The fake grass is there for a reason.
Ah, Spring. Reminds me of the four seasons (plus night and day) birdhouse project I created for Lifetime Learning Institute. We covered a wooden birdhouse with a polymer clay veneer.
Before the class began, I took great pains in making patterns for the sides and roof. The challenging piece was Spring, as it had a hole and wooden perch. I fidgeted with the pattern until I was satisfied it was a good fit.
Each week of class was devoted to making the veneer for one section. In the last class we mounted the veneers with Elmer’s glue.
Well, when it came time for assembly, there was no consistency in how the pieces fit. The most problematic piece was–you guessed it–Spring. The holes in the polymer clay veneer didn’t always align just so with the holes in the birdhouse. What was most noticeable was exposed wood in the birdhouse entrance. It turns out that even though all the birdhouses were the same model and SKU, they had slight variations. What would fit one birdhouse wouldn’t fit another.
I’ve often quoted Lisa Pavelka to my classes: “A mistake is an opportunity for embellishment.” One of the class participants, Jeanne Schmidt, came up with a perfectly natural embellishment. She glued some artificial grass in the hole. That idea was far superior to my solution of painting the exposed wood to camouflage it. Jeanne’s embellishment reminded me that my job isn’t about having all the answers but more about creating the space for participants to discover the answers themselves. .
This necklace of polymer clay beads closes with two sliding knots that make it adjustable. I can lengthen it to wear over a sweater or shorten it to wear with an open-collared blouse.
When you indulge in polymer clay, you’ll eventually find yourself making beads and/or pendants. What to do if you don’t have jewelry making skills or tools? Don’t despair. The sliding knot closure is an excellent option.
The sliding knot does’t get the respect or widespread acceptance it deserves. Done right, it’s handsome yet unobtrusive. It’s the way to go when you want an adjustable length necklace. And it’s ideal for people whose fingers stumble over most necklace clasps.
Check out my free tutorial for making the sliding knot. I show you the secret for making a neat knot (that could be a tongue-twister) where the loops line up like obedient drummers in a marching band instead of looking like so many crossed fingers.
I should apologize to my left-handed friends although I suspect they have years of experience translating directions written for a right-handed world.
If you care to know my history with the sliding knot, I first made it while teaching a polymer clay class. I wanted to do a necklace project but didn’t want to teach basic jewelry making skills as I thought it would take too much time. Well, anyone in that class can remember how I struggled to get the knot right. It’s tricky. That’s why I provide step-by-step directions with photos in my tutorial. I hope you enjoy it.
When you cut with a polymer clay blade (a.k.a. tissue blade), the blade will tend to flex. Obviously the flex is greater with a flexible vs. stiff blade, and with big, thick hunks of clay.
Controlling this flex is most important when cutting cane slices. Grip the blade firmly close to the cane & pull the blade ends away from the cane to put tension on the blade. Then cut straight down.
I urge you to get in the habit of making all your cuts, not just cane slices, in this manner. For example, I do it even when making slices from a new block of clay. Then I don’t have to think about it when making those all-important cane slices.
As the photo suggests, I like to position a cane on a paper grid for cutting. The grid lines give me something specific to focus on. For the greatest precision, stand up and look straight down over the cane when you cut.
While putting tension on the blade will minimize distortion of the cane slice, you can further control distortion of a round cane by rolling the cane a quarter turn to the right or left before each cut.
There’s a project idea tucked deep in the recesses of my brain and I’m finally tackling it. We have a “china cabinet,” which is too lofty a name for it. It’s a fine cabinet, purchased a couple of years ago at Salvation Army and transformed by Tim from its original purpose as an entertainment canter. Its doors have recesses that I think are crying for some Southwest tiles.
I have a crude idea of what those tiles will look like. I plan to stencil and draw images on both raw and cured polymer clay.
So before making the actual tiles, I decided to test the markers, etc., that I’ll use on a blend of Premo Ecru and Pearl clay.
StazOn ink pads, Galaxy markers, Bic Mark-it markers, Perfect Pearls powders, and Lumiere paints work on raw clay. Both StazOn and Perfect Pearls must be heat set. Curing the clay satisfies that requirement.
Galaxy markers, Bic Mark-it markers, and Lumiere paints work on cured clay.
I applied Varathane varnish to the test piece, and everything passed.
