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Text and Photos by Bev Laird

Materials:

  • a plain, undecorated, glass ball ornament (colored or frosted glass is OK) or personalized Christmas ornaments
  • an assortment of canes, including several simple geometric canes (stripes, checks, zigzags) and also some more complex canes (faces, flowers, whatever)
  • a "medium-sized plum chunk" of polymer clay in a color that is complementary to your cane assortment

Let's get started:

  1. Pull the metal top from the ornament and set aside. Knead the piece of complementary-colored clay well. Run through the pasta machine until you get a large sheet with a thinness of 5.

  2. Wrap the sheet of clay around the ornament, keeping the sheet as straight and wrinkle-free as possible, so that the clay sheet makes a long tube with the ornament in the center (think of a toilet paper tube with a ping-pong ball stuck in the middle - that's the aim here). Don't overlap the ends of the sheet of clay. Instead, carefully pinch the excess clay up into a seam that is perpendicular to the surface of the ornament. You want only one thickness of the sheet clay touching the ornament.

  3. Turn the clay tube so that you're looking down into it at the bottom of the ornament. Next, gently press the clay in toward the ornament in four places (top and bottom, left and right). Carefully pinch the seams together (remember, perpendicular to the ornament), making what looks like a raised "X". Do the same at the other end, being careful the press in a bit at the neck of the ornament so the clay is in contact with the glass. The goal in making these seams is to press out as much air as possible (think of the seams as an upside-down capital "T", with sharp angles and clean lines. What you DON'T want is an upside-down "Y", where the seam spreads open at the surface of the ornament).

  4. Once all your seams are sharp, the clay is in good contact with all parts of the glass, and there are no big pockets of air (if you do have some pockets simply poke the center of the bulge with a needle and press all the air out), take your surgical blade and carefully slice off the seams close to the ornament, leaving enough clay so that the seams remain closed and unbroken and the ornament remains covered. Don't worry if you slice off a bit too much or too little, as it's easy to repair. At the top of the ornament you may want to use a sharp X-acto knife to cut the seams in the concave area around the rim. Cut the clay off just below the top of the rim of the ornament - do not cover the hole with clay.

  5. With you finger gently press any less-than-perfect seams or seam-openings flat and smooth, especially around the rim (remember - BE GENTLE! The thin glass of the ornament will break easily under too much pressure. Gentleness and patience will help you avoid this happening). Then, with the ball between the palms of your hands, roll it around for a minute or two to blend the seams so they don't show.

  6. Now for the fun part! Start with your boldest and simplest canes. Begin laying thin slices of canes on your ornament in a crazy-quilt manner - a few here and a few there. Don't worry about covering every tiny spot on the ornament. You want the background color to show through here and there. And by all means, overlap some of the slices as you lay them on! It will give you clean lines and interesting effects.

  7. Once you've got 70-80% of the ball covered with your simpler canes, begin laying slices of your more complex canes. This is where layering can really show off your complex canes. Laying a slice of a face cane on a striped cane background or in the center of a large spiral cane, for instance, provides a striking and interesting "frame" to show off your work.

  8. When you've finished laying cane slices on, repeat the smoothing techniques described in step 5, above, pressing gently with your finger and rolling in your palms to erase seam-lines and distinctions between where one cane slice ends and another begins.

  9. Once the ball is fairly smooth (after probably 5 minutes or more of working out the seams, depending on how thick your slices were to begin with), gently roll it on a flat, smooth surface to give it as much of a final "polish" before baking (this will greatly reduce your time spent sanding).

  10. To bake: Take the small metal piece you removed from the ornament and bend out the "petals" of the ring so that when you snap it back into the ornament none of the metal touches the clay. Put the metal piece back on the ornament and bake it (265-280F for 20 minutes) hanging from a wire in your oven.

  11. Sand and polish: Using wet/dry sandpaper under running water, sand and smooth your ornament, beginning with the coursest grit and working your way up to the finest. Don't worry too much about breaking the glass at this point. Once baked it's very durable and can take a good sanding (I've even accidentally dropped a few and have had no breakages). Finish with your favorite glossing medium, such as Future Floor Wax or Fimo varnish. If you choose a finish that takes some time to dry, you can set up a simple drying rack using bamboo skewers and scrap clay. With the scrap clay as a base, stick three skewers in so they stick up and meet at the top - like a teepee. Then place the ornament (with metal piece removed) upside down on the skewers. The three skewers will stabilize the ball to some degree so you can have some control and paint your varnish on without getting your fingers messy.
Bev Laird
©1995 by Bev Laird
All rights reserved.

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