If you’re looking to express your creativity and create incredible gifts for your loved ones or something special for yourself, think about taking up polymer clay modelling. It’s not hard to get started and, as you get better, there’s plenty of room to experiment. 

Sydney-based jeweller Nadine Sharpe of Own Sweet Time reveals what you’ll need to make your first pieces, the techniques you’ll need to master and two projects – a simple pendant and a terrazzo-look trinket bowl – that will allow you to become acquainted with the joys of polymer clay.

Getting Started With Polymer Clay

Polymer clay is a fantastic jewellery and craft activity for all ages. It is very simple to use and the possibilities are endless. The great thing is that Sculpey polymer clay (the brand we’re using here) comes in a huge array of colours and is relatively inexpensive. Plus, it’s simple to set yourself up for this craft at home.

There’s a basic tool kit you’ll need for almost any project you undertake, and you can supplement those implements with items you find around the house.

A basic polymer clay starter kit would include:

  • Acrylic roller – Used to roll out flat slabs of clay.
  • Tissue blade This very thin blade cuts through the clay neatly.
  • Craft knife – Use this in addition to the tissue blade. It is helpful for cutting up small pieces of clay and free-form shapes.
  • Needle tool – Use this for making holes in beads and creating textured surfaces.
  • Guides – These help to roll out a flat, even slab of clay to a certain thickness. Household objects, such as chopsticks and pencils, are easily adapted to be the guides as long as you have two items exactly the same height for the roller to balance on when rolling out the clay.
  • Texture sheets – These fun plastic sheets have a texture imprinted into them, and are great teamed with powdered pigments, for example, to create interest.
  • Water sprayer – Lightly spritzing your work surface stops clay sticking, especially when you’re rolling it out or pressing texture into it.
  • Work surface – A large ceramic tile with a smooth surface is good because it won’t slip. You can work directly on surfaces like melamine or laminex, but don’t work directly on a wooden table – elements in the clay could damage the surface. Instead, protect the table with a cork-backed placemat, as it will grip the table. Avoid anything too flimsy, as you’ll be putting a lot of pressure on it when you roll out your clay.
  • Metallic leaf, glitter and powdered pigments – These are fun and create amazing effects on polymer clay.

The Basics of Polymer Clay Modelling

Conditioning Polymer Clay

Although simple to use, you need to condition polymer clay before you make something.

Polymer clay is almost ready to work with straight from the packet. It just needs to be warmed up, a process known as conditioning the clay, to make it soft and malleable.  

Step 1: Start by squeezing the clay in your hands for a few moments. You will feel it start to get softer.

Step 2: When that happens, lay it on your work surface and roll it back and forth with your hands, applying pressure to elongate it, to create a log of clay about 15cm long.

Step 3: Fold the log over and twist it together tightly. This will help avoid air bubbles in your clay.

Step 4: Compress it into a ball and repeat steps 2 and 3 until the clay no longer cracks when you’re twisting the logs.

Storing Unused Polymer Clay

Polymer clay doesn’t dry out, but when storing leftovers or a piece you’re working on but haven’t completed, you need to protect the clay from direct sunlight and dust. You can use ziplock bags, plastic wrap or plastic containers.

Creating Custom Colours 

There’s a huge array of colours in the Sculpey polymer clay range, but you can also create your own.

Polymer clay comes in a range of colours, but you don’t have to settle for those. Create your own colours by combining clays – just make sure you’re using the same brand.

Mixing custom colours is as simple as following the clay conditioning process. You start by twisting your clay colours together in a log, and repeat the steps until your colours are blended. 

Colour mixing can be precise or rather ad hoc. Start working with small portions then, when you’ve got the proportions right, scale up the amount of clay you are working with. These are a few examples of custom colours you might like to try.

Mint: 4 parts white, ½ part blue and ¼ part green

Baby pink: 4 parts white, ¼ part red

Orange: 4 parts red, 2 parts yellow

SEE ALSO: DIY Painted Terracotta Pots and 6 Other Adult Craft Projects

Curing Polymer Clay

The great thing about polymer clay is it stays soft until you cure it in your oven, meaning you can keep refining your projects until then. It also means you should never throw out any leftover clay, because it’s handy to practise on or to blend with other leftover clay to create new colours.

Polymer clay is non-toxic and bakes at a low temperature, so you can cure it in your home oven.

The best way to cure the clay is in a tent-like setup. That can simply be a sheet of paper over your clay or something like a foil barbecue tray with a lid. Having a ceramic tile in your lidded tray creates a stable temperature, as the tile absorbs the heat and distributes it evenly within the enclosed space, making it less likely you’ll burn your clay.

The baking instructions will vary depending on the brand of polymer clay you’re using, so check the instructions on the packaging. The minimum time for baking a piece is 45 minutes, but the longer you bake it the stronger it will be. If you create a tent setup, you could have your clay in the oven for hours with no issues. If you detect any springiness once the clay has cooled, you’ll have to bake for a little longer. 

Make a Marbled Polymer Clay Pendant Necklace

 Create a marble effect when you make this pendant necklace from polymer clay.

