How to Make a Rolled Lip

I recently posted a quick video on my Instagram account showing how I create rolled lips on my pots while wheel throwing. I thought it might be helpful to create a step-by-step guide for those of you who may want to give this technique a try! Before I get into the steps, it’s important to note that this is an intermediate-advanced technique, so don’t feel discouraged if you don’t get it right away. The most important element to completing this technique successfully is practice. Of course, I will do my best to guide you through the steps as clearly as possible, but do not set high expectations for yourself, especially if you are trying this technique for the very first time. It’s also important to remember that there are a ton of ways to do this. Muscle memory is an amazing thing and allows potters to develop their own techniques from the very techniques that they learned from. With that in mind, here is a step-by-step guide explaining how I create a rolled lip on my pots!

  1. Start by throwing a form on the pottery wheel. It can be any shape you’d like, but it’s important that the majority of the shaping (especially at the bottom of the pot) is done before you roll the lip. If this is your first time attempting this technique, a simple cylinder (or a shape you are most comfortable with throwing) will suffice. It’s also very important that the pot is centered and even. If the pot is off-center or uneven in any way, rolling the lip will be more difficult.

  2. Once you have created the form, you’ll want to do a gentle pull starting a few inches down from the rim. When the lip is rolled, the finished pot will be shorter and the rim will be thicker, so the goal of this step is to make the pot taller and the rim thinner. You will lose about a quarter to a half an inch of height after the lip is rolled. That said, if you are intending to have a taller pot, you’ll want to pull more up to make up for that loss. As for the rim thickness, aim for a quarter of an inch thick or less. If the walls are any thicker, it will make rolling the lip more difficult. 

  3. You will also want to ensure that you compress the rim. This should be done frequently throughout the entire throwing process, but it’s very important that it’s done right before the lip is rolled. Compressing the rim frequently keeps it even and smooth. If you do come across unevenness in the rim (i.e. - one side is taller, one side is thicker, etc.), simply pull up as much clay as you can (pulling up from the very bottom) to get the pot as tall as you can, then take a needle tool and trim off the unevenness. If you have to trim the rim, remember that you are taking away height by doing so, which means you’ll want to account for that loss by pulling up as much clay as you can before trimming off the excess.

  4. Using both pointer fingers as guides, slowly start rolling the lip outwards. One pointer finger will be supporting the outside of the rim, while the other will be guiding the lip outward. Note: Which pointer finger you use for each task depends on if you are right- or left-handed and which way your wheel spins. If you are right handed as I am, your wheel is likely spinning counter-clockwise so your right pointer finger will support the outside, while the left pointer finger will begin rolling the lip outwards. This may be the opposite if you are left-handed and prefer to work clockwise on the left side of the wheel.* You may notice in the photo below that my left thumb and middle finger are assisting the pointer finger in rolling the lip outward. This is simply muscle memory at play, however the pointer finger is doing most of the work here. As you practice, your muscles will develop natural finger placement that is most comfortable for you.  

  5. Next, you will move your right pointer finger out from under the lip to allow your left pointer finger to push the rim downward with ease. At this point, your right pointer finger is on standby for a only a moment while your left pointer finger pushes the rim downward to about a 90 degree angle. 

  6. Your right pointer finger will take over now and push the rim all the way down against the outside of the pot. Be sure to go slow and steady at this point, as the clay is likely very wet and thin and it is easy for the clay to cave in on itself. You can see in the second photo that both pointer fingers are working in sync - the right pointer finger is completing the roll while the left pointer finger is supporting the inside, acting as a firm surface for the clay to press against. 

  7. Once the lip is completely rolled, I hold my right pointer finger in place for several seconds to compress the clay and secure the seam. This step is particularly important because it will remove any potential air bubbles that may have gotten trapped inside as the lip was being rolled. Side note: I had a follower ask if I had any issues with air bubbles when doing this technique. The answer to that is no. Because the lip is being rolled from top to bottom, air doesn't have much of a chance to get trapped since it is being pushed out from the bottom of the rolled lip. The only instance that I can think of where air bubbles might form is if you roll too much clay over too quickly. I personally have never had an issue with air bubbles since learning this technique, but keep in mind that I have been throwing for many years. As I mentioned above, this is an intermediate-advanced technique so air bubbles might be a possibility for you if you are more of a beginner potter and/or attempting this technique for the first time.

  8. I then take a rounded metal rib and compress that same area that my pointer finger was compressing to ensure that the seam is fully sealed. Doing this also smooths out throwing rings, further shapes the pot, etc. 

  9. Finally, I take a wet piece of leather or chamois to smooth and shape the new rim. I love using leather for this step because I can wrap it around the rim with ease. If you don't have leather, a sponge works well too. Honestly, you can do this entire technique with a beginner pottery tool kit. As you progress with this craft, you will soon realize that you don't need fancy tools to get amazing results. I received my first beginner tool kit during my freshman year of college 10 years ago and still have and use some of the same tools from it to this day. 

  10. At this point, I usually add finishing touches and run a wire through the bottom to separate it from the bat. Here's my finished product:

    There you have it - a lovely rolled lip! If you want to give this technique a try, I recommend reading through the steps a few times and studying the pictures. You can also view the quick how-to video on my Instagram grid. It's a short video but filmed in real-time so you can see my finger movements and how the clay moves. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below!

    *I am adding this little thought here because it isn't long enough for it's own separate post but I think it's important to share. It's also easier to piggyback from the information above regarding right- and left-handed wheel throwing and muscle memory since it is related to these topics. I see a lot of left-handed beginner potters thinking that they need to buy a reversible pottery wheel or a pottery wheel that goes clockwise only. Many seem to think that because they are left-handed, the wheel needs to go clockwise to support their dominate side. This isn't necessarily true. I mention the term 'muscle memory' a lot in this post because it is by far the most important factor when improving pottery skills. When learning a new hobby like wheel throwing, you are going to be naturally bad at it at first because that muscle memory associated with wheel throwing doesn't exist yet. Your hands and muscles don't know what to do nor do they feel in control regardless of which way the wheel is turning. This means that a left-handed beginner potter can learn to throw on a counter-clockwise pottery wheel, contrary to popular belief. I'm mostly sharing this as a fun fact - you are free to do as you please, of course. Pottery is a very popular hobby now and so many people are giving it a go. I just feel that there are a lot of misconceptions, like this one, in the pottery world today that many take as fact simply because everyone else is doing it or they were told to do so. Do your own research, form your own opinions, and do what you feel is best. Happy potting!

**Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links that may allow me to earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Read full privacy policy here.

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