Good morning. I had only ever tried out polymer clay once several years ago to make some beads but experienced absolute disaster as I scorched most of them on baking. The majority were consigned to the bin and I never got around to trying it out again! I would just look in envy at the gorgeous projects others were making with this medium.
I have since used various air dry clays and had been meaning to give polymer clay another try for ages, particularly for making beads and jewellery. However, I wasn’t feeling all that confident with my ability, or with my very old gas oven which varies so much in temperature (front to back and top to bottom).
I was immensely flattered when renowned polymer clay artist Debbie Bulford asked if I would like to take part in this month’s Sculpey polymer clay challenge. Oh gosh! I really wanted to get the process right this time. I needed a challenge like this to push me into giving it another try.
The theme was ‘New Year Celebrations’ and could be interpreted how I liked to make any item with Sculpey Polymer Clay. I thought that ‘New Beginnings’ would be an apt title for my creation. New year, and evolving myself with new techniques and challenges. What better than the metamorphosis of caterpillar into butterfly. So here it is – my ‘New Beginnings’. I am going to enjoy wearing this over Christmas.
Before starting on this piece I knew that I had to research and learn more about the properties of the clay. I also wanted to ensure that the baking was done under more controlled conditions. I put my scientist head on first this time. I read around, watched lots of YouTube videos and carried out several baking trials before I started on my piece. My baking times are longer than many others use but I have based them on my trials with my particular baking conditions. Renowned polymer clay tutor Cindy Lietz is also an advocate of longer baking. I am going to blog all my findings and trials in another posting after Christmas. I hope that others just starting out will find it useful to help them begin with their own creations.
- Von Chef table top oven with raised silicone baking mat and oven thermometer (see pic below)
- Scrap card to sit items on for baking
- Sculpey Premo Polymer Clay (57g packs): Black (2 packs), Antique Gold (1/2 pack), White (1/4 pack),Wisteria (1/4 pack), Blue Glitter (1/8 pack)
- Sculpey Bake & Bond
- Antique bronze coloured copper wire (1mm and 0.6mm), plain copper wire (0.8mm and 0.6mm)
- Mica powders (Jaquard – Super Bronze, Aztec Gold, True Blue, Flamingo Pink)
- Clay extruder with petal and circle discs plus an adaptor to make hollow tubes
- Acrylic roller, glass mat, Teflon mat, various clay shaping tools
- Leaf shaped push cutters (3 sizes – 5cm to 3cm length range)
- Pasta rolling machine
- Ready made antique bronze leaf toggle clasp and earring hook findings
Step by Step – how it was made:
I first tested my oven to achieve even temperature without big fluctuations – 125 to 130 degrees centigrade. The important thing is to have the oven hot enough but without it getting too hot and causing scorching. I used a raised silicone baking mat to raise my baked pieces away from the hot surface (the temperature fluctuates immensely right next to the base as the thermostat clicks on and off)
Note: The clay will give off a slight plastic smell while baking but if you get an acrid smell it is too hot (ventilate the room well if this happens). I have given baking times for my pieces based on my experiments – different ovens may give different optimal baking times. Thicker pieces will need longer than thinner (more about all this will be included in my blog after Christmas along with how I tested my optimal baking times etc.).
Clay was conditioned by hand kneading and by passing repeatedly through the pasta roller. Black clay was extruded using a circle disc and adaptor to make a long tube of clay (approx. 6-7mm wide). Different coloured micas were applied to the surface to give shimmer. This was then baked in a lightly curled up state to set a slight curve into the tube (40 mins). The baked clay was then sliced to make beads approx. 2-2.5cm long.
The beads were then threaded with 1mm antique bronze wire. At one end the wire was looped and pushed into the end of the bead to close the opening. A loop was created at the other end with extra twirls and coils added for an organic look. A little space was allowed at the bead ends for wrapping clay to cover the open bead ends and loops were aligned in a horizontal orientation (see next step).
Thin ‘cords’ of black clay were created with the extruder and wrapped randomly around the beads using Bake & Bond to ‘glue’. The open ends of the beads were covered to hide the holes and ‘set’ the wires in place.
The bead ends covered and wires anchored with clay coils.
