Tips For Working With Clay

clay

Polymer clay is a popular craft item and you can make many different things from it from Christmas ornaments to jewelry.  The clay is composed of PVC resin and a liquid plasticizer.  This plastic-like consistency is what makes it popular as modeling clay.  It is moldable, blendable, it sticks together and can be baked to harden forever.  The clay is usually sold in blocks at the craft store and comes in a multitude of colors.  That is what makes it so popular.  Painting is not necessary as the color is already infused into the clay. 

There are certain ways to treat polymer clay and these tips will make using it easier and allow you to be very creative. 

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Conditioning

Polymer clay has to be conditioned before you can work with it. It is pretty hard and the warmth of your hands helps to soften it up so it can be worked into shapes.  You must knead the clay in your hands, but there are better ways to condition the clay.  Take pieces and run them through a pasta maker to thin the clay out. Fold the piece in half and run it through again fold first so that no air bubbles are created. Or, break it up and put it in a food processor and grind it.  Yet another method is to put the block of clay in a sandwich bag, close it and put it in warm water for 20 minutes or until it can be worked. 

Blending

The clay comes in a multitude of colors, but if you want to try and blend your own color you just make two ropes with the two colors you wish to combine.  Twist them together and start rolling them in half and then in half again until you get a consistent color.  You can also do this in the food processor by blending both colors; removing the crumbled clay and kneading it back together again. 

Smoothing

When working with polymer clay, it is a good bet that fingerprints might be left in a project and there are several ways to get them to come out.  First, when working with the clay, roll it out on a large piece of ceramic tile that has no texture or on a piece of card stock.  This will keep the clay smooth from the beginning.  Dusting the piece with a tiny bit of cornstarch will also eliminate fingerprints.  Should you find fingerprints after the piece is cured, you can try to use a very fine grit sandpaper to get them off. 

Decorating

Draw on the project for emphasis or outline with a pigment based marker like Microperm and PITT Markers.  Do not use Sharpies as they are solvent-based dye markers and the lines will fade. 

Curing

Polymer clay is cured by baking in a kitchen oven rather than in a kiln like regular clay.  The polymer clay cures at a much lower temperature from 265 to 275 degrees F.  Figure on 15 minutes per ¼ inch of thickness of the piece.  It is best to use an oven thermometer that clips on to one of the racks when curing polymer clay.  Oven thermostats are not always reliable and you need the constant temperature for the clay to cure well.  If the temperature isn’t right you can come out with a project that is too brittle and breaks easy or something spongy.

Sealing

Never use nail polish to seal and make a project shiny.  It will make your cured clay soft and gooey over a period of time.  The best method of sealing a project is to purchase polymer clay glazes and you will be safe.   Don’t skimp here if you want your project to last.  Some people have had success with clear acrylic spray, but it is just better to play it safe.

Cleanup

Sometimes polymer clay leaves a little sticky residue on the hands that just won’t budge with soap and water.  Use hand sanitizer as it will dissolve anything left behind.  Also, using bright colored clay can sometimes stay on your hands and can be transferred to other colors that muddy up the whole thing.  Clean your hands with a scrap of white clay rolling it in your hands.  It will pick up any color that is not intentional.  You can also run white through your pasta machine to make sure it picks up any stray color.

These tips should make working with polymer clay easier and worry free.  Your projects should come out perfectly and you should have them for years to come. 

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