Have you ever wondered how fancy, delicate and colourful China is made?
I‘d often be drinking a cup of tea and in admiration wondered where you would begin to create it. Privileged to meet the Artisans that make our Melmaison Cups and Saucer Set, I’ve shared with you the very interesting manufacturing process in Issue 1 of our Figs & Feta Magazine.
Nestled among a population of fewer than 3 million people, Chaozhou, China is host to ARTISANS blessed with very delicate hands and an acute eye for detail.
Chaozhou is not likely to be on your tourist radar when visiting China. Unlike the bustling city of Guangzhou, despite being in the same province, Chaozhou is very remote and in many ways reminded me of Bali!
‘Perhaps it was the motorbikes that triggered that image’.
Unmade roads, aged architecture and electrical posts with loose, dancing wires formed part of the charming Chaozhou landscape that I fell in love with.
The people in Chaozhou are extremely hospitable and thankfully so, because in such a remote space, taxis are nowhere to be found. Thankfully, our suppliers’ sales representative picked us up from our hotel and almost instantly began the tour of where our delightful Melmaison Cups and Saucers are created.
After a very welcoming meet and greet, we became immersed in the moulding station, our first official stop on the tour. As I approached the organised and a meticulously clean space, I stopped for a moment to appreciate the innate talents we all have the capacity to wield. The area wasn’t packed full of huge machines making these products; there were real human artisans creating greatness with their hands using some specific modernized tools. I took a couple of deep breaths and proceeded.
The moulding station took me by surprise. Here, a machine referred to as the spinning wheel was parked. A blob of clay is deliberately deposited onto the middle of the spinning wheel, then a mould is placed on top and a machine presses it into place over the clay. Each mould is then individually set on a tray and left to dry.
Almost immediately I saw resemblances to a bakery! It was a very moving sight to see those cups and saucers in raw clay sitting on the shelf drying, as if they were eager to complete their metamorphosis for the next process.
When the moulds had dried, it was time for all the raw edges to be filed piece by piece. Monotonous you might think, but not so to the two ladies sitting opposite each other, chatting away and conversing about something that had them in fits of laughter. So beautiful to witness. They were definitely enjoying what they do, and I couldn’t help but imagine their happiness being transferred into the cups and saucers we would soon be drinking tea from.
Finally, the dried and filed pieces reached glazing time. This was another process I’d imagined to be far more complicated than simply dunking the cups and saucers into a big tub of coloured liquid one by one.
You can imagine how many thoughts were going through my head as an entrepreneur at this point. It’s certainly not about having the cheapest product; it’s about truly having gratitude for the workmanship, precision and expertise to construct such a product.
‘Gratitude is of high value to me. It puts so many things into perspective.’
As I was walking past the glazing station, and from the corner of my eye, I saw all these clay boxes, again sitting on a bench in rows. Curious to know every detail, I had to ask what they were. To my surprise, they were teapot moulds. My next question was, ‘Where is the machine that moulds them together’? ‘Oh, no machine, Miss Kim, these are all done by hand. It is not possible to have a machine do this’, they replied. The reply blew me away.
Each and every teapot is made by hand!
One of the more engaging aspects of the teapot-making process is how the artists mould the teacup handle, which at this point is not attached to the cup. With a little pick in her hand, a woman ensures that the mould is smooth and has the right feel to it. Left to dry on a shelf, it becomes ready to be attached to its chosen companion cup. The artists’ hands work in such a delicate yet fast pace. I continue to be amazed at the skill of these artisans.
The action was in the quality control station!
Sitting on stools close to the floor, two girls we passed by were having an almost serious conversation about each piece. It was hysterical to watch how they entertained themselves with both in-depth conversation and joking around at the same time.
I felt overjoyed to know that whilst we sit in our homes enjoying the luxurious products, these ladies are having a blast of a day. That it is the opportunity that we are creating and sharing.
As I walked to the next factory where the printing and firing took place, I passed the carpark, as one might call it. There were no less than 40 bicycles and motorbikes parked in diagonal rows. I had wondered at one point whether all these people walked to work! This charming display answered my tacit question.
The print application process totally mesmerised me in its simplicity. Unless a product is handprinted, every beautifully designed plate is basically decorated with a special kind of beautiful, food-safe sticker, which is then fired to final perfection.
Until I started Figs & Feta and began making all sorts of enquiries into how such beautiful pieces came to be, I was oblivious to where one would start making such a product. Knowing the time and love that goes into each product makes my world so much more exciting.
The Journey, Photographs: Kim La Ferla
Meet Betty Yong, my rock in my China Office! Absolutely love her to bits and without realising she has taught me so much more that she says I have taught her.
Life is truly beautiful!
LIVE and LOVE and RESPECT all that you have for behind all that you own are AMAZING PEOPLE!
With much LOVE,
Kim La Ferla
Founder – figsandfeta.com.au
Editor – Figs & Feta Lifestyle Magazine