Medieval 2-Color Tiles

I took inspiration from this 39-page booklet on Medieval Tiles by Hans Van Lemmen to make some test floor tiles. The booklet itself is a good introduction to 12th – 16th century tile production in Europe. It covers 3 styles of Medieval tile (relief tiles, mosaic tiles and two-color tiles) beginning in 13th century England. At $4.79 the book is an absolute steal.

Relief tiles first emerged in England around 1200 AD. The book explains how these tiles were produced (designs impressed into moist clay tiles) and attributes wide variations in quality, durability and style in tiles we still see from this era to primitive kilns and developing production processes. Examples of relief tiles from this period (not from the book) are shown to the right.

Production of mosaic tiles began in the mid- to late-1200s, giving way to 2-color tiles that form the predominant tile tradition of the era. An example of two-color tiles from the floor of Winchester Cathedral in England is shown below.

I tried my hand at making 2-color tiles. It was a lot of work to carve out the wood mold. I initially undercut the wood mold, so clay did not easily slide off the mold. After a few modifications I got it to work – helped along by some baby powder sprinkled on the wood surface prior to pressing clay into the mold. Once I constructed a mold, I was able to punch out several tiles each day. I pressed red clay into the mold for the ground, scrapped excess clay off the back of the tile (while still in the mold), and then popped the leather-hard tile out of the mold. I then slopped some white clay slip into the recessed areas of the red clay to produce the white inlay effect. Hopefully you can make out my process in the photo sequence below.

The finished product before glazing:

A few finished tiles after glazing, showing the shrinkage:

The final tiles are pretty durable and have nice “rustic” qualities in spots where I failed to press the clay completely into the mold (or recessed areas of the red clay). In retrospect, I wished I’d carved a mold design that radiated out from the corner rather than a symmetrical design. That would make a larger 4-tile pattern that radiates out from the point where each of the separate tiles meet.

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