My test is less than scientific. I know that the brand of polymer clay is an important factor. I also know that Sharpie markers and polymer clay do not play well together.
See this Blue Bottle Tree post for an authoritative test. Ginger Allman, the blog’s author, did not test Bic Mark-it markers or Galaxy markers. I’m especially fond of Galaxy for the rich colors and sheen.
My project has pre-empted my work on trying to resolve the WordPress photo issue. I hope to have photos to show you soon.
One way to feed your polymer clay addiction is to buy a mini food processor. (Please forgive the pun–I loathe puns but get some sort of devilish delight inflicting them on others.) Even better, buy two mini food processors–one for darks and one for lights. (Are you running out of storage space yet?)
This may be one of the lesser known and under-rated polymer clay tips, but I think there are three strong reasons to use a food processor:
1. Quickly condition copious amounts of clay. A mini food processor will easily handle a two-ounce block of clay. Just cut the clay in cubes about the size of dice and whirl it until it’s transformed into little beads which you can squish together and roll out.
2. Condition stubborn polymer clay. If the clay crumbles or otherwise resists conditioning, cut it in cubes and toss it in the food processor. Whirl them until they become little beads which you should be able to squish together in your hands and roll out. If the beads won’t cling to each other, add some Sculpey Diluent or some pieces of translucent clay to the processor and whirl it another minute or so. If the clay is still not workable, it has probably been exposed to heat on some loading dock or near a sunny window. It’s beyond saving. (As I write that, I hear a reader saying “Don’t throw out that clay.” And they’re thinking, grate it and use it for inclusions, or some such thing.)
2. Make a quick and easy marble or watercolor blend. You can condition clay and blend colors at the same time. Chop up some compatible colors of clay and give them a whirl until they become little beads. Squish them together, roll them out, twist and roll some more. Voila!
Before putting away your food processor, scrape excess clay off the bowl. In my experience it’s not possible to thoroughly clean the bowl as the polymer clay eats into the plastic. Just remember not to use the food processor for food.
My Hamilton Beach mini food processors are no longer manufactured. The pictured model is a Procter Silex 1.5 cup capacity food chopper which sells for about $13.
Suzanne’s lentil swirl
Want to dazzle someone with the magic of polymer clay? Lentil swirls will do the trick. They’re a standard in the bead maker’s repertoire.
But recently I found another use. I was playing with polymer clay buddies, doing some applique on my light pull
. My friend Suzanne Pardo makes the best lentil swirls of anyone I know. I handed her some of my scrap to see what she could do. Later I realized I could cut one of her “beads” in half crosswise and make endcaps for my light pull. Pretty nifty, huh? I’m also thinking that cut this way little lentil swirls would make cool appliques.
Barb Fajardo has a tutorial called “Barrbara’s Scrappy Swirls”
on Polymer Clay Central. She uses a piece of lucite to swirl the clay. I’ve used one-half of a CD jewel case or a piece of glass with success.
Btw, Suzanne Pardo is also a talented, witty writer. See her brand new blog: Texas Musings by Skippy
Use a pasta machine to condition clay & sheet clay to uniform thickness.
Although a pasta machine (or polymer clay machine) isn’t absolutely essential, you’ll find that eventually you want one. Many polymer clay enthusiasts swear by the Atlas pasta machine. It’s a sturdy, reliable machine, but it requires dismantling for an occasional thorough cleaning. Directions for cleaning can be found at Desiree’s Desired Creations.
The Atlas 180 sells for about $80. With luck you might find one at a thrift store.
The Amaco polymer clay machine is the cheapest buy at about $10. It’s OK for starters.
The Dream Machine by Artway is expensive, but it has nine-inch wide rollers and is easy to clean. It sells for about $350.
My preference is the Makins machine, even though I sometimes have to deal with grooves left on the clay. The rollers are seven inches wide, and because they’re made of Teflon, I can sheet clay on the very thinnest setting without it shredding. It sells for about $50.
So, after you’ve acquired the Basic Tools, make your next purchase a pasta/polymer clay machine.
Basic tools for polymer clay
Maybe you’re a polymer clay beginner gazing at new packages of clay and wondering how to get started. Or you’re going on a trip, travelling light, and want to play with polymer clay at your destination. Here are what I consider the bare essential polymer clay tools:
Work surface. My preference is a ceramic tile, 12″ x 12″– probably not something you want to pack in a suitcase. Use an acrylic cutting mat.
