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Polymer Clay Mica Shift Magic for Beginners

Polymer clay mica shift made easy

Polymer clay mica shift made easy

“Wow, how’d you do that?” Don’t you love those words? Well, even a beginner can bask in glory with this simplified approach to polymer clay mica shift. Mica shift is a magical technique that produces a 3D illusion with a silky smooth surface.

A bit of explanation: synthetic mica particles create the special effect found in pearl and metallic clays. You’ll see streaks in the clay when you first open a package. That’s because the mica particles lie every which way. A few passes of the clay through the pasta machine and the particles will align for a streak-free surface. This surface reflects light. Cut the clay, and you’ll see that the edge is a bit darker. That’s because it absorbs light Manipulating the clay to capture this quality is the magic of mica shift.

When I first thought about sharing this easy technique, I was making tiles for a bracelet. But it occurred to me that someone new to clay might not have acquired basic jewelry making skills (yet).  So here’s how to make a bookmark.

I’m using Premo Peacock Pearl & Premo Pearl, 1/8 package (1/4 oz.) each. (Metallic clays, such as Gold and Silver, can be used straight from the package without adding pearl. The exception is 18K Gold.) Combine the Peacock Pearl and Pearl clay and roll it with your acrylic roller to a thickness that will fit in your pasta machine without straining the rollers at the second-thickest setting. Sheet the clay, fold it and sheet it again with the folded edge entering the rollers. Continue folding and sheeting until the streaks disappear.

Sheet the clay on the pasta machine’s medium-thick setting. (On my Makins, that’s a 3.)

Make the bookmark base with clay cut about 1″ x 4″  (It will get bigger in the process.)

From the leftover piece of clay, cut very skinny strips, about the thickness of uncooked spaghetti. They don’t have to be uniform.

Twist each strip. Now you can start to see the difference between the clay’s surface and cut edge.

I’m placing a strip in a long serpentine line down the middle of the base. I’m not going all the way to the sides with it as I’ll be trimming the bookmark later. Then I add short, straight pieces.

After the design is added, press it with your hand or acrylic roller to adhere it to the base.

In the next few steps the idea is to gradually reduce the thickness of the clay and make the twisted strips one with the base. This process will cause the design to spread, so to ensure that it spreads evenly in all directions you’ll turn the clay before each of four passes on the pasta machine.

Without changing the setting on your pasta machine (mine is 3), sheet the clay.

Give the clay a one-quarter turn clockwise, step down the pasta machine one setting (mine is 4), and sheet the clay again.

Give the clay another one-quarter turn clockwise, step down the pasta machine one setting, and sheet the clay again.

Give the clay a final one-quarter turn clockwise, step down the pasta machine one setting, and sheet the clay again.

Trim the clay to bookmark size.

Place it on a paper-covered curing tile or on a piece of cardboard.

Cure it in a pre-heated oven according to directions on the clay package.

The bookmark looks great straight out of the oven. For greater depth, you can sand and buff it.

The bookmark looks great straight out of the oven. For greater depth, you can sand and buff it.








Cruise the Hardware Store

You make a trip to the hardware store. Maybe you need some ceramic tiles for curing surfaces, or some wet/dry sandpaper. Take your time. Cruise the aisles. You may find more very useful polymer clay supplies.

Dremel Tool and 4″ Drill Press Vise Truth to tell, I owned a dremel tool for a very long time before I learned to love it. Two things caused my change of heart: 1) I bought buffing pads from 2GoodClaymates. 2) I bought a 4″ drill press vise. Now I can get a gorgeous glossy finish on polymer clay by sanding and buffing, just like the gurus do.

Varathane Polyurethane Interior Finish OK, sometimes you want a glossy finish on a piece that doesn’t lend itself to sanding and buffing. Or you just hate sanding and buffing. In the polymer clay world, Varathane is the preferred varnish for its clarity and durability. It won’t yellow over time unlike Pledge with Future Shine floor wax, an old polymer clay world favorite. You may have to search a bit for the 8 oz. container as many stores tend to carry just the 32 oz. size.

Threaded metal rods When I want a texture of parallel lines on polymer clay, I use a threaded metal rod. I have several, ranging from small- to large-width threads. I can also make a convincing rope effect by rolling a metal rod at an angle over a skinny polymer clay snake.

Wet/dry sandpaper & sanding block Sanding polymer clay should be done with wet sandpaper so it doesn’t raise dust. You don’t want to be inhaling polymer clay dust. Always add a drop of dish soap to the water to keep your sandpaper from getting clogged. You can get by with sandpaper grits from 320 to 600, but for a glossy finish you’ll want to go all the way to 2000. Don’t skip grit sizes when you sand, e.g., start with 320, then 400, 600, 800, etc. The sanding block makes the job a bit easier.

ArmorAll I am a big fan of ArmorAll. Where other people use water as a release, I prefer ArmorAll. I spritz texture sheets with it and sometimes use it on my polymer clay blade to reduce drag. Also I apply it to finished pieces I’ve embellished with Perfect Pearls Pigment Powders to get rid of the gritty feel. Just don’t use ArmorAll on Fimo brand clay.

Ceramic tiles for work surface & curing My work surface is a 12″ x 12″ ceramic tile. I cure polymer clay on tiles that range from 4″ x 4″ to 12″ x 12″. I tape clean scrap paper to the tile to prevent shiny spots and freckles on the back of the piece I’m curing.

Storage shelves, drawers, pegboard, etc. Organization isn’t my strong suit. But having my supplies reasonably organized is so satisfying. See “Fish or Cut Bait.”




The Best Way To Cut With a Polymer Clay Blade

Cutting techniqueWhen 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.

Basic Tools for Polymer Clay

Polymer clay tools

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.
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.
(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.

Trick for Making Polymer Clay Beads of Uniform Size

OT Lustrous 15Take the guesswork out of making round and other hand-formed beads of uniform size. I made these disc-shaped beads for my Lustrous Beads tutorial painlessly. (You may also be interested in related blog posts on impressing both sides of clay and applying powders.)



Here’s the trick:

No Pasta Machine? Condition Clay by Hand

Clay fresh from the package must be conditioned to wake up the plasticizers. Here’s how:


 Hint: If you plan to blend colors, say white and magenta to make pink, don’t condition them separately. Save time and effort by conditioning the 2 colors together. Voila, pink!