Alison West Ceramics - Saggarfired Ceramic Art


26-27 September 

10-11 October 

17-18 October 



This is an intensive firing course, where you will learn how to fire work (your own or provided by us) in saggar, barrel and raku firings over two days.  The workshop takes place at Abi Higgins Ceramics’ beautiful studio in Christow in Devon and is run by Abi Higgins and 


Christow is a village in the Teign Valley on the eastern edge of Dartmoor National Park with easy access to Exeter. 

The name Raku means ease, pleasure and enjoyment. With its roots in Japan, the technique has altered over the years to produce some of the most interesting and gorgeous effects found in ceramics. Intensely hands on, it is sheer pleasure to experience the low-temperature, fast-firing process which involves removing pottery from the kiln while at bright red heat and placing it into containers with combustible materials.

Saggar Firing was originally developed to protect wares from ash-slagging and flame-flashing in wood firings, but in contemporary use, with clean-burning gas firings, the process is used in exactly the opposite way: to contain fumes around a pot so that the pot to picks up colour and pattern from the fumes.  Saggars are the lidded containers used to contain and isolate pots during a saggar firing.

Barrel Firing developed as an alternative to long pit firings with the advantage of getting to high temperatures making it possible for added oxides, carbonates and copper wire to produce stronger colours. A steel barrel is loaded with sawdust, straw and wood together with metallic colourants and pots and fired over several hours.  

Over the weekend you will –

• Learn how to prepare your pots for firing.

• Learn how to load and fire a gas fired raku kiln, load a saggar and fire in a gas kiln.  Learn how to load and fire a barrel kiln. 

• Be introduced to  resist techniques, sacrificial glaze (naked raku) and reduction glazes with demonstration of applying terrasigillata slip. 

• You will be instructed by two teachers, so plenty of help and advice throughout the weekend

Bisque fired pots can be provided at extra cost or bring your own bisque fired masterpieces. Details of how to prepare and burnish your own pots is detailed below. 

THE COST FOR TWO DAYS IS £220 which includes all materials and food/drinks on both days.


Couses are held at Christow Pottery in  Devon. Christow village is set high in the Teign Valley close to the Kennick and Tottiford reservoirs and has breathtaking countryside all around. It is a former mining area - tin, sliver, copper and manganese all mined locally. There is a church (with a notable granite tower), pub, post office, local shops, and accommodation. The Cantonteign falls are close by.  Local B&B accommodation is available nearby.

The Mill, Village Road, Christow, Devon EX6 7LX



Georgina Heart. -

 01392759865 or 07734913984

Jo at Twelvetrees
The Old Barn, Dry Lane, Christow Devon EX6 7PF
07837 988619.      01647 253373


HYNER FARM - Christow.
01647 252 923

01647 252827

SHUTE COTTAGE - Doddiscombsleigh
01647 252 316

THE NOBODY INN – Doddiscombleigh
01647 252 394

The Artichoke Inn -  Christow BAKEHOUSE HIGHER ASHTON - Air BnB



Remember that we will be firing up to 40 pots so it is really important that you keep to the guidelines below so that everyone gets a fair share.

Maximum of 8 pots each no larger than 15cm in diameter and 20cm tall and smaller if at all possible. In particular we cannot manage flat pieces such as tiles as they take too much room in the kilns. No jewellery please. We will provide a few extra pots at a small extra cost if it is not possible to bring your own. 

Any well grogged clay which resists thermal shock is suitable and we find Ashraf Hanna usually works well.  You will need to biscuit fire all your pots before you bring them.  Do make sure you don’t trap any air in your pots when making them as raku firing is much more rapid than normal firing and will expose flaws in making sometimes resulting in pots blowing up in the kiln. Also, if you make fully enclosed forms like pebbles, make sure that the air escape hole is larger than normal i.e. not a pin hole.


Fire your pot[s][ to a maximum of 980c degrees. Anything higher tends to destroy the burnish.


Get the surface of your pot as smooth as you can and then apply a fine grained slip at the leather hard stage.  Some people use a porcelain slip.  We use a slip composed of 50% body clay plus 50% porcelain.  Sieve the slip at 200 mesh to get it as fine as possible and then apply as many coats as you can. Terrasigillata can also be applied at leather hard stage should you be familiar with the technique. . 


 Allow the slipped pot to dry to nearly bone dry.  The actual dryness which suits your personal technique varies from person to person and you can only find it by trial and error.  Try on a relatively hidden part of the pot.  If your burnishing leaves unsightly indentations, your pot isn’t dry enough.  If burnishing doesn’t produce a shine and leaves the surface dusty, your pot is too dry.  See below for a possible way out.

Now you’ve got the perfect dryness[!], burnish by smoothing the whole of the surface using your chosen tool. Different tools are used depending on your preference. Some people use the back of a spoon, some use a polished pebble.  This should give you a smooth, polished surface.  You can repeat the burnishing to improve it if you wish.  It is worth finishing the surface by rubbing it with a thin plastic bag stretched across your finger.

If your pot was too dry you can try moistening it in sections by dipping your finger in water, smoothing that on your pot a section at a time and then burnishing that area.



Alison West and Abi Higgins


9.30am -  Coffee and introductions 

10:00am - Prepare pots for saggar firing.  Participants will be shown how to prepare their bisque-fired pots . Collect materials, begin preparing saggars and loading kilns.  

