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Basic Clay project

Ladybug This is a beginner's lesson for making a simple Polymer Clay ornament. This could be a Christmas ornament or an ornament for any holiday, depending on what cookie cutter you use! Hearts for Valentines Day, Eggs for Easter, etc...

Follow these simple steps to learn some basics about Polymer Clay, and if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to to ask in the Message Forum.


Originally, there were four major brands of Polymer Clay: Fimo, Sculpey, Cernit, and Promat. Lately, some companies have been making Polymer Clay in the United States, and one such company is Friendly Plastic. These and other new brands are all similar in structure.

Each brand has different characteristics, but they are totally interchangable. For example, I use Super Sculpey (another type of Polymer Clay, sold in much larger quantities) to help make the consistencies of both Fimo and Sculpey more equal. The Fimo is very stiff, but the Sculpey is very smooth, creamy and soft. Mixing Super Sculpey into either of them makes them much more equal in consistency. It's also easier on the hands when the clays are of equal consistency.

Super Sculpey is translucent, which means you can mix a lot into your clay without changing the color. Some of the white Polymer Clays are softer, but when you add them to Fimo you will change the color dramatically.

Each brand offers it's own array of colors, so be sure to check out all the colors. It's incredible how many there are. And mixing the different brands will produce even more color combinations!

Polymer Clay can be used to make a multitude of things, from beads to jewelry, ornaments to miniatures, and even incredibly lifelike sculptures. I even heard of one lady who replaced the broken knobs on her stove with replicas she made from Fimo. I have also had a great deal of success in coating glasses with Polymer Clay and turning them into candle holders. These makes great centerpieces as well as great gifts!

Tools and Surfaces:
The joy of working with clay is that there isn't a great deal of expense to get started. The minimum investment of a few packages of clay will give you a good idea if you like it or not.

You can work on wax paper on a smooth surface, or invest in a marble slab or cutting board, available at most kitchen gadget stores. The marble slab is my favorite, because I have hot hands, and it tends to help cool the clay while I work. Warm clay becomes soft, and as you get more involved, you'll find that having the clay too soft makes for problems.

Razor blades or a sharp knife are a must. To begin with, the one-sided utility razor blades will do. I used these for almost a year before I was able to find the tissue slicing blades (very sharp medical tools used for slicing tissue samples). If you get into larger canework, you will want to invest in some tissue slicing blades. If you are interested, I can connect you with a source for them.

If you're making beads, you'll need something to pierce the beads: toothpicks, hat pin, bamboo skewers, pin vise, wire, or what ever works for you. For sculpting you will need some of the same tools that you would use working with regular clay, or a variety of tools you can make yourself from the Polymer Clay. I've also used some of the kids' play-dough tools. I guess it's whatever does what you need to get done!

Extra tools that you might find helpful would be a brayer, a pasta machine, and, for the very fortunate, a food processor for softening clay.

Remember, anything you use from the kitchen for clay must NOT go back to the kitchen. There are toxins in the stabilizers that remain on all utensils that you use for the clay, no matter how well you wash it. So it's always better to be safe than sorry! Here's some safety tips about Polymer clay.
Preparation of the Clay:

This step is very important. The clay must be "warmed up", or softened, to a workable consistency. Some of us have been known to sit on it, some of us just knead it while watching a movie! Super Sculpey is a softer consistency than Fimo, and they can be combined to make an easier clay to work with. If you are using Super Sculpey to help make things an equal consistency, you will need to work it in completely before you can begin. You will know your clay is softened properly when you don't see any lines of different clay (I actually know of a couple ladies who keep their clay warm in their bras. The body warmth helps soften it, we just don't do that in a co-ed classroom!).

For simple swirls of color for beads or cookie cutter designs for ornaments, the consistency isn't as important, but when you do intricate "canework", you will need to have all the different colors of clays about the same consistency in order to "reduce" the design evenly (we'll talk about that in a future "cane" lesson). For now, you'll want to warm the clay up to a consistency that you can work with. If we were doing this as a live class, I would suggest that you prepare the clay at home. It will store well, especially when wrapped in an air tight container of some sort. It will need only minimal working when you get to the class.

An Interesting Effect:

Swirl When you first get started with Fimo, it can be a lot of fun getting used to the way the colors combine and blend. In fact, I have been known to get so carried away, I lose the effect I was working for!

