Nerikomi method: how to make Nerikomi pottery

There are almost infinite ways to create beautiful ceramic work, but one of the simplest ways to make interesting patterns is the Nerikomi method.

Nerikomi—also known as neriage—was first created in Japan, and it involves stacking and cutting colored pieces of clay to form different patterns. Once you have your colorful stack of clay, you can throw it on a wheel or mold it into just about anything you want.

Here are the steps to making a Nerikomi platter. Be sure to watch the video at the bottom for the full tutorial! 

Tools You’ll Need to Get Started

A Nerikomi pottery platter, with cookies and milk

Like any pottery technique, the first step is to get your materials ready. For the Nerikomi technique, you’ll need a few different tools to help you as you create your unique patterns:

  • An assortment of colored clay – In our video, we chose Seattle Pottery Supply’s colored porcelain in lavender, yellow, light wedgewood, and white.
  • Sticks of various thicknesses – These are used for cutting your clay evenly. Make sure the sticks are long enough to span the entire length of your project.
  • Flat bristle brush – Used for brushing on water.
  • Needle tool – For making precise cuts.
  • Wire cutter – For cutting long, even slabs.
  • Wooden rib with a flat edge – For shaping the clay.
  • Metal rib – Also for shaping and cleaning blemishes.
  • A bowl or bucket – Filled with water.
  • Sponge – For applying the water and smoothing the clay surface.

Once you have all your tools, it’s time for the fun to begin!

How to Make a Nerikomi Platter

While you can make any number of projects using the Nerikomi method, we’re going to show you how to create a simple platter. Feel free to get creative at any point throughout the process. Nerikomi is all about careful planning and happy accidents all coming together to form one unique project.

1. Choose Your Colors

It’s always fun picking out colors for your projects. Head on over to Seattle Pottery Supply and pick out a few different colors of clay you think will make a cool creation! 

2. Shape Clay into Rectangular Blocks

Take your colorful clay and shape it into rectangular blocks. Start by flattening each block a bit with your hand. You can also use a rolling pin if you like.

Once the block is relatively flat, use painter sticks to straighten out the edges to make the block as square as possible. Continue the process with all the other colors you chose.

Try to make each square relatively the same size. It’ll help the blocks line up later in the process.

Clay slabs that part part of the nerikomi pottery process

3. Cut Clay Slabs to Desired Thickness

Now that you have your clay slabs, it’s time to slim them down into thinner squares. Take two sticks of about the same thickness and put them on either side of your clay block. Use the wire cutter to run across the top of the two blocks and cut the clay rectangle evenly across the top.

Continue cutting your clay block until you have several thinner rectangles of about the same thickness. Do the same thing to all your other colored blocks.

4. Stack the Slabs to Create Your Colored Pattern

Nerikomi method: stacking different color clay slabs

Now comes the fun part! Stack your slabs so they form a pattern. In the video, we stuck with the white, blue, white, yellow pattern, but you’re welcome to come up with whatever pattern you think would be cool—or no pattern at all!

Pick your first colored slab and put it flat on the work surface. Brush the top with a little water using the bristle brush. This will help the layers stick together. Grab another color and do the same thing. Apply a little pressure to make sure the two slabs form together and to remove air pockets.

Continue the process until you have a large, multi-colored block of clay. It might not look like much at this stage, but it’s going to turn into something amazing!

Compress your big block of colorful layers to remove any extra air. Flatten each side by pressing it sideways on the table’s surface. Again, we’re going for a rectangular shape.

Nerikomi method: slicing stacked clay slabs

5. Cut the Block into Slabs Again

For our platter, we put the big colorful block between two wooden sticks to cut it into thinner slabs, just like in the beginning. The only difference is this time, we’re cutting it sideways.

Lay the block on its side between the two sticks and, using your wire tool, start to shave off layers. This time, the layers should come out with colorful stripes. This will be the pattern for your project.

Continue making slices until you finish the whole block.

6. Compress Slabs to Remove Air Pockets

Again, just like in the beginning, compress the colorful slabs using your hand or a rolling pin to remove any air pockets. You want to make the clay’s surface as flat and seamless as you can. Flip the slab over and do the same thing.

Continue the process for as many slabs as you have.

7. Square Up Slabs by Cutting Jagged Edges

Now, it’s time to make everything square again. Using a ruler and your needle tool or a knife, cut the jagged edges off your slabs. The straighter, the better. Make it as close to a perfect rectangle as you can.

Nerikomi pottery method: making a pattern from different striped clay slabs

8. Get Creative!

From here, you’re welcome to press the clay into your platter mold, but you can also use your pattern to make an even more interesting one!

For our platter, we’re going to cut the rectangular slab into smaller rectangles using the ruler and the needle tool. Take the smaller rectangles and align them however you like; the options are endless! We chose to align two rectangles vertically, two horizontally, and two vertically again to make the stripes run in different directions.

9. Compress, Square, and Kiln

Nerikomi platter: pressing clay pattern into a platter mold

With your smaller squares aligned the way you like, compress the clay for the last time to remove any air pockets. Cut the edges off with your ruler and needle tool once more to turn the project back into a rectangle.

Once the clay is bone dry, place it into the platter mold and trim off any edges that hang over the mold. Rub the clay with a sponge to smooth out the surface. Nobody wants a bumpy platter!

When all the edges are straight, it’s ready for the kiln. If you don’t have one and you’re in the Seattle area, bring your project over to SPS. We offer various firing services to make your creation look its best. Plus, we’d just love to see it! Feel free to reach out to our experts if you have any questions about the Nerikomi method or need to pick up supplies. Happy creating!

Potter: Siera Matsuo @sieradoesceramics
Photographer/ Videographer: Ella Gomez @morningsideway

Nerikomi Method