What is transferware and how is it made?

Brrr...it's cold here in Tulsa. My kids are out of school today due to the ice and snow. I like being 'snowed in' sometimes. My desk faces a window and I love to look out and see white...I love to watch the snow as it falls softly. The uninterrupted snowfall not yet disturbed with the kids footprints and the cars tracks is simply stunning. It makes me think of Colorado, where we lived for just a year, and of skiing every weekend at Breckenridge.

My son made me cheesy eggs and ham for breakfast and my daughter had hazelnut coffee freshly brewed when I got up this morning. How nice, and tasty! The kids are going sledding with some friends, so now, I must settle into working on this post. I thought I'd share with you just what transferware is and about the process of its being made. If you read my first post then you may remember that I grew fond of transferware before ever even knowing it had a name!

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Transferware is a timeless, decorative art form of pottery. It is the term given to pottery which has had a pattern applied to it by the transferring of a design from an inked, hand engraved, warmed copper plate to a wet tissue paper and then onto the body of pottery it decorates. Transferware is most commonly found on earthenware, but also on ironstone, porcelain and bone china. The majority of transferware was produced in the Staffordshire region of England.
First we begin with the copper plate and engravers tools:
copper plate

Engravers tools
The copper plate is meticulously hand engraved with a pattern using various methods such as dot punching, which creates shading and tonal variety and tools such as a burin or graver, which makes 'v' shaped grooves to contain pigment. In the 19th century, a copper plate took at least six weeks to complete.
Engraving a copper plate
When the copper plate is finished and ready for use, it is kept warm on a stove. Metallic oxide mixed with printers oil is then well rubbed into the grooves to insure a good transfer. Excess of the mixture is scraped away so that the ink remains only in the grooves of the copper plate.

Inking Copper Plate
Tissue paper, wet with a soapy solution, is then applied evenly to the warm copper plate. The plate is run through a felt covered press thus forcing the inked design onto the paper.
It is then placed back on the stove, the tissue is very carefully removed and passed to a cutter who cuts the pieces to fit particular items. The paper is then positioned onto the pottery by a skilled transferrer who smooths out any wrinkles and then rubs the paper with a stiff bristled brush so that the print is transferred to the object.

Applying the transfer
The object is then placed in a bath of cool water and the tissue paper is removed without damaging the color and design.

Running under cold water
Then off to the hardening on kiln where the print and color become fixed.
Photos of transferware process:  Country Living / Spode

A homes poetry for the day:
It was zero this morning.  I have a fire burning in my study, yellow roses and mimosa on my desk.  There is an atmosphere of festival, of release, in the house.  We are one, the house and I, and I am happy to be alone-time to think, time to be.
~May Sarton~


  1. I am just now seeing this post. Thanks for the lesson in how transferware is made. I have a few pieces that I love!

  2. This is fun! I started my blog on Jan.23 - two days before you! = ) Also, although you have known about transferware for a long time, I have LOVED it for a long time. Just this January, I started, finally, learning about what Staffordshire actually is! I've been all around the subject for decades. It was so fun to finally shed light on the whole process and history and area and to connect the dots with what I knew already. I am addicted to china and my FAVORITE thing to do is to set a table. I just bet you would have an inkling about what I mean!

    I'm heart broken to hear that your piano was destroyed in a fire!!! When I first moved out East, I had no piano for several years. It was horrific. A serious chunk of me was missing. I'm so glad, looking back, everything comes in time. I hope your "time" comes soon!

  3. Oh! I should, also, say that my jaw dropped when I saw your "warehouse" (is that what you called it?) of dishes. I need to go check out your Etsy shop! I seriously have been resisting giveaways - of course, not that there's anything wrong with them - I'm just really trying to stay simple. I wonder how long it will last. A chance to win china?!?!?! weakening....

  4. Thanks for posting such a clear explanation of the transferware process. I bought a small plate recently and now have a much greater appreciation for what went into it ! I linked your post to my art restoration blog.



  5. Nancy, loved this post and the pictures you included! I mentioned and linked this post in my own blog about the history of transferware so people could see how it was done. Now I just need time to read all your other posts! Great blog :)


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