Polymer clay is a wonderful medium for craft projects because you do not need a kiln to fire the clay. Polymer clay is the generic term for a family of man-made clays that are supple and pliable until baked, at which time the clay will become permanently hard.
With a low baking temperature of no higher than 265 degrees F the clay can be baked in a regular home oven or toaster oven.
Polymer clay is a polyvinyl chloride compound mixed with a plasticizer for flexibility and various fillers for texture and color. Common brands include Cernit, FIMO, FIMO Soft, Friendly Clay, Granitex, Premo, Sculpey, Super Sculpey and Sculpey III.
Each manufacturer has specific directions for the conditioning and baking of their brand so it's important to read all package labeling and directions.
I recommend Sculpey III brand for craft projects because it's "softer" even before you begin to knead and condition it for a project. Most polymer clays (no matter the manufacturer or brand) are compatible and will mix well.
Working the Possibilities
The possibilities are endless when working with polymer clay. You can sculpt, stamp, roll, mold and create just about anything the imagination can suggest.
However, if you're working with children and beginners the best way to introduce this colorful medium is by using pre-made canes. The pre-made canes come in all different types of designs from Americana to floral and quilt patterns.
Canes were originally made to mimic Italian glassworking called millefiori, meaning thousands of flowers. The canes may be round or square, depending on the design, and around 3" long. The canes must be conditioned and then a cane can be reduced (and in some cases enlarged).
To condition the cane, you must warm it. This can be done by holding the cane in your hand, under your arm, or placing it in warm water for a few minutes.
After it begins to warm (you'll feel it soften), then you can begin to roll it in your hands. At this point you don't really want to reduce it or make the can smaller. You are still in the conditioning process.
Roll and then rest the cane (in your hands or in the warm water). After about 7-10 minutes of conditioning the clay, it's ready to reduce. This is done by rolling the cane with your hand against your work surface. Keep the cane even.
From the photo you can see the different values of reduction on the same cane design. To enlarge you will gently push the ends of the cane toward the center. Remember to enlarge and then rest the clay.
Now you are ready to cut the cane into beads or slices. This is best done with a very long, thin blade. Several styles of cutting blades are available in most craft stores or available on the Web.
For young children it is best to have an adult do any cutting. Older children should be closely supervised. Thin slices of cane can be used to cover a variety of surfaces, from wood to glass.
The low baking temperature makes it easy, but keep in mind that you shouldn't use any surface that is highly flammable, and never leave baking clay unsupervised.
Pre-made polymer clay cane
Cord, ribbon or yarn
Optional: assorted glass beads
1. Preheat oven to temperature on packaging label. Never heat oven or toaster oven higher than 265 degrees.
2. Condition and reduce a pre-made cane.
3. Cut cane into 1/4" slices.
4. Carefully insert toothpick into cane slices to create the bead hole for stringing.
5. Line baking sheet or pan with aluminum foil.
6. Place beads onto aluminum foil making sure beads don't touch.
7. Bake for time listed on packaging label.
8. Allow beads to cool. Remove toothpicks.
9. String polymer clay beads (mixing with glass beads if desired) onto your selected jewelry cording, ribbon or yarn. Knot off.
10. Depending on how you reduce the cane you can get around 15-25 beads per cane.
Pre-made polymer clay cane
Sanding paper or Emory board
1. *You must be able to remove the tip and ink tube of the pen you use. Inexpensive Bic pens work best. Remove the tip and ink tube from pen.
2. Preheat oven to temperature on packaging label. Never heat oven or toaster oven higher than 265 degrees.
3. Lightly sand outside plastic cartridge of the pen to give the surface "teeth" for the cane slices to grab and adhere to.
4. Condition and reduce a pre-made cane(s). Cut off several slices of the original size cane. Reduce cane slightly. Cut off several more slices. Repeat this step at least two more times so you'll have a variety of slice sizes to work with. Or you can work with several canes depending on how many campers are making this project.
5. Starting at the top of the pen, begin to place cut slices onto the plastic pen outer body. Work with only 2-3 slices at a time. With clean fingertips, press slice firmly to the plastic and the warmth of your hand will also spread the cane slice. Occasionally roll the pen body to your work surface to smooth the joined slices. Repeat until entire pen body is covered.
6. Make sure the bottom opening of the pen body is clear. Cut away any clay that covers this opening or you'll never be able to slide the pen tip back into the pen.
7. Line baking sheet or pan with aluminum foil.
8. Place beads onto aluminum foil making sure individual pens don't touch.
9. Bake for time listed on packaging label (usually 30-45 minutes).
10. Allow pens to cool. Slide pen tip back into pen.
11. Depending on how much you reduce a cane, one cane can cover 1-2 pens.
11. Use these same steps to place sliced canes onto inexpensive glass candle holders that aren't just for tea candles, but are also a great holder for your new pens!
Polymer Clay Tips
• Rub a dab or small amount of Vaseline into your hands before you start working with the clay. The Vaseline keeps your hands clean and helps conduct the heat from your hands to the clay.
• Always start with a clean work surface. The clays pick up dust and other odds and ends from the work surface. These "extras" can affect the surface and finish of the clay.
• There are wonderful cutting, shaping and design tools on the market for polymer clays, but don't forget that toothpicks, paper clips, cookie cutters and pencils are handy tools too.
• If you're looking for non-stick surfaces, don't overlook old Formica cabinet doors or ceramic tiles.
• One of the keys to successful handmade canes is allowing the canes to rest overnight after each reduction. Don't be in a hurry when making a detailed cane.
• Warm hands by sitting on them or placing hands on a heating pad while working with the clays.
• Store clay and canes in airtight containers like a zip-lock plastic bag. Canes can also be wrapped in wax paper or freezer paper. Keep odds and ends scraps for other projects.
• Yes, different brands of clay can be mixed together, but no one will guarantee the results!
• The best temperature for baking the clays is always listed on packaging labels. Different brands recommend different temperatures and baking times. Never heat oven over recommended degrees from manufacturer. It is better to use a low temperature and longer baking time than to burn the clay in your oven.
• If you're serious about working with polymer clays, invest in a pasta machine or a food processor just for working and kneading the clays. Once the clay has been used in the machine, the machine (and any other tool you use when working with the clay) can no longer be used in food processing. However, the machines will cut down on kneading time and help save hand stress.
Maria Nerius has been designing and writing craft projects for 15 years and is the craft expert at CreateForLess.com. If you have questions, comments, have craft ideas of your own, or would like to see a particular craft in an upcoming issue, e-mail Maria at firstname.lastname@example.org.