Scrap paper. There are several uses for scrap paper. One is to place it on your work surface so that clay doesn’t stick when you roll it out. Just don’t leave clay sitting on paper too long as the paper will leech the plasticizers. That said, sometimes you want to leech plasticizers from overly soft clay. Just place the clay between two clean sheets of paper, and weight the sandwich with your tile or a heavy book for a couple of hours. Scrap paper is also used on your curing tile to prevent the clay from getting shiny freckles. And scrap paper makes a good tent to prevent clay from turning dark in the oven. Pearl and translucent clay are especially susceptible. The paper won’t burn at temperatures for curing clay. Just make sure it doesn’t come in contact with heating elements.
Craft sticks. Use a pair of craft stick guides to roll uniform sheets of clay. (Here’s an example of how they’re used.) You’ll want several pair of varying thicknesses. Playing cards or index cards taped together make decent guides as well.
Acrylic roller. Use an acrylic roller made for polymer clay to condition clay and roll it in sheets. I’ve heard of people substituting a glass tumbler, but I’m such a worry wart that I picture a trip to the ER, not to mention a project ruined by glass shrapnel.
Curing tile. A ceramic tile makes the best curing surface for most projects. Just remember to cover it with paper to protect the appearance of the back of your work. Cardboard makes an OK surface as well.
Blade. A blade made for polymer clay is best. Ideally you’ll have two blades: one flexible and one stiff. If I could have just one, I’d choose the flexible style.
Oven thermometer. Cure your work at the temperature specified on the clay package. Make sure your oven holds the correct temperature.
Oven (not pictured). Your home oven or toaster oven will work just fine. Always pre-heat it before curing your clay. Travelling? Don’t try to cure clay in the motel microwave. Protect your work from dust and dents, and wait till you can get to a proper oven.
Zoom in on this photo to see the difference in the right and left sides of the heart. See the light bouncing off the right side? I sanded the entire piece, then buffed just the right side with a nifty Dremel pad made especially for polymer clay. One or two minutes of buffing, after sanding well, is the key to getting a natural high gloss finish on polymer clay.
My Dremel model is the Minimite 4.8 volt (about $25 at Home Depot). I anchor it in a Central Forge 4″ drill press vise (about $20 at Harbor Freight.) It allows me to have both hands free to hold the bead I’m polishing. The cast iron vise is heavy enough that I didn’t have to screw it onto a table or board–it stays put as I polish. And it’s light enough that I can easily pick it up and store it when I’m finished. One word of caution: always wear eye protection when you use any type of buffing wheel. A flying bead can do serious damage.
Carolyn and Dave Good, the folks at 2 Good Claymates, make the buffing pads to fit the Dremel tool. The hand-made pads are sold in their Etsy and Artfire shops. Buy a three-pack (about $15) or six-pack (about $25), with $1 or $2 respectively going to Samunnat Nepal, a non-profit that serves women who are victims of domestic abuse or trafficking. Some of the women make beautiful polymer clay beads which are sold worldwide. Watch this spot for more on Samunnat later.
Let’s say you want to paint just the “hills” of a stamped image. Most directions tell you to apply the paint with your finger. I’ve never been able to do it without getting paint in the “valleys.”
Out of my frustration came a better way. I use the flat end of a wedge-shaped make-up sponge, dip it in the paint, and scrape off the excess with my blade. Then I dab it on the hills. There you go.
Btw, plain old acrylic craft paint works well on both raw and cured polymer clay.
Dip the flat end of a wedge-shaped make-up sponge in paint & scrape off the excess with your blade.
Dab the paint on the “hills” of the stamped impression without getting paint in the “valleys.”
Lately I’ve been playing with and teaching the polymer clay brocade surface technique. It starts with a sheet of clay covered with metal leaf. (See last week’s blog post on using metal leaf.) Stamp the clay (on the leaf side), and apply paint to the hills. Once the paint dries, flatten the impression with your acrylic roller. This technique works best with shallow stamps so the flattened impression doesn’t obscure the leaf. For a true brocade look, choose a stamp that makes fairly thin lines in the leaf so it mimics the metallic thread you’d see in fabric. That said, I’ve liked the results I get from other stamps, too, even if they don’t look like brocade.
Let the paint dry thoroughly (trust me) & flatten the impression with your roller.
I love this technique. I can’t quit making earrings.