WET CLEANING SOFT-FIRED GREENWARE:
A beautiful doll begins with proper cleaning of the greenware. An over-looked flaw is impossible to hide with the painting. In fact, painting can magnify any imperfection found in the bisque. Bisque is greenware after it has been HIGH-FIRED to CONE 6. Greenware is clay before it has been fired to CONE 6, whether it be porcelain or ceramic.
Greenware is very fragile and is easily cracked or broken. Hold the piece very carefully in your hand and do not squeeze, bump or drop it. Some porcelains are more fragile than others and certain pieces are more breakable than others. We use Seeley porcelain in our studio. This is one of the sturdiest porcelains available for doll making. While breakage of greenware is considered common amongst beginning doll makers, it is not necessary. Most breakages are caused by carelessness as opposed to inexperienced handling of the greenware. Remember, though, they do occur from time to time, and are not the end of the world. If you have already worked on the piece before it is broken, then you have gained experience that you can put to work for the next piece. Cleaning in the soft-fired ware state, makes working on porcelain much easier.
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When making porcelain dolls, one of the most important things to keep in mind at all times is to keep your work areas clean.
Your work area for cleaning soft fired greenware starts with a "buffer" cloth. You should place a tea towel or soft cloth over your work area to absorb any spills of water. Assemble your tools (preferably in a tray at the top of your work space, OFF the cloth) PRIOR TO GETTING OUT YOUR GREENWARE.
You will require one large pail and one small (ice cream size) pail, both filled with warm water. If your water is too hot or too cold, you can damage your porcelain pieces. Place both of these pails on the table at the top of your work area, off of the cloth. It is better if you have another towel to place under these pails to absorb the water you spill when cleaning. This stops the water from running into your lap. (As a little hint: If you cut the elasticized tops off of a pair of cotton sport socks, you can make yourself little cuffs that will stop the water from running down your arms.)
Do not place more than one piece of porcelain on your work surface at a time. It is quite an easy thing to knock one piece against another and not know that you have done any damage until after the Cone 6 firing. TOO LATE. Also, if you drop a piece on top of other pieces, you break more than one piece. If you drop a piece onto your padded surface, chances are you have no broken pieces. If you keep your work area clean, except for the piece you are working on, you will find that you will have less difficulty cleaning as well.
Get into the habit of placing your tools in an egg carton top, off to the side of your work area, and you will find there is less chance of knocking your greenware against them while you are working. An additional benefit of keeping your tools in a container is that you arenít so prone to losing them. In a studio environment, where everyone has the same tools, this can be very helpful.
When holding your porcelain piece, it is a good idea to get into the habit of holding the tips of your fingers away from the piece and holding it with the portion of your fingers from the 2nd joint, down. If you try to make a fist with the ends of your fingers held straight out, you will see that it cannot be done. In this manner, you will be unable to exert excess pressure on your piece while you are working on it.
To WET-CLEAN, you will need the following:
1. Large pail of warm water from the tap.
2. Surgical gloves.
3. Various brushes.
4. Seeley's wet-cleaning scrubbers.
5. Tea towel.
7. Detail Carving Tools.
8. Magnifying Glasses (recommended).
Wear the surgical gloves and wet the piece thoroughly by either running it under the tap or gently immersing it in water for a few minutes. Water can be tepid or cool--but not hot. When submersing the piece in the water, be sure to do so gently and do not allow any air bubbles to be caught inside the piece.
There have been many articles published on WET-CLEANING that give full details on how to wet-clean. Following are my methods.
Your wet scrubber is composed of a pink abrasive material fused to a thin layer of a rubber-like backing. It is designed for wet-cleaning. The rough side removes excessive seam lines and other unwanted marks fast and efficiently; the smooth side removes any scratches for your final inspection. It should be cut into four smaller pieces with rounded corners, for more convenience.
ALWAYS WET ALL ITEMS YOU WILL USE TO WET CLEAN.
Rub over the large areas, like forehead and cheeks, with the scrubber to remove the surface porcelain. As the porcelain paste accumulates, rinse it off occasionally or wipe it off with a moist sponge. Use your brushes to go around the nose, ear, mouth and eye areas. Make sure you carefully clean every part of the piece. Rinse the head thoroughly and then smooth over the entire head. Use the smooth side of the wet scrubber for the large flat areas, and your rubber-gloved fingers for around the nose, ear, mouth and eye areas.
