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Polymer Clay Central
A Victorian Birdcage
Text and Illustrations by Sue Heaser


Click for a full size view

Polymer clay such as Fimo or Cernit can be used to create extremely delicate, openwork structures. These little cages illustrate this technique, mimicking basketwork or wire. They are in the scale of 1:12 or approximately 2 1/2 inches high. The coin in the photograph is an English pound.

Birdcages were often highly decorative in Victorian times and have become very collectable today. From the eighteenth century onwards when Louis XV commissioned elaborate cages for the orangery at Versailles, birdcages have been used as much as articles of decoration as for their intended purpose. These miniature polymer clay birdcages are somewhat simplified from the Victorian designs but give the flavour of those beautiful structures in basketwork, wire or gilt. I have made a polymer parrot (Poly?) to live in the cage but many cages were displayed purely as ornaments, sometimes containing a plant or draped with lace.

You can use the instructions below to create your own beautiful Victorian birdcage--you can even make it a group project by employing tools like http://conferencecallsunlimited.com.

Materials:

  • Polymer Clay:
    Cage: White, ochre.
    Parrot: golden yellow, blue, white, black.
  • Fine wire.
  • A large marble about 1 inch diameter.
  • A strip of thin card formed into a cylinder and stapled, for the marble to sit in so that it does not roll about while you work.
  • A small glass bottle or miniature jam jar with the same diameter, approximately, as the marble. A roll of cardboard, stapled together, can be used instead.
  • Aluminium foil.
  • Gold acrylic paint for gilding the cage if desired.
  • Superglue.
Equipment:
  • A board to work on. A smooth melamine chopping board is ideal, or else a formica table mat.
  • A craft knife or vegetable knife.
  • A large wool needle.
  • A baking tray lined with non-stick baking parchment.
  • Nail varnish remover or baby wipes for cleaning hands and the board.
Basic Tips:
  1. Work each piece of clay in your hands before use to soften it. Soften Fimo with "Mix Quick" if preferred.
  2. Avoid poking and patting the object you are making; only light pressure is needed to effect a join. Keep hands clean - wipe with baby wipes or nail varnish remover before starting.
  3. Bake polymer clay on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Place in a pre-heated oven for about 10 to 15 minutes at 265F / 130 C.

Instructions:
The Cage Dome
Figure 1.


Sit the marble in the top of the cardboard "egg cup" and cover it with foil. Smooth the foil down as much as possible. You must be careful only to use the top half of the marble or you will be unable to remove the cage dome after baking.

Roll out a long sausage of white clay, just over 1/16 in (1.5 mm) thick, keeping it as even in thickness along its length as possible. Lay two pieces of this in a cross on top of the marble, pressing them together in the centre and letting them hang down. Press them lightly onto the foil where they will stick enough to hold them in place.

Figure 2.

Now roll a thinner sausage of white clay and cut lengths to apply all round, radiating from the top and pressing them down. A total of 16 bars all round is enough for a simple cage. Trim off the bottom ends of the bars in a straight line using the "egg cup" as a guide. Apply a thicker sausage of clay all round the bottom, pressing it onto the trimmed ends of the bars and trimming and butting the ends together.

Make a finial by pressing a 1/4 in (6 mm) ball of clay onto the board and impressing it with the end of a pencil. Press this onto the top of the dome, covering all the upper ends of the bars. Make a small cone and press onto the centre of the round. If you wish to hang your cage up, make a horizontal hole through the finial with a needle.

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