The leaf/petal shaped disc was used and the extruded ‘cane’ sliced to make little leaf shapes. These were squished, shaped and attached onto the beads. A little Bake & Bond was used where needed (i.e. if attaching to the prebaked clay areas). I designed the slightly curved beads to fit around the neck so they had a front and back side. Leaves were added to the front so they would not be lumpy and sticking into the skin (particularly as the pendant section is quite heavy). The fresh clay embellishments were dusted with mica powders then baked for a further 60 minutes (10 beads for the necklace and 2 for earrings).
Beads, extruded ‘cords’ and ‘leaf cane’ created with extruder discs.
Leaves added and mica powder applied ready to bake.
Finished beads after baking.
The beads were joined together with 1mm wire using random swirly joining loops (5 beads each side of the clasp). Note the slightly curved beads were orientated so that they would fit the curve around the neck. I tried connecting with double jump rings but they gave too structured a finish. The random swirly loops gave the more organic look that I was after.
The front branch was created next. I estimated the size by holding up the beaded section onto my neck and estimating the width and depth that I wanted. I created a shallow ‘V’shaped branch approx. 10cm across and 5cm deep using 1mm wire as an armature for the clay (to give it extra strength). Attachment loops were created at the apex and tips.
2 ‘sausages’ of black clay were slit and wrapped around the wire armature to create an organic branch shape. Extruded ‘cords’ of black and gold clay mix were wrapped and twisted around the branch to give added texture. Mica was brushed over to colour (see pics below).
Next the leaf embellishments were created using a blend of black and gold clays and push cutters (rough Skinner Blend to get colour variations – see below). The clay was put through the pasta roller to create sheets of approx. 1.5mm thick. The push cutters were used to cut and emboss the shapes at the same time. Leaf fronts were cut from the blended colour sheets and the backs cut with black clay.
0.6mm copper wire armatures were added for extra strength and to help with shaping (which also held the shape while baking).
The leaves were arranged onto the branch and wires pushed into the clay to hold. Mica powders added extra colour variation. The branch was then baked for 40 mins.
Note some wire ends were left protruding on the left and right sides to aid attachment of embellishments later.
The branch back.
0.8mm copper wire was used to make an armature for the caterpillar. Black clay was rolled and cut into slices to make disc shaped beads which were thread onto the wire and pushed together. A small amount of white clay was extruded with a small circle disc and sliced to make little circles for eyes. Shaping tools were used to add texture details and a little mica powder added extra colour. The caterpillar was attached to the branch using Bake & Bond and baked for 30 minutes.
Several Skinner Blend mixes were created to makes canes which were wrapped with black clay and joined together to make a butterfly cane. There are lots of video tutorials out there about making blends. Triangles of glitter blue or Wisteria clay were blended with white by repeatedly passing through the clay roller.
The long blended strips were then folded concertina style and eased into a sausage shape. I didn’t worry too much about getting it perfect as it was not really essential for this project. A thin layer of black clay was then wrapped around the outside to make a Bulls Eye cane with a colour gradient across the middle.
I then started combining these canes to build up my butterfly cane. I really struggled with this bit. However, I did manage to get some pretty canes. I definitely need a little practice at this!
Some of my attempts at butterfly cane – oh dear! One of my distorted canes was however perfect for creating the newly emerged butterfly wings and I was really pleased with how it looked. I again used a 1mm bronze wire armature to add strength and to create an attachment loop (baked for 1 hour).
I persisted and made another butterfly cane. I really struggled with reducing it so made it close to the size that I wanted. However, where I wanted a delicate butterfly look it turned out to be more of a moth look instead! Again I used a wire armature (0.8mm copper) to add strength and to hold the shape while baking. The butterfly was attached to the branch using Bake & Bond and the piece was baked for another hour.
The newly emerged butterfly was attached at the base using double jump rings created with 1mm wire. The branch was attached to the necklace beaded section using 1mm wire and ‘organic’ loops.
One of my ‘reject’ butterfly canes also made some lovely earrings to coordinate. I made a couple of delicate slices and added holes using a ball tool. Baked for 1 hour.
The butterfly wings were attached to the beads using jump rings created with 1mm bronze coloured wire. Ready made hooks were attached to the bead tops.
I have loved my first big adventures with polymer clay and I know that I will enjoy wearing this one. A definite statement piece! Here’s to new beginnings x.
Hopefully there are not too many typos or errors in my post – rushing around to get ready for Christmas – tee hee. Wishing you all Happy Holidays and a fabulous New Year, Anne xxx.