There is a special relationship between us and the things we own. And for a handmade object, the relationship becomes even more sacred. Although more and more people seek a lifestyle of higher quality and less consumption, to find an item that's handmade with care and love is rare. Commercial products are easy to find and cheap to make. Why would anyone spend time search for a Yixing teapot when they can go to Amazon and find endless styles with endless functions. So for us, tea drinkers, the quest of searching for a handmade Yixing teapot becomes all the more exciting.
Yixing teapot is made by hand; a mass-produced teapot might be called "Yingxing," but they are so far from it. With that out of the way, What is the difference between handmade and half-handmade Yixing teapots?
To understand that, we need to understand the process of making a Yixing teapot.
How to Make a Yixing Teapot
After you pick your clay from Mt. Huanglong in the City of Yixing, it's time to get it ready to be made into a teapot. First, you need to leave the clay outdoor under the shade. Generally speaking, this process is the longer, the better, or at least six months. Then you break the clay into tiny pieces with a stone hammer. When the clay is small enough to be break into even smaller pieces, you grind it down even more refined with a stone roller. Lastly, you sieve the clay, keep the small particles (sand), and get rid of large stones and rocks.
You add water to the clay and mix them in really nicely. Divide a large quantity into small parts, wrap the mixed clay up individually with a tarp, and leave it in a large urn for about six more months in a room with suitable temperature and humidity. Then viola, now you have yourself a nice block of clay!
Before you start crafting your fine teapot, you must know what you are going to make. Once you have an idea and a plan, it's time to get to work! Flatten a part of the chunky block of clay into a thin flat piece with a large wooden block. Smooth the surface with a wooden stick. This piece of flat clay will be the body of the teapot.
Measure the flattened piece, trace the shape you want. Cut the clay and get rid of the excessive. After that, you can make the sprout the handle, leave it aside to dry.
Take the flat cut-out piece and wrap it around a spinning plate to make the teapot body. Take a flat spatula and gently tap the clay to shape the body. This step is super challenging and takes years of experience to master to perfection. When you are happy with its shape, it's time to polish the body to ensure its smoothness and eliminate any bumps and rough patches. Add decorations in this step if it's applicable. Glue the bottom onto the body with the help of sticky clay. Also, most artists will stamp their names at this time.
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Make the lid (I am grossly simplifying this step as it's very complicated).
Use sticky clay to assemble the sprout and handle.
And it's done! There is a video demonstrating the process quite well on YouTube, its subtitle is in Chinese, but it's enjoyable to watch even if you don't understand Chinese.
What're the Differences Between Handmade and Half-Handmade Yixing Teapot?
I couldn't quite understand the differences at first without understanding how the Yixing teapot is made. So if the following part seems confusing, scroll back up and reread step 4.
Shaping the flat piece of clay into a teapot is one of the most challenging steps in making a teapot. If it's done incorrectly, the teapot will leak and break easily. From an artistry standpoint, it's challenging to make the same shape every time. It takes most people years to master this skill.
To unify the form of the teapots, artists will create molds.
Creating a mold is no easy task. It's just as tricky, if not more. For some people, taking six months to design a mold is not rare. Once the hard work of making the mold is finished, does this mean they can now mass-produce teapots? No. The artist still has to do most of the step by hand and get a tiny break in shaping the teapot into a unified look. In other words, having a mold unifies the shape, but the artist still has to pre-shape the body and fit it into the mold. After that, the artist has to assemble the lid, sprout, and handle by hand.
Handmade and half-handmade in Yixing's world is almost the same, but some people swear that handmade Yixing teapot is far better than half-handmade. Some argue that 100% handmade teapot has a better taste, which I couldn't think of a scientific way to explain or dispute. For others, they argue 100% handmade teapot has far more collection value, and I whole heartily agree.
That's why pure handmade Yixing teapot is far more expensive than half-handmade, for it takes way longer and requires more years of experience.
Should You Buy a 100% Handmade Yixing Teapot?
It depends. Gu Jingzhou gave an in-depth lecture at one of his workshops about creating molds for Yixing teapots. For some artists, making the tool for their craft is part of the art.
Is handmade superior that half-handmade Yixing teapot? Well, if you are buying to collect and have money to spare, then yes. But if you need it for everyday use, those two kinds of teapot don't make a difference. Buying a decent half-handmade Yixing teapot is already an investment. As long as the tea taste good, it doesn't matter.