DO NOT USE THE SCRUBBER OVER THE NOSE, EAR, MOUTH OR EYE AREAS. Remember that these areas are rounded and the scrubber is flat--the two do not go together.
Once you are sure that your piece is ready for HIGH FIRE CONE 6, rinse it again in clean water. Place aside on a paper towel to dry slightly and then check it again prior to firing. As the piece dries, you will see scratches and other imperfections "pop" up that you didn't see when the piece was wet. If necessary, take the piece back to the water and smooth out any problems.
CLEANING THE HEAD:
It is easier to clean properly if you understand one basic point--WHAT YOU DON'T DESTROY, YOU DON'T HAVE TO FIX. There are a few basic things we have to do to the greenware. We have to prepare the surface to accept the paints after it has been bisque fired; we have to replace the clarity of the details that have been changed from the original due to the mold making process; we have to remove seams and imperfections caused by the mold itself; and we have to cut out the necessary openings for the eyes and mouth.
Porcelain, by its very nature causes some cleaning problems. When it is poured into the mold, it begins to set up the instant it touches the mold surface. If we could fill the whole mold at the exact same instant, we would have a perfect pour. Short of that, there is no such thing as a perfect pour. The porcelain sets up in minute rings as it fills the well--the larger the well, the more noticeable the rings. I am not talking about rings caused by pausing in the pouring or by pouring too slow, I am talking about the natural set-up rings. If you notice these tiny rings on a piece (usually it is only the larger pieces), you can easily remove them by softly washing around the curved surfaces (ie. nose, mouth, eye & ear areas) with a soft bristle brush. On the flat surfaces of your doll's head, you will use your wet scrubber, taking care not to rub any of your curved areas.
Using your scalpel, gently remove the seam from an area approximately 1 to 2 inches above the ear, over the ear, and to 1 to 2 inches below the ear. If the doll has sculpted hair, then you will continue with the scalpel and clean, up and over the top of the head, to remove the seam line from the molded areas.
When using your scalpel, hold it in your hand as if it were a pencil. Do not cup the handle of your scalpel in the palm of your hand. If you hold your scalpel properly, you will put less pressure on the piece. Do not rest the piece on your work surface while you are working on it, either.
Proceed to cut out the eyes. (Refer to Cutting Eyes section of this website for instructions.)
After successfully cutting out the eyes, detail the ears. Scoop out any excess porcelain in the ear cavities so that you have nicely detailed ears. Make sure the lines you cut are smoothed away and any edges are softly rounded. Check behind the ears to see if you need to remove any excess porcelain from there. Smooth over the entire ear area with one of your soft brushes. Do not leave any sharp marks or lines as the paint will fill into these areas later and make dark marks.
Using your scraffito tool, gently remove the excess porcelain from the doll's nostrils. Examine your painting picture to get the shape of the nostril. Using one of your soft brushes or a cotton swab, gently smooth out any scratches in the nostril area.
Depending on the doll, detail the mouth area. On all dolls, smooth the area with one of your soft brushes.
Check the nose and make sure there are no tiny lines around the nose area. Smooth out any lines with one of your soft brushes.
If the doll is to have earrings, the ears should have been pierced in the wet stage. Be sure the holes are clear and large enough to accommodate earrings after shrinkage. Use the lady finger tool to clear the earring holes. Use one of your small brushes to smooth out the hole edges--top and bottom holes. If you leave a sharp edge, it will chip off later when you are putting in the earrings. A nicely rounded hole presents no problems. When rinsing the head in the final stages, be sure that all excess porcelain has been rinsed out of the holes. Blowing briskly on the hole will assist in the removal of anything from inside the hole.
On an open mouth doll, make sure the opening is of the proper size and shape. Use your scalpel to cut the opening, much the same as you do the eyes. Check your painting picture to ensure that you do not cut the opening too large. Be sure to smooth out any scratches that you make with your scalpel. If the doll has teeth, lightly pencil in their outside shape and then cut them out using the scalpel. Use your DCL to help round the edges. Use the finger saw to cut between teeth. Smooth out edges with a soft brush. Be sure the teeth are of the proper size and thickness to suit the doll and to match your picture.
