5 Basic Techniques for Polymer Clay Jewelry Making
Are you looking for an affordable, versatile, forgiving medium to add to your jewelry-making toolbox? Okay I'll just say it: Polymer clay is the most versatile jewelry-making material in the whole world. It can resemble just about any other jewelry-making material, including metal (even etched or textured), gems and rocks, wood, plastic, resin, enamel and glass, paper, found objects like sea glass and old hardware, bone, and more. Polymer clay can also be combined with other jewelry supplies easily, including wire, metal, resin, fibers, wood--just about anything.
As more polymer clay varieties have become available--including realistic-looking metallics and faux stone, super lightweight or perpetually flexible clays, and even translucent clay--more artisan jewelers are discovering clay's potential and making gallery-quality clay jewelry. New polymer clay tools are readily available, too, including findings that are created specifically for use with polymer clay. Because it's so easily modeled and molded, polymer clay can become any shape or object you need it to be and takes texture like a dream. It's durable when it's cured and sealed, and with a color palette that puts the Crayola big box of 64 to shame, polymer clay is ideal for jewelry making.
5 Basic Polymer Clay Jewelry TechniquesWith all of its possibilities, there are really just about five basic processes involved in making polymer clay jewelry and other creations.
1. Conditioning: Polymer clay must be conditioned to soften the clay and make it easier to work with. To condition clay, knead it with your hands to warm it and then flatten it until it's thin enough to pass through a clay-dedicated pasta machine. Folding and passing polymer clay through a pasta machine repeatedly, raising the setting each time, conditions clay beautifully and prepares it for making polymer clay jewelry. If you don't have a pasta machine or prefer not to use one, you can condition polymer clay by hand and with a rolling pin, folding and rerolling it repeatedly. Add heat with a hair dryer or heat lamp to relax the clay and make it easier to condition. Polymer clay expert Lisa Pavelka recommends conditioning light polymer clay colors first and then the darker ones; clean your hands between colors with baby wipes.
2. Color making: I think one of polymer clay's most appealing features is color--it comes in so many colors and can be blended into a limitless variety of more colors. Mix polymer clay colors the same way you condition the clay; simply combine two or more colors in your hands and go through the conditioning process to blend until the desired color or effect (such as marbling) is achieved. Skinner blends are popular polymer clay creations that blend from one color into another one or with white to resemble ombre designs.
3. Forming and Shaping: This is the fun part. You can carve clay, ruffle it, weave it, mold it . . . layer it, texture it, stamp it, coil it. Anything goes! Ceramic tiles and wax paper are ideal surfaces on which to work with polymer clay. One of the most creative polymer-clay techniques is caning, which creates designs in snakes or logs of clay by rolling logs of different clay colors and arranging them in a particular way. Cane slices show off those designs, such as flowers, stars, bull's-eyes, or random colorful patterns--even animals and faces.
4. Curing: To harden and preserve your polymer clay jewelry creations, cure clay in a clay-dedicated small toaster oven. Bake clay on parchment paper on cardboard or on a ceramic tile. Note that curing clay directly on metal will create shiny spots on it. Preheat the oven to 250° F first, and then cure your polymer clay pieces for 30 to 60 minutes between 250° and 265° F. Note: Polymer clay can melt and/or release toxic smoke if its temperature goes above 265° F. Make sure you have a good oven thermometer for a temperature gauge (don't rely on the oven's setting to tell you the temperature) and watch it carefully; also always work in an area with good ventilation.
5. Finishing: After your polymer clay jewelry masterpieces are cured and cooled, they need to be finished like any other jewelry creation. Finishing polymer clay means wet sanding with waterproof sandpaper or a sanding sponge, using progressively finer grits, and then dry polishing with a rotary tool or something similar and a cloth buffing wheel. Follow that by coating with a thin layer of varnish or clear sealant if you want to further protect it and/or add shine to highlight certain areas.
Those five basic polymer clay techniques can lead to playful or artisan-style jewelry--or anything in between. And it's so affordable, experimenting with clay is encouraged. Have fun!
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As the editor of Jewelry Making Daily, I love working with metal and found objects, enameling, using metal clay, and hoarding pearls and gemstones. I’ve been a “maker” all my life, so I also enjoy knitting, paper crafts like card making and scrapbooking, and cooking, as well as traveling, the seashore, and snow!