the combination of animal features and human feet really intrigued me, and I decided to start working on the “two human feet” balancing issue with a high-handled bowl similar to a Greek kantharos.

I modeled some needlessly sturdy feet (I hollowed them out, they were so thick), placed one handle, and then didn’t get back to the studio for a while, so rather than try to rehydrate the other side for the matching handle, I just left it with one. The Hallstatt piece is considerably more elegant, with its shaping, but I just wanted to be sure I got the thing to stand. So far so good!

Made using Standard 104 earthenware. This was bisqued and will not be glazed.

Exploring Sippy Cups for Children from the Bronze Age

In 2019, a group published a paper showing that cups found in Bronze Age children’s graves had contained ruminant milk, demonstrating that children were likely being given at least supplemental nutrition of animal milk. These are graves with children in them, so it’s possible that they were receiving milk as part of an attempt to kept them fed while ill (and indeed anyone might receive such easily consumed calories on “bed rest”). But some of these children-associated cups were particularly whimsical, having little legs or even animal heads. Admittedly, the cups that had residue analyzed were fairly pedestrian “bottle” cups:

Dietfurt biberons, approximately 800 to 600 BCE, buried with infants

But other cups, particularly a set of older cups from Vösendorf in Austria, were thoroughly delightful:

Not surprisingly, many editors chose to use the Vösendorf photos for lay-audience media about the discovery.

This sent me down a little rabbit hole about these ancient finds – discovered both in excavations of settlements and as grave goods, in varying shapes and sizes, some more like little animal models, and some simple vessels with spouts or “straws” on them. So I’ve decided to start replicating them.

Pottery in Bronze Age Europe was earthenware fired a single time in pits or in simple, only modestly insulated kilns. The potters in that place and era did not have the high-efficiency kilns already being used to vitrify stoneware and glaze it in the Far East. They used burnishing and polishing to process the surfaces of their pottery, although it would not have been as water-tight as modern glazed pottery.

Pottery in this place and era tended to have a distinctive brown color or to be burnished with a blackening material, like graphite, or painted. I don’t have easy access to brown low-fire clay, so rather than stain red clay, I’m just going ahead and use the red clay as is as I explore these shapes, trying to stay close to the single-fire process, first with electric kilns at the local pottery studio and ultimately, I hope, advancing to pit-firing.

I am fortunate that the same group that published the 2019 Nature paper has collected information about feeding vessels likely used with children, including assembling a wonderful table of extant finds listing their context and sizes, publishing it in 2021 in Feeding Babies at the Beginnings of Urbanization in Central Europe. Stay tuned as I work my way through these shapes. (And beyond!)

Silly but Useful

I’ve been trying to use dumbbells lately (mostly as wrist supports for pushups), and I find I don’t want to touch them because they are cold and a little rusted, so I made handles for em.


They work! These are just a slightly off-square quilted piece with velcro sewn into the corners. Fully machine washable for when they inevitably become gross, and a helpful mini test of some quilting material I got (there’s a thin strip of cotton batting in each one.

Cat Pant

In August, one of my Daily Things was cat pants. My mom converted some sweats to shorts, and I hemmed up the other sides of the cutoff legs to make tubes. My mom got a fancy new sewing machine with all kinds of crazy stitches, so that added some fun to the project.

I am going completely bonkers, though, because Mr Bun has been playing with the cat pant for WEEKS now, and I still can’t get a good picture of him in action. One day soon!

Back to Daily Thing

I took some time off going out of town a couple of weekends in a row, but I still got a few things done, which I’m finally documenting. Here is a proof of concept, about 5 inches on a side, of a new cat bed I’m making.

The final piece will have fleece on the inside and wool on the outside, be circular, and will have quilting on the bottom side, but I wanted to piece it together and figure out how I would finish all the seams before I actually cut into the fabric (which is pretty nice). Before I sewed this, I sketched it on paper and then pieced one together with tape and napkins, and those exercises were very helpful. This little fabric piece came together in about 5 minutes and disproved a concern I had about how I should pattern it, so it was both very satisfying and genuinely helpful.

Mr Bun stuck his head into it but declined to be photographed.

Daily Thing #6

I found this pattern for a simple paper box at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, a favorite destination for me. I printed out the pattern in February but never made one for Thing-a-Day – I was too concerned about how bad my cuts would turn out to be. I finally sat down and decided to brave the clumsy cutting.

Behold its sloppy seams and uneven edges! Also, because the material is thin and unlined with tissue paper, the top falls off. Nevertheless, a successful first outing. It’s always good to remind yourself how much easier doing a good job looks once you just plain finish a not-so-great one.

Daily Thing #6
Daily Thing #6-2

Daily Thing #4

The last couple of textile toys I’ve made, I’ve made more or less freehand, with no real planning beyond maybe a light sketch to guide me in cutting pieces out. One of the things that happens is that what I cut out is the “wrong” size. It’s not seam allowance – I am reasonably familiar with my sewing machine and my stitching options, and my seam allowances are fine. But I find that when I get the pieces partly assembled, I don’t have quite enough room to close the piece entirely, or am worried I’ll have to do a lot of hand-sewing that won’t stand up to cat play.

Tonight I decided to go a little further, starting with a detailed sketch of a proposed toy, including all the pattern pieces, where the stitching goes, where the detailing goes, and notes about all the materials. For this example I chose a sushi. It’s a simple shape but not obvious if you want to use a sewing machine for close to all the major seams.

I initially worked out piecing this together in my head on a bike ride, during which I realized that the way I wanted to assemble it (with a pretty good chunk of embroidery for detailing the top of the sushi roll) would involve LOTS of hand-sewn thread, which is not a great thing for a cat toy – too easy to loosen and possibly swallow. That made this object a particularly good choice for that standby of the user-interface designer: the paper prototype!

Sushi pattern and model

I think I’ll be doing more with paper—just for itself, too.

Daily Thing #2

Daily thing #2 is the internals of something I’ve been meaning to finish for months and, I hope, will succeed in finishing this month. It involves at least 2 more big pieces, one of which will probably be pretty time-consuming, so … baby steps.

Anyway, here is the “peritoneum” – it’s for a seed-filled toy, and this is the inner bag that holds the seeds. It’s only clipped shut for now, because I need to pick up some more seeds before I sew it shut.

No, I wasn’t trying to say anything about blood supply in the kidneys – I was just using leftover pieces of embroidery floss, and I didn’t have enough to do all the appliques in a single color.

I briefly thought about putting a spine and part of the ribcage on the back, and then I remember this little thing will be boneless.