What is Polymer Clay?
Polymer is a plastic. Don’t be fooled when this loaded word is used, which in our modern world is associated with words like “cheap” and “throwaway”. Also known as polyvinyl chloride or PVC. Some water pipes in the home are made from PVC.
Polymer clay is plastic in the BEST sense of the word. It will do most of the things that traditional materials like, ceramics, wood and glass, will do, and much more besides. It is one of the most versatile and inspirational artist’s materials to come along in centuries. This clay has been around for about 50 years and you may have come across names like “Premo”, “Sculpey” “Fimo” and “Kato Polyclay”. It has been used by doll makers, miniaturists, architects and children, but now is being used in exciting and innovative ways by artists and craftsman around the world.
Polymer Clay is a pliable modeling clay that is hardened (baked, fired, cured) in a regular household oven. The various brands each harden at a slightly different temperatures and times but can be intermixed. Polymer clay can be used much like clay but should not be used for containers or items holding food. Unlike earth clay, it comes in dozens of colors, and you can blend clays together like paints to make your own colors. Firing - the process that fuses the particles into a solid - requires only low temperatures, low enough to use a home oven as your kiln. For occasional use this is deemed as safe, but if you decide on making polymer clay part of your regular hobby, then a clay dedicated toaster or (better) convection oven should be considered. An oven thermometer is just as important as an oven as most internal oven thermometers are inaccurate by as much as 20 degrees Celsius which can be detrimental to proper fusion. Preheating is important.
When fired, the clay gets hard enough to make durable objects, and can be finished in various ways to obtain textures from glassy to stone-like. The clay can be made to resemble turquoise, terra cotta, carved stone, marble, and semi-precious stones like jade. And since it's soft and pliable in its unfired state, it's easy to sculpt, incise, and mold it. You can make beads, buttons, game pieces, boxes, sculptures, and many other things.
Have a look around herehttp://polymerclaycentral.com for the ABC of polymer clay and a wealth of information here also http://glassattic.com
What tools do I need?
It is entirely possible to make an item from polymer clay using only your hands and your oven. Your hands are your most important tool for working and conditioning polymer clay. But here is a list of most commonly used tools:
- Oven - kitchen oven, but better is a clay dedicated toaster or convection oven that you can set in another area, such as garage, patio or someplace away from the living area of your home. Personally, I feel that if you smell it, you're ingesting it. If your polymer clay accidentally burns, the fumes and gas emitted is toxic to your health. Also important...do NOT microwave!
- Pasta Machine, not extruder, but the roller type. Great investment tool for conditioning and rolling thin sheets. Purchase one that can be secured to a tabletop. Michael’s and online sources such as http://goldaskitchen.com and http://shadesofclay.com carries them. I use an Atlas and Olympic, but Imperia, Marcato...any of these Italian machines are superior.
- Working Surface, glass, or ceramic tile sections can be purchased at a discount store or a tile store. Also Home Depot. Look for a smooth surface. Cardstock or old file folders can also be used, although don’t leave unbaked clay on paper…. it will leach the plasticizer.
- Clay Extruders are handy for making uniform shapes to incorporate into canes, hair or wherever a preformed shape is needed. Clay must be well softened and warm to extrude with ease. Clay guns are also available at craft stores. I have the Makins Extruder which is excellent. Shades of Clay carries this also.
- Brayers or Rollers, handy for flattening the clay if you do not have a pasta machine. They are helpful for making square logs.(Use the Card technique for even rolling...see below)
- X-Acto, useful for cutting shapes and trimming.
- Tissue Blade is a must for fine slicing and cane work. Long blades from replaceable craft knives can also be used.
- A Piercing tool is necessary for making holes in beads. Substitutes may be darning needles, knitting needles, skewers, toothpicks, hat pins, straight head pins.
- Paint brushes for applying paints, mica powders, are useful for smoothing.
- Shape Cutters of various shapes and sizes
- Textures such as Rubber stamps, texture plates, craft foam, sand paper of varying grits, textured wall paper, fabric...
- Ruler for measuring ...this list is not complete, but a great start
How can I roll clay without a pasta machine?
If you don't have a pasta machine use a deck of cards split into equal numbers and use them as a guide on either side of your hand conditioned/softened clay. With an acrylic roller or brayer you will then only be able to roll your clay to the thickness of the cards. The resulting clay sheet should be even and flat.
How thick should my pendant be?
In general, a pendant should be the minimum thickness of the largest pasta machine setting or about 1/8 inch, but that said, it also greatly depends on the size of a pendantbut. 1/8 inch thickness works for flat pendants that are about 2 inches in diameter, if your pendant is larger or has other elements it may have to be thicker. To achieve a slightly thicker piece back it with another thickness of clay. This thickness can vary from another 1/8 inch thickness to marginally thinner depending which setting you use. For very small pendants, it should be safe to create thinner pieces, it all depends on how much wear or 'strain' a piece has to withhold.
How far from the edge do I make a hole for my pendant?
A front to back hole for bails or jump rings shouldn't be too close to the edge or the clay could split when trying to attach a jumpring. A hole should be no less than 4 to 5mm from the edge for a 2 inch pendant. You can try using larger jump rings if your pendant is thick, or use a prong bail. For a really thick pendant a side hole is probably better suited for direct stringing. I don't recommend 'glue in' type posts as they aren't reliable, a head pin would be much better suited in that case with a hole from top to bottom or an embedded piece of shaped wire between layers of clay. My Batik Flower Tutorial shows how to do this.