Pique Assiette is a folk art that can be found in many different cultures during many different time periods. It is the art of recycling broken crockery, glass, pottery, china, porcelain, and stoneware into decorative pieces for the home and garden.
Very popular from Victorian times into the early 20th century, the practice was probably borrowed from an African American tradition of decorating gravesites with jugs and objects owned by the deceased. It has been used for centuries for everything from garden furniture to the now famous Watts Towers.
The French term “Pique Assiette” quite literally means, “stolen from plate”,and today the term is widely accepted and used to describe this fascinating folk art medium.
There are as many methods and materials used in the crafting of a pique assiette piece as there are enthusiasts creating them. Until a bit of experience allows you to evolve your own set of preferences and styles, these basic items and easy steps should get you off to a colorful and exciting start.
- Terra cotta flower pot
- Assortment of china and pottery plates, cups, etc.
- Tile nippers and/or a hammer
- Multipurpose ceramic tile adhesive (mastic)
- Sanded grout, colored
- Tile and stone sealer (grout sealer, weather and oil resistant)
- Manicure (orange) sticks and craft sticks the size of popsicle sticks
- Acrylic craft paint
- Paint brushes and craft sponges, assorted sizes
- Dust mask for nose and mouth
- Rubber gloves
- Plastic container
- Dry towels
- Lazy Susan (optional, for turning the pot easily while you glue the shards.)
Designing Your Masterpiece
Select the pieces of pottery and china that call to you for this specific pot. Be as whimsical and wild or refined and stylish as you feel in that moment. There is no “right way” and there is no pattern to follow but your own inner creative vision.
Break your dishes into shards of various sizes and shapes. For a precise and controlled cut use tile nippers. For a random and less consistent look in the shards, smash your china and pottery with a hammer. (Wrap the pieces in
towels before you start smashing and wear eye and hand protection.)
Don’t be timid about using additional items like a cup handle, a tea pot spout, porcelain flowers, marbles, etc. You are only limited in this craft form by your imagination and access to interesting materials.
Gluing Your Shards
Apply the adhesive to the back of each shard with a popsicle stick and glue onto the exterior of the flower pot. Create your design as you go along, or follow one that you have decided upon in advance. Use the manicure stick to scrape off any excess glue from around the shards. Place your bits and pieces as close together or far apart as suits your sense of form and design.
Grouting Your Pot
Allow your pot to dry at least 24 hours; 48 or more if you have glued very large and/or heavy items on that need extra time to bond completely.
Wear your dust mask while you mix the dry grout. Sanded grout is far more durable than unsanded and it will not scratch your shards. It is best to buy already colored grout. The risk of running out of mixed grout during a project and not being able to match colors is a great risk if you mix your own with pigments.
Place the dry grout in a plastic container or paint pail and slowly add water while you mix. The perfect consistency should be like that of thick mud. You don’t want it wet and runny, nor do you want it dry and gritty. Be sure to mix well, blending in all of the dry grout from the bottoms and sides
of the container. Approximately one cup of dry grout will cover a 6″ pot. Use more or less to cover larger or smaller items. Let the mixture dry for approximately 10 minutes, mix again, and then prepare to apply it to the pot.
Wearing gloves (kitchen gloves work well), apply the grout to the entire pot surface, covering the shards fully and pressing it in between all the cracks between the pieces. Don’t be timid; your shards will clean up far better than you can imagine at this messy point in the process and you will never know you covered them with the goopey grout.
Scraping Back Your Piece
Let the pot stand for 10 minutes or so before you begin the scraping and polishing. You may find when working on large pieces that the areas where you first applied the grout are nearly dry while you are applying it to the final areas.
In these instances you will want to work in sections when you grout to
It is easy to use your gloved hands for the initial removing of the excess grout from the pot’s surfaces. When you get to the smaller and finer areas you will want to use the smaller craft stick (popsicle size) and the manicure stick. Scrape excess grout from the edges and borders of your shards to achieve a more refined and polished looking piece.
Once you are satisfied with the look of the pot use a terry cloth towel to go over it again, wiping the residual dust from each shard.
Painting Your Pot
After the grouted pot has dried for at least 12 hours, select the color of acrylic craft paint that will best compliment and enhance your pot. The metallic colors can be very fun to use, and you may just find that this final step pulls all of the various colors and themes together beautifully.
Craft sponges on a stick are perfect for painting the inside of a flower pot, and smaller brushes can be used for the top rim and underside of the base. Two coats will probably be necessary, and the paints dry very quickly as a rule.
Sealing Your Pot
Allow another 12-24 hours between the painting and the sealing of the pot. Use a paint trim sized brush to apply the tile and stone sealer to the entire pot surface, covering the shards and the grout in between. If you find the right sealer you will not have to go back over each shard again to wipe off the sealant; it will dry clean and clear. Apply the sealer to the painted inside of the pot and the bottom if you wish.
While your pot will be fairly durable due to the sanded grout and the sealer, you will want to protect it by not subjecting it to great amounts of water and/or extreme weather conditions. Likewise, it is best to not plant something living right into it. Think of it as a decorative object d’art more than a utilitarian and functional one.
Sign your name on the bottom and stand back and admire your amazing talent! If those who go before you in this addictive craft form are any indication, you may find yourself hopelessly hooked. You will begin to look at the items in your environment in a different way, asking: “Can I cover that with shards?”Sign your name