You’ll be surprised how simple it is to create a unique and interesting marbled pattern. The aim of this technique is to create an effect akin to faux stone. Translucent clay is an ideal medium because it lets light through and enhances the stone effect.  

What You’ll Need

All the polymer clay and accessories you’ll need to make a pendant necklace.

How to Do It

First, cut up the polymer clay and roughly mix it with the gold leaf.

Step 1: Using your tissue blade, chop up all your clay into small pieces and mix them together, so all the solid colours are mixed evenly through all the translucent clay. Don’t press it together at this point.

Step 2: Break up a sheet of metallic leaf and sprinkle as much of it as you like over all the clay pieces. Mix the leaf through the pieces, so you get a good coverage.

When the polymer clay is roughly mixed, work it into a square-shaped log and cut it into pieces.

Step 3: Start bringing the pieces together and roll them into a log. Then use a ruler or something of a similar shape to squash the clay into a square-shaped log before using the tissue blade to slice its length into pieces roughly 3mm thick.

Join the pieces of mixed polymer clay together, roll them out then cut them into shapes.

Step 4: Lay the slices out together to create a solid slab and use your fingers to join each piece to its neighbours. Use the acrylic roller with pressure – first roll lengthways, then sideways – to help join the pieces together. Use your guides, so the end result is a slab of clay of equal thickness you can cut into an assortment of shapes for pendants and earrings.

Step 5: The pendant shape here was cut out using the lip of a glass, and you can improvise with all sorts of household items if you don’t have a dedicated shape cutter. If the cut isn’t perfectly clean, trim the edges with the craft knife, and then cut the disc in half.

Before curing the pendant necklace, cut the polymer clay disc in half and add holes for the string.

Step 6: Using a skewer add a hole at either end of the flat edge of the pendant for the cord. Always make them slightly bigger than you think it needs to be, as the more room you have to thread the cord the easier it will be.

Step 7: Lay the pieces flat on a sheet of copier paper to bake – this will give them a flat finish. Place in the oven to cure, using the temperatures and timing on the polymer clay packaging. When the pendant has cured and cooled, press it lightly. If it’s still a little springy, you’ll need to return it to the oven to cure some more.

Step 8: When the polymer clay pendant is properly cured and cooled, thread a length of cord from the back of the pendant, tie the ends in a simple knot and trim the excess.

 There’s enough to create matching polymer clay earrings for your pendant necklace.

Hot Tip: Create matching earrings by cutting out two smaller shapes of similar size and press with a texture sheet. Use a small amount of gold mica powder to rub over the highlights of the textured area to create an interesting finish. Once you’ve baked the pieces, glue earring posts to the back. You could also add holes before baking to make drop earrings using hooks or hoops, both of which are available from jewellery supply stores.

SEE ALSO: Family Craft Projects: Jewellery Box

Craft a Terrazzo Trinket Bowl with Polymer Clay 

Using various colours of polymer clay you can create a terrazzo-look trinket dish.

This is a simple but striking way to create a terrazzo-style effect that can be replicated for jewellery as well.

What You’ll Need

All the polymer clay and accessories you’ll need to create a trinket bowl.

How to Do It

Roll the base colour of your polymer clay trinket bowl in gold leaf and mix them to start.

Step 1: Start by conditioning all your clay (see above) so it is ready to use.  

Step 2: Take your base clay colour and wrap it in metallic leaf then, using the conditioning technique, work in the metal leaf so it is broken up and dispersed through the clay.

Step 3: Using the acrylic roller, roll out your clay using your guides. Rotate the clay as you roll it, so you create a circular shape. Once it is rolled out, don’t be scared of picking up your clay and manually stretching it so you end up with a circle shape. 

Roll out the secondary colours very thinly to create the terrazzo pattern on the polymer clay trinket bowl.

Step 4: Now we are going to add the terrazzo effect. Roll out each of the other colours as thinly as you can. Each should be 1mm or thinner. Pick up one of the colours, tear off small bits and place them on your circular base. The pieces should have uneven edges and you shouldn’t be precise about where you place them – the great thing about this effect is that the rougher you are, the better it looks. 

Step 5: Repeat step 4 with the other colours until you are happy with how the piece looks.

Step 6: Using your guides again, roll your decorated clay to flatten in the pieces you’ve added.

Once you’ve created a ‘terrazzo’ polymer clay disc, rub the edges with gold pigment.

Step 7: Tear off small pieces of metallic leaf and place them between the coloured clay for extra effect.  

Step 8: Dip the tip of your finger into the gold pigment and give a little tap on the edge of the container to remove any excess. Then rub this on to the edge of your bowl to create a refined finish.

The final step is creating a trinket bowl shape before curing the polymer clay in the oven.

Step 9: There are a few options for curing your piece. You can keep the shape flat, like a tray. If you have an ovenproof bowl in the desired shape, you can lay your clay into it for baking. Alternatively, you can use a roll of paper underneath the edges to prop them up into a bowl shape. Because you’re baking at low temperatures and in a protected environment, the paper won’t burn. Bake as per the curing instructions on the polymer clay packaging.