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Blue and white Chinese porcelain quickly became all the rage when the United Dutch East India Company began importing it early in the 17th century. For most people,
however, it was very expensive. As an alternative, Dutch potters tried to imitate Chinese porcelain but experienced only limited success, as the process for true porcelain was not yet available to them.

Around the same time, another option was under development in the town of Delft, where potters were creating a hand crafted and hand painted earthenware product, which became known as “Delftware.”

Endless Possibilities with Hand Crafted Design

Initially, Delft tiles imitated the intricate designs of Chinese porcelain. But this soon gave way to the integration of hand painted Dutch imagery and scenes. Designs included everything from tulips, animals, windmills, boats, farmers and fishermen to dramatic biblical stories and mythological gods. Almost anything could be painted on Delft tiles, and given their small, flat, individual nature, they offered an originality not found in other tile traditions.

Beauty is in the Process

The opportunity for sophisticated, hand painted decorations can be credited in part to the “tin glaze” characteristic resulting from the production process. To make a hand crafted Delft tile, purified clay is mixed with water and rolled to a thickness of 8mm. After drying overnight, the clay is cut to size with the same tools used 400 years ago—primarily a knife and a wooden mold. Nails are used to secure the tile in place, which is the reason authentic hand crafted tiles always have holes in the corners.

Next, the tile is baked for the first time, and then glazed using a process that dates back to the 16th and 17th century. The nuanced color tone characteristic of hand painted Delft Blue tiles is created by this glazing process.

To decorate the tile, the painter uses a drawing tool called a sponge. Capable of
producing finely pierced contour lines, the sponge is laid on the still wet tin glaze and dusted with charcoal powder to create a dotted outline of the design. Using this as a guide, the painter completes the hand painted design and fills it in with color.

The paint used on the hand crafted tile is actually a glaze that is applied to coloring by adding a metal oxide. This merges with a layer of tin glaze during the second and final firing.

While the framework of the design is fixed by the sponge, the distinctive style of the painter can still emerge. For example, the interpretation of animals and farming scenes reflects the painter’s unique artistic character and interest.

Not All Hand Crafted Delft Tiles Were Created in Delft

The craft of producing hand painted Delft Blue tiles was brought to Britain when Flemish and Dutch potters settled in London at the end of 17th century. Although no specialist tile factories were ever established in Britain, the English played a small but significant role in the mass production and subsequent popularity of the hand crafted Delft tile.

In 1756, two gentlemen from Liverpool introduced the technique of transfer printing onto tiles. This involved a printed outline transferred from a copper plate engraving fired onto the surface of the tin glaze. Intricate, hand painted tile designs could now be reproduced at greater speed. In fact, historians estimate that no fewer than 800 million Delft Blue tiles were produced between the 16th and 18th centuries.

Today, a new generation of craftspeople produces authentic, hand painted Delft Blue tiles for tile bakeries in Friesland, a province of the Netherlands located in the northern part of the country. While the production process has evolved significantly, the quality, charm and unparalleled allure of this hand crafted art form remains.

Delft Tiles: We’re Your Trusted Resource for Authentic Delft Blue Tiles

Delft Tiles serves as your trusted one-stop destination for a vast range of handmade and hand painted Dutch Delft tiles from Friesland—with a including classic Field Tiles, Delft Blue Tiles & Panels, Custom & Special Tiles, and Antique Delft Tiles. And because we are world-class Delft tile experts, we can also provide you with exceptional consultation service—to help you find the tile solution that’s the perfect fit for your needs.

To learn more about Delft Tiles, or to place an order, please visit our or contact us at:

Tel: +31 (0) 6 1600 5000 or +31 (0) 6 1600 3366
USA: 011 31 6 1600 5000 or 011 31 6 1600 3366

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