Scribe your initials, REPRO, the year in full, and a small identifying mark on the back of the doll's head. If you are thinking of putting the doll into competition, or selling it, you must place the marks just back of the left ear and down slightly so that they will be visible after the doll's wig is glued in place. If you do not do this, your doll will be disqualified from competition, or you could be accused of trying to sell a forgery.
SOME WET-CLEANING PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS:
PINHOLES: After submersion in the water, if you have had any pinholes appear, rub the area with the pink side of your scrubber. Do not rub just where the pinhole is as you will simply dig a bigger hole; rather, rub over the entire area. If it seems that the hole is too deep, then after you have completely cleaned the head and it is ready for HIGH FIRE, take your finger and rub over the pinhole until it is filled with paste. Take a dry sponge or brush and remove any particles around the pinhole. This is never perfect, but not bad. If the pinhole is in the cheek or frontal area of the face, you may have to do another head. If the piece has been poured with a pinhole, it will usually "pop" when you place it in the water. The other main cause of a pinhole "suddenly" appearing is that you are overworking the porcelain. You must be careful not to overwork your piece.
FLOW LINES: Sand thoroughly with the pink side of your scrubber, then smooth out any scratches with the white side. These marks will usually disappear during the HIGH FIRE.
EXPLOSIONS! These are caused by a "bubble" of air. As the air is being warmed by the water, it expands. The different pressures of water and air cause the piece to explode. It is quite spectacular and makes you jump out of your skin! Some pieces are prone to this and it is best just to wet them with the sponge, outside of the pail of water. They should be wetted very quickly, and the tools you use to work with on the piece should be kept very wet as you work. The most common pieces to have this problem are arms, legs and necks with high, closed edges (ie., LOVE ME's arms, legs and neck hole rim). Small pieces can also be subject to this problem.
CLEANING THE BODY:
If you are to use a porcelain body or body parts with your beautiful porcelain doll head, it is of the utmost importance that the body be of the same high quality as the head. It must be perfectly cleaned, fired and strung.
The body should not only be blemish free, but the body parts should fit together properly, and the parts should be lined with leather, leatherette or Dr. Scholl's Moleskin to prevent any grinding sounds from the porcelain pieces rubbing together when the head or limbs are rotated. In order to ensure that your body will fit together properly, you should fit each part into its proper slot or hole to make sure that it can rotate without friction or catching onto a rough or tight spot. If the body has a neck type that fits into the head, you should also ensure that it fits into the opening of the head.
Check the openings in the torso to be sure the arms and legs will fit properly after the torso is fired. The openings should be large enough to allow for any variations in size when the piece is fired. Do not leave any sharp or rough areas in the greenware. A sharp area on your porcelain will be as sharp as a knife and could cut your stringing elastic as well as your skin.
To check the openings in the torso for fit, insert the arm or leg, being careful not to twist it in the hole. If the hole is even slightly small, the torso will crack, so instead of twisting, simply move it from side to side. If the fit is snug now, it will be too small after the firing. Leave a little extra room in these openings. Make sure that the holes are nice and round. This way, your doll will have a smooth movement after it is strung. Check the openings in the neck hole, arm holes and leg holes. These must be large enough to allow the setting of the hooks after the pieces shrink in firing.
Use the scalpel to remove the seam lines from the fingers and toes. Using your DCL or DCS, depending on the size of doll, incise the fingernails. It is preferable to carve out the fingernails PRIOR to doing any shaping of the fingers, as you may make the fingers too fragile to work on for carving. Lay the tool flat on its side and using the point as a guide, gently scrape away the surface of the NAIL area to lower it slightly from the finger area. This will give the impression of a smooth nail against the "skin" of the doll's hand. Smooth away any chipping or scratches with a soft brush. Do the same for the toe-nails. Remember toe-nails are more on the square side than fingernails.
Also with the DCS or DCL, clean out the depression between the fingers and toes. Some dolls have the fingers separated. If this is required, use either a finger saw or your scalpel, depending on the size of the doll. Use a soft brush to remove any scratches.
It is best to use your scalpel to remove excess porcelain between the fingers. DO NOT TURN the scalpel at the end of the V. Instead, turn the piece and work away from the join. Allowing tools to turn at the join of the fingers is the major cause of broken fingers.
