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   The Polymer Clayspot
       Polymer Clay FAQ

The Polymer Clayspot:

Welcome to Polymer Clay
Choosing & Mixing Clay
Conditioning Polymer Clay
Using the Food Processor
Using the Pasta Machine
Forming Clay Pieces
Firing Polymer Clay
Finishing Clay Pieces
Storing Polymer Clay
Using Stone Clays
Using Translucent Clays
Molding & Sculpting
Creating Surface Effects
Making Polymer Clay Jewelry
Safety & Cleanup
More Information Sources
How do I make a simple bead?

To make a round bead, cut or pinch off a small amount of conditioned clay and roll it between your palms into a ball shape. Roll in the round middle of your hands for the best result. (Your first beads may be a little lopsided; you can gently pinch or press them into shape.) When the bead's shape and size are to your liking, pierce a stringing hole in the bead with a needle or skewer. You can make oval beads by making a round bead, then rolling it against your work surface to flatten it a little.

To make cylindrical beads, roll your clay into a log shape, slice with a sharp blade into the lengths you want, and pierce each bead along its axis. If your clay is soft, let it sit or chill it for a short time before slicing and piercing; this firms up the clay and lets it hold its shape better.

How do I make a millefiori bead?

A millefiore ("thousand flowers") bead is one decorated with slices from a cane. You can decorate a bead with a few spaced cane slices, or cover it completely.

To make a millefiore bead, first make a base bead from solid clay. If you're not going to cover the surface completely with cane slices, make sure the clay is a color that goes well with your cane. Take as many slices from the cane as you need. Make the slices as thin as you can get them without distorting the pattern.

Pick up the base bead and start placing the slices on it, one by one. If your bead is small relative to the diameter of the cane, try applying three, four, or six slices to each bead (in a triangle, tetrahedron, or cube pattern). If the bead is large, simply cover it with as many slices as you need. Press each slice very gently into place to make it stick.

Once the bead is covered, roll it very gently between your palms to smooth the seams between cane slices. Once the seams have disappeared, pierce and fire your bead.

How do I apply cane slices to other clay objects?

You can generalize the method for beads to any object.

However, if the shape you want to cover is irregular or difficult to work with, it may be easier to make the shape, fire it, then apply the cane slices to the fired piece. This lets you apply the slices without worrying about smooshing the underlying shape of the piece.

Can I apply clay to glass, plastic, and wood objects?

You can apply a clay veneer to almost any object that will withstand firing temperatures. This includes wood, cardboard, glass, metal, and many plastics. If you're not sure whether a plastic item can be fired without melting, try running it through the dishwasher to test its melting temperature. (Do not risk burning a piece of plastic; the fumes from burning plastic can be harmful to breathe.)

To veneer a piece, apply a thin layer of clay to it. Some substances, such as glass, do not stick well to clay; if you're veneering a glass piece, either make sure the clay goes all the way around the piece (so it can't be pried off during use) or fire the clay and then attach the fired piece to the glass with an adhesive.

To keep the clay from peeling away from an object while you're working with it, you can paint a thin layer of Liquid Sculpey on the object and fire it for a few minutes to set it, then layer your clay on top. (Thanks to Donna Zeffren for this tip.) Another technique to make clay stick is to layer the piece with glue and let it dry to tackiness before putting the clay on.

Why is my clay veneer cracking when I fire it?

Any object expands when heated and contracts when cooled. Different types of material - glass, plastic, metal, clay - expand and contract at different rates when heated, so if you fire a clay veneer on some other material, the difference in expansion and contraction rates may cause cracking.

When you're baking clay on some object, it's a good idea to put it into a cold oven and then turn on the heat, and leave it in the oven after firing until it's cool. Changing the temperature slowly instead of fast lets the clay adjust as the size of the veneered object changes, and this reduces the possiblity of cracking.

How do I cut clay into shapes?

To create clay shapes, first roll out a flat sheet of clay. You can use cookie or canape cutters (look in a craft or cooking-supply store for these miniature cutters); there are also cutters made especially for polymer clay. If the clay sticks to the cutters, use a little mold release on the clay before cutting, or chill the clay a little before you cut it.

The shapes can be used as-is for pendants or ornaments, or layered in various colors to create interesting effects. You can also press small shapes onto beads or other objects for a 3-D effect that is durable and interesting.

Can I make a sculpture from polymer clay?

You can make a small sculpture (an inch or two) without reinforcing the clay. For larger sculptures, or for protruding pieces such as hands, you can form the clay on a wire armature (framework) to prevent sagging or breakage. Twist florist's wire or other strong wire into a framework that will support each part of the sculpture, then mold the clay around the wire. Or make and fire the sculpture a piece at a time and then attach the pieces. Some artists use crumpled aluminum foil to support their pieces; make sure the foil is tightly packed for the best results.

How do I sign my work?

There are several methods of including your signature, initials, or logo in your polymer clay work. Large pieces, such as sculptures or boxes, can be signed before firing by scratching a signature into the bottom of the piece with a needle tool. Many polymer-clay jewelers create a cane with their initials or logo, and include a pierced slice from this cane in every necklace they make. A similar technique is to stamp a small flat piece of clay wth your initials, pierce and fire it, and hang it from a jump ring attached to your jewelry, usually near the clasp.

Some clay artists have experimented with signing their work in pen, directly on the fired clay. It has been reported that Pilot pens work well for this purpose.

 Next: Firing Polymer Clay

Jeanne A. E. DeVoto
Copyright © 1996-97 Jeanne A. E. DeVoto