Take a little bit of two different colors and experiment with how they will combine to form a new color. Just before two colors become one, an interesting thing happens. The two colors will form a swirling pattern. This swirling pattern can be rolled in your hands to form beads, or it can be rolled out like a pie crust to form cut-out figures, or wrapped around glass or other things to form candle holders, etc...

The possibilities with Polymer Clay are limitless.

Making the Ornament:

Roll out a swirl of color to about 1/4" thickness using a rolling pin or metal dowel, just like you would roll out a pie crust. Use your cookie cutters, or a razor blade, to make the base shape for your ornament. You can then decorate this shape with other cut-outs or designs. For example, you could cut out 3 or 4 different size hearts and layer them, or a heart on a circle, a christmas tree, etc...

Remember that anything that comes from the kitchen, CANNOT go back in the kitchen if you use it on the clay.
If you wish to make Beads, find the swirl of color that you like, take a small amount of it and roll it around in your hand until you get the rounded shape that you want. This will come with practice. Then pierce the bead with your piercing tool. You can experiment with different shapes and sizes of beads. I think experimenting is some of the best fun I have had with the clay. Just like when we were kids playing with modeling clay, rolling and pulling and kneading all bring about different results.

Polymer Clay can be used to make three dimensional, sculpted ornaments, or flat, cookie-like ornaments. The flat ornaments can be layered with different shapes. For example, a gingerbread boy cookie cutter shape could have 3-D eyes, nose and mouth that you cut out of clay. This only needs to be lightly tapped down on the clay before it is baked to adhere to itself. If it is loose after baking then a small amount of glue can be used to keep them in place.

Preparing for Baking:

Now that you have your ornaments made, you'll need to prepare them for hanging after they are baked. I use a Bamboo Skewer, like the kind from fondue sets, to poke holes in the top of the ornament. After they are baked you can thread some ribbon through the hole for hanging.

You also need a surface for the clay while it's baking. I use a glass pie plate with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit, or you can use a cookie sheet. Putting some type of paper down prevents shiny spots from baking onto your ornaments. Remember, whatever you use MUST become dedicated to your craft.

For beads, I cut slots into both sides of an aluminum foil baking dish. Then I slide the beads onto bamboo dowels and put the dowels into the slots in the dish, so that no part of the bead touches the bottom of the tray. This way, the bead maintains it's round shape and there are no shiny spots from sitting on the dish.

If you're making pins, you can apply the pinbacks before you bake, but I have found that they work better if you glue them on after baking with a good glue such as GOOP or E6000. Rumor has it that HOT GLUE isn't the best thing for clay work, but the GOOP works really well!


I bake my claywork in a 250 degree oven for 1 hour. As you read various sources, you'll find that there are different directions for different types of clay. Some suggest to bake longer if you have a thicker bead or ornament, and some directions are for a higher temperature for shorter time. I have found that baking them for an hour at 250 degrees prevents burning and usually takes care of all the different needs. Be sure to check your oven's temperature. It is very important to have an accurate idea of what the temperature is. When Polymer Clay burns it gives off a very toxic fume. This is both dangerous and really stinks!!! (I know - I've burned the stuff, and it's really yucky!)

After they have cooled, you can add all different types of touches to your ornaments or your beads. Glitter, sequins, paint - you can use anything you can imagine to dress up your project. In fact, let your creativity fly.

Polymer clay can be left natural or given a laquer finish. Some of us use Future floor polish, while others have used nail polish, and some of us buy the special Fimo Laquers. Basically, what ever works for you.

I will add one caution. While almost all my stuff has Future floor polish on it, after our house burned down and I was trying to clean the soot off many of my clay items, I found that the Future polished beads would get cloudy from using detergents to try to remove the soot. So I would have to say, be careful what you put Future on. If it's something that is going to be put in water with detergent, it might not be a good idea!!!

Some Fancy Ideas for Ornaments:

  • Glass beads and rhinestones can be embedded in the ornaments before baking.

  • Snowmen can be formed by piling clay "snow balls" on top of each other, then sink half of a paper clip in the top as a hanger. Decorate with clay features, and bake with the clip in.

  • Teddybear faces can be made with a quarter size dome of clay. Put two small ears on it, and a nose, give it a couple eyes and a smile.

  • Beads can be made to match a favorite outfit.

  • Buttons can be made to match a hand crafted sweater or dress.

  • Furniture and knick knacks can be made for doll houses and memory boxes.

  • Old mismatched glassware can be covered with clay and made into beautiful, decorative candleholders, centerpieces, and vases.

But then that's another class!!!!!

©1997 Leigh Ross

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