Quite common on dolls is an extra thickness between the thumb and the index finger. This is caused because the mold maker had to fill in an "undercut" in the mold. (An "undercut" is created when the sculpture has an angle designed within it, therefore, the casting cannot be lifted directly out of the mold without ripping or tearing.) As a doll maker, you should be aware of these problem areas and know that they do exist and must be redefined.
On some dolls, the thumb will require thinning down, on others, it may be the area next to the palm. You must learn to recognize the differences. Use your scalpel to redefine this area.
Wet-cleaning of body parts is the same as for the head. Remember that round areas such as fingers and toes should be cleaned with your fingers and your brushes. Flat areas and the seams can be cleaned with the pink side of your scrubber. When you are sure that you have cleaned all the pieces properly, go over them with the white side of the scrubber to smooth away all scratches. Set aside on a piece of clean paper towel until they are partially dry. It is important to re-check the pieces when they are almost dry as it is at this time that the defects in the porcelain really show up. If the pieces require more work, you simply re-wet them and clean up the areas that require more work.
GENERAL DO'S AND DON'T DO'S
Never place ANYTHING inside your greenware--not even your finger.
- pick your greenware up by a weak spot such as a flange neck or pate opening.
use two hands to pick up your pieces. Use one hand to "roll" the piece into the other hand. Cradle it gently.
work on your greenware with your hand in the air. Resting your hand on your work surface will put undue pressure on the greenware you are working on, and could cause breakage.
work on your greenware when it is sitting on your work surface.
When using anything--brush, scrubber, thumb, etc.--to rub the surface of your greenware, always keep the rubbing motion moving around. If the spot you are working on is 1/2 inch wide, move your brush, etc., over an area two to three times that width.
When using the stiffer #5 stain brush, always keep it moving in a side-to-side motion, exposing over 1/2 of the brush's bristles to the greenware surface. Always keep the brush moving back and forth and along the surface in the direction of the bristle. DON'T PUSH the bristles: PULL.
have more than one piece of porcelain on your work surface at a time. If you should slip and drop the piece you are working on, you may break several pieces instead of just one, as you will probably break the ones lying there as well as the one you dropped.
For the same reason, do not let your tools rest on your work surface. A good habit to get into is to put your tools into a tray to the side or the top of your work surface. This not only keeps them together and out of your way, but also helps to avoid misplacing your tools.
Do not set your porcelain pieces on a hard surface if you can avoid doing so. If you must do so, release the piece very carefully, and make sure it cannot rock. Porcelain can be broken just by rocking on a hard surface and getting too much vibration.
your pieces. Undue pressure can cause unseen cracks and they may not even show up until AFTER the piece has been fired to Cone 6.
DO NOT SQUEEZE
When wet cleaning, use a pail large enough to submerge the piece entirely. Enter the piece into the water SLOWLY and make sure that you do not have any air bubbles trapped anywhere in the piece.
Use warm water--don't make yourself unnecessarily uncomfortable.
rinse with clean, CLEAR water prior to putting the item for high firing. IF YOU LEAVE SLUDGE ANYWHERE on the piece it will fire as porcelain, and you will have a rough piece.
CLEAN--CLEAN--CLEAN. BE SURE TO RINSE AGAIN, EVEN WHEN YOU THINK IT
Be very careful that you do not bang your piece against the bottom of the pail when you are submerging or rinsing your piece.
When you are emptying your pail after you are finished, please ensure that you have not left any pieces in the pail. Throwing the baby out with the bath water has real meaning in doll making!!!
Remember at all times, that greenware, even in the SOFT FIRE stage, is very fragile. When you break pieces it can be expensive to replace them. If you re-read the DO's and DON'T's of HANDLING GREENWARE section of this website occasionally, it would be a good reminder of potentially bad habits you may be picking up.
Good luck with cleaning your greenware!!!!!
Evelyn Stanbury, DAG GMDM
Certified Doll Artisan Guild Instructor
Please CLICK HERE to download a printable version of this page.
Please CLICK HERE to download a printable version of Greenware Do's and Don'ts
Please CLICK HERE to download a printable version of How to Set up your Cleaning Area.
Please CLICK HERE to download a printable version of List of Cleaning Tools.
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This page last amended on July 21st, 2007.