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  • Writer's pictureKate Hopkins-Searle

Marie Antoinette now has 6 pairs of shoes...

...though obviously that's nowhere near enough pairs for a woman of her elegant tastes and endless riches. I finished the 6th pair a week or so ago, just as the weather improved and got warm. It made the construction incredibly difficult with the clay drying out so quickly. It was all a bit frustrating, although I have to say that these highly decorative shoes have been very, very difficult to make full stop. Even though I've been making ceramic shoes on and off for over 30 years and even in the cooler, damper, winter weather which is perfect for slow hand-building they have been very tricky. The Rococo cartouches, which are the very fancy twiddly bits over the instep and on the back of the shoes, were very hard to manipulate into place and then it took a long time and much care to carve out all the edges and piercings in them. Each pair of shoes also has many other decorative elements to add to the complexity. There are impressed patterns of flowers and fleurs de lis, sprig-moulded braids and tiny hand-rolled beads along the top edges. The bows on the front, previously one of the most difficult elements, were relatively straightforward in comparison to the rest of these shoes.

The shoes now need some time wrapped in plastic so that the different elements can all equalise in terms of their dampness and then dry out very slowly to reduce the risk of cracking. They turn a pale grey colour when completely dry - and it's at this stage that I look at them and think that they spark very little joy; they just look so drab and dry. However, six pairs of shoes will fill my kiln and I can fire them to 1150⁰ C, after which they will become the lovely creamy white colour, perfect for taking the decoration of colourful under-glaze velvets and glazes. Some of these shoes will also have the added elements of enamel decals which get fired on as one of the final stages. Once the shoes come out of the first firing, they will have shrunk to their final size so I can design the decals to fit and get them printed. The most recent pair of shoes I made were based on these plates from Gallerie des Modes. I will have a shell and coral decal made for the toe of each shoe.

And now it's back to the drawing board/sketchbook for some more designing for the insatiable Marie Antoinette...

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