Polymer Clay Tips

I do not pretend to be an expert with polymer clay, although I have been making jewellery and other items with it on and off now for nearly 4 years. However, I thought if you are totally new to polymer clay, you might appreciate it if I shared a few basic and useful tips that I have picked up, as well as some really good tutorials I have discovered plus a few of my own tutorials too, hopefully this may help you with your creations.

A few basics:

  • Always work on a clean, dry and dust free flat surface.  Preferably something dedicated to just your clay, like a glass or acrylic sheet or a ceramic tile and keep your hands very clean especially if you are switching between different colours of clay, make sure you wash your hands frequently or use something like a baby wipe before each change of colour.  Clay very easily attracts hairs, dust and dirt and that white clay won’t stay white for long if your not very careful!
  • Conditioning the clay. Many tutorials tell you to condition your clay, this basically means working it in your hands to increase its pliability and softness.  The warmth of your hands and the process of stretching and rolling it makes it is easier to work with and mixes the plasticizers which are within the clay.  However, sometimes if your clay has become crumbly and too hard and you can’t get it to soften, then you can try adding a tiny amount of baby oil or  Fimo liquid gel (which is what I use) or Sculpey clay softener and continue to work it in your hands until hopefully it has softened or another way is you can put it into a small plastic zip lock bag, work it a bit then leave for a while (may take a day or so), then see if it has softened.  If you have a Pasta machine then you can also use this to help soften the clay.  If any of these methods haven’t worked, then sorry you need new clay.
  • Too soft clay. Whilst conditioning or sculpting, if you manage to make your clay too soft, don’t worry, put it in the fridge for 10 minutes and it should harden up, you can also drop it into a bowl of iced water for a minute of so, but ensure you dry the clay thoroughly afterwards.  Another method is to put the clay between two sheets of absorbent paper for a max of 30 mins and this will allow some of the plasticizers to leach out of the clay and harden it up again, but be careful not to overdo this, otherwise the clay might end up crumbly again and unusable.
  • Basic tools?  You will find has your experience develops with polymer clay, so will your tools.   To start with, all you will probably need is a cutting blade and maybe something to pierce holes if your making beads, ie a tooth pick or wire is fine.  But as you progress so will the tools that you will require/acquire over time. ie. Pasta machine, cookie cutters of varying sizes, rubber stamps, an extruder, sculpting tools, heat gun, embossing templates and lots of other things around the home and craft shops that can help give texture or shape, it’s really all down to your own imagination and creativeness and not necessarily all expensive.
  • Test it!  Before you spend hours making your first set of beads or work of art.  Take some clay, and make some test pieces, roll it into some different size balls and role some clay out and using a small round cutter cut out some different thickness circles and then do a test bake in your chosen oven (see below for baking advice). There is nothing worse than lovingly spending hours making your first set of beads only to burn them in the oven.  (Yes I did this with my first bake). So don’t make the mistake I did and mis-read the cooking temperature and burn them to a crisp!  You need a cool oven not a hot oven.  If the clay packet says cook at 110 degrees C / 230 degrees F for a maximum of 30 mins then do this.  Then see how the beads look and feel once fully cooled.  All ovens are different and can give different results,  use an oven thermometer to see the real temperature if you want to be sure. When your items have finished baking, allow them to fully cool before you start to handle them, I sometimes leave them to cool down in my oven.   Remember, it is possible to bake  items for longer periods of time and to re-bake them as necessary, but never be tempted to bake them at a too high temperature.
  • Ready for the oven? When you are ready to bake your items you need to ensure they are put on an oven proof surface,  ie. on a ceramic or glass tile, if you are using a ceramic tile, to avoid getting shiny spots on the surface of the clay during baking place the item on grease-proof baking paper first or a bed of corn flour.  If you are baking beads they are best suspended on wire so they are not marked.  Now you can buy a bead baking rack but and an easy cheap solution for this, use a foil baking tray instead, pierce holes either side and thread the beads on wire and suspend from the sides of the baking tray.
  • Baking. If you are new to polymer clay and you don’t have a dedicated oven to bake your polymer clay creations in, then you are probably going to use your normal household oven, which you also use for cooking food.  Firstly do not cook polymer clay at the same time as food.  Secondly as a precaution ensure you cover your items with a ‘dome’ of tin foil this is to stop any fumes escaping if you over-cook your items (but hopefully you won’t).  Alternatively you can try using two deep disposable baking tins one over the other and clip them together with bulldog clips.  The reason for this is that if your clay gets burned, harmful fumes can occur and you really don’t want this mixing with the food you eat. If you do burn the clay, open all the windows and doors as quickly as possible to get rid of the fumes and keep pets and children away.
  • Allow to fully cool. Don’t be impatient and touch your creations before they have fully cooled, the clay will still be slightly soft but will harden up as it cools.  Switch off the oven and leave them to cool down slowly.
  • Mixing other materials with polymer clay & decorating:  Polymer clay mixes together well, so if you have a large supply of white clay and a few smaller blocks of clay in other colours, you can very easily create new colours by mixing the white and a small piece of another colour to make your own blend.  You just have to keep working the two colours together until they have fully combined, try experimenting with different quantities of the same colour combination and see how many slightly different colour variations you can achieve.   You can also create colour blends by combining complimentary colours together, using a pasta machine is good for this.
    • Alcohol inks: You can also add alcohol inks to unbaked clay to create new colours, I’ve done a fair amount of experimenting with Adirondack inks to good effect, but just be warned the colours can look different though once baked.  You can also add these inks to Fimo liquid gel and then paint the gel onto the baked clay items, then either bake in the oven again to set or set with a heat gun.  Here is a post about an experiment I did with Adirondack inks and translucent clay HERE
    • Mica Powders: I’ve been using Ranger Perfect Pearls by applying them to the unbaked clay and then baking.  These are very good if you want to create a look of enamel.
    • Acrylic Paint & Chalk pastels: You can paint your baked clay pieces with Acrylic paint or chalk pastels and once dried set with a suitable varnish or you can mix both these with Fimo liquid gel and paint on and then set in the oven or with a heat gun.
    • Embossing powder: I have used this by coating my baked clay with Fimo liquid gel, then sprinkling the embossing powder onto it and heating it with a heat gun, just make sure you don’t burn the clay.
    • Solvent inks: I’ve successfully used StazOn stamping solvent ink on clay, however be careful with other inks as these may not set/dry.
    • Glitter:  Glitter can be mixed in with unbaked clay before forming and baking or applying afterwards by first coating your piece with liquid gel.
    • Gold/Silver leaf:  You can buy special Gold and Silver leaf that can be used and mixed with unbaked clay, then baked as normal, you can also apply this after baking using a special size for leaf metal.
    • Modge Podge: – Do not be tempted to coat your finished pieces with this.  Initially it looks OK, but over time as it is really a white glue, it will start to get tacky and cloudy.  Same with nail varnish – do not use.
  • Creating beads If you would like to make all your beads the same size, a useful tip I found was to roll out your clay with a roller or through a pasta machine on the thickest setting,  then use a round cutter to cut out the clay, choose a size depending on how big or small you want your beads to be.  Then all you need to do is take each piece and roll into your beads.
  • Sealing your creations/beads: This is all a matter of choice and is not necessary if you have baked your creations properly , polymer clay will have become, tough, waterproof and very durable during the baking. Varnishing/sealing is really down to you and what look you want to achieve.  However if you have added any of the mixing materials I mentioned above onto the baked clay,you may then consider protecting these with a varnish or a sealant as these may not be as durable.



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