1:00am - Lunch - Homemade bread and soup provided in conservatory

 2:00pm - Start saggar kiln firing . Prepare pots for raku firing - Applying slips and glazes for different raku techniques including naked raku.  Glazes and slips provided but you are welcome to bring your own. 

3.30pm - Tea break 

4.30-5:00pm - Finish for the day


9:30am - Meet and coffee

10.00am - Unpacking kilns/washing/scrubbing/cleaning pots - Raku kilns fired up

12:00am - First firings

1:00pm - Lunch provided 

 2:00pm - Continue final raku firings and finishing pots - Advice on polishing/sealing at home

 4:00pm - Finish

Timings may vary and it may not be possible to fire all your pieces during the course but we will raku as many pieces as we can in the time available, with the aim of everyone completing the weekend with at least a few wonderful pots each!

Abi Higgins studio


Raku fired pot

Copper glazed pot emerging from the sawdust




Everything is well explained, questions answered knowledgeably. These ladies know their stuff. Thoroughly enjoyed my time at The Mill. Food was fantastic.
Looking forward to seeing the results of our efforts. Highly recommend this course.

Alison Strivens

The course was certainly worth coming to England to from Iceland. I have taken with me a lot of information on saggar and barrel firing. Everybody on the course produced interesting work and I am certainly happy with my 12 pieces I managed to take back to Iceland in my hand luggage.
Well done you two, you have impressed and inspired me with your talent and professionalism. The lunches, the environment in lovely Devon and the group of people were also fantastic.

Helga Lára Haraldsdóttir

What a busy, fun packed weekend we've had! Lovely setting and great guidance in the techniques of Saggar, Barrel and Raku firing. It was amazing to learn, experience and reveal the effects from the different firings and be surrounded by lovely people sharing a love of ceramics.
Wonderful food, beautiful surroundings and knowledgable fun hosts too!
Highly recommended if you're visiting Devon or a local pottery enthusiast, don't just take my word for your place now!

Such a great weekend learning under the instruction of Abi and Alison. Our group was an eclectic mix of professional potters, enthusiasts and in my case beginners. It just suited everyone!
The skills we were able to take away with us are simply amazing, I had no idea I was to learn so much in a matter of days. The excitement when the finished product is revealed was just another aspect of the weekend I was not expecting.
“Well done guys”! Just a beautifully designed and executed course that would suit anyone and the homemade lunches were to die for!

Simon Ford 

Hi Abi and Alison

Just to thank you both for such an informative and wonderful course at the weekend.  It was just so nice to get away and meet like minded people since being a potter can be a lonely profession.  I came away on a high determined to get back in the studio again but of course that will have to wait until after I get back from my holiday and with this weather it can't come soon enough!

Good luck with the next course.

Sue x

Dear Abi and Alison

I just wanted to thank you for the great workshop last week-end. I really enjoyed myself and learnt a lot. You are both very good teachers and the group was really nice. Although I haven't done any pottery myself yet (!), I am very motivated now to try. The pots I decorated are lovely - Mike was most impressed. I still have to polish them so that I can take some pictures and send them off to my friends.

Attached are some photographs that I took over the week-end. Please keep me posted on any future workshops that you might do!

Thanks again and all the best


Dear Alison and Abi

This is to thank you and say how much I enjoyed the 2 day workshop and that I learned a huge amount, which I hope will allow me to produce some more nice pots in the future.

Sorry for the delay in replying but the day after I got back my very first-ever ceramics exhibition started in a local gallery, which I am sharing with two local artists   It is going pretty well and I have already sold two of the nicest pieces that I made with you at Christow...





Throughout 2018,  I will be offering weekly classes, evenings 6.30pm to 9pm, and mornings 9.30am-12.00pm but can be flexible on days/times depending on the group. Each class is open to 2 students to allow plenty of individual attention. I offer demonstrations and tuition in all the basic building skills: coiling, slabbing, press moulding and of course throwing, but am more than happy to leave you to explore the clay on your own and guide you when you seek advice.

We can agree a more detailed lesson plan at the start of lessons, and aim to make something which you would personally enjoy making.

A good library of books on ceramics is available, which students are welcome to borrow between classes.

The cost is £20.00 per person for a two hour lesson, or £25.00 for 2.5 hours. This would be payable in advance per 4-5 lessons, with an additional charge of £4.00  per finished fired piece if students wish to take their work home. This covers the cost of clay, decorating materials, glazes and two firings in an electric kiln. Alternatively, students buy a bag of their own clay to use. This will keep the final cost of taking pieces of work home low. I am happy to collect clay from the supplier CTM Pottery Supplies on your behalf. If we bulk buy together we will get a basic discount and a further discount with my West Country Potters’ membership card.

With clay supplied by me - charges are currently £4.00 per item fired

With your own clay - £2.50 per item fired

This charge covers the costs of (clay), all decorating materials and glazes, firing costs x 2 firings, and general studio electricity.

If you are unable to attend a particular class, where possible, an alternative date will be arranged.

There will also be the opportunity to participate in workshop sessions on alternative firing techniques, including saggar, raku and smoke firing. 

If you are interested in having a chat about classes, please call Alison on 07809446122  or email me at