Handmade at Middleport Pottery since 1889, Burleigh ware is decorated by skilled artisans using rolls of freshly printed tissue paper. In the latest part of our ‘Meet the Maker’ series, we visit Mikeala, Burleigh’s printer. Mikeala is responsible for printing the tissue paper used to transfer Burleigh's iconic patterns onto our pottery.
Operating our 66-year old printing machine, the printer plays a crucial role within the decorating shop as without the printed tissue paper, our transferrers would be unable to decorate our wares.
Mikeala joined Burleigh in 2012, working as a transferrer for five years before moving to printing for the last two, though she still helps with transferring when the opportunity arises. Mikeala became Burleigh’s printer following the retirement of Chris, our former printer of 30 years, making her the second female printer in Burleigh’s history.
Having worked in the ceramics industry for over 20 years, Mikeala adores her latest role saying “I just love the old-world feel of the printing machine and the studio”. With the printing machine located on a raised platform, Mikeala is a key member of the team, able to oversee the entirety of the decorating studio from her prominent position as she works. This also means that she gets to meet all of the visitors to Middleport Pottery and Burleigh, including a famous face or two.
The Printer at the Heart of Our Pottery
Meticulously hand-engraved by artisans, the depth and intricacy of fine handicraft used to create Burleigh’s patterned rollers brings a unique character to each piece that you’ll only find with Burleigh Pottery. Mikeala enjoys the challenges of operating the printer as no two rollers are alike, believing that each roller has its own personality and charm. These differences mean that each roller requires Mikeala to use different techniques to ensure that she brings out its best results during the printing process.
Mikeala also plays a crucial role in maintaining the printing machine and our engraved rollers. With her expertise Mikeala can tell if something is amiss just by the change in sounds from the printing machine and must act quickly to find solutions.
The Tissue Printing Process
To begin the printing process, Mikeala places the engraved roller onto the printing machine before adding a uniquely formulated mixture of oils and pigments to its top. An internal heating unit gently warms the roller, allowing the paste-like colour mix to sink into the finely engraved lines and grooves.
Once the colour mix has fully melted into the roller, Mikeala feeds sheets of blank tissue paper through the roller, transferring the pattern and making it ready for use in our tissue transfer decorating process.
The tissue used in Burleigh’s tissue transfer decorating process has to be applied to blank wares while still wet with colour, meaning that our transferrers have to work quickly and accurately to use Mikeala’s freshly printed papers before they begin to dry. To make the paper easily accessible for our transferrers, the reams of wet tissue paper are then hung up throughout the studio ready for use when needed. Mikeala must time her printing accurately; efficiently judging when the studio will need replenishment prints, and how many each transferrer will use throughout the days.
A Bright Future
Mikeala is also responsible for training the next generation of transferrers and printers at Burleigh. This ensures that the traditional skills that make our pottery so unique in this modern age of mass production can continue to stay alive for years to come.