If you are anything like me, you will always be on the look out for unusual and cute embellishments for your cards. I have been making cards for many years and have been using polymer clay on my cards for about as long. One thing that I can say for certain, is that the cards I have made with these embellishments, literally fly off the shelves, in comparison to more traditional designs. They are always the most popular!
I thought it would be nice to do an article on polymer clay, so this article takes a brief look at making your own card embellishments from polymer clay. I hope this will give you some tips to start making your own unique and cute creations!
What is polymer clay?
Actually, polymer clay is not really a clay at all. It is in fact a mouldable polymer compound consisting of polyvinyl choloride (PVC) particles suspended in a plasticizer (the substance that makes plastic more flexible).
Polymer clay is a blendable material, which means that you can mix different colours together to make other colours, just like a paint. At the same time, it is possible to work with two or more colours, putting them together, without blending them and this is especially useful if you are trying to achieve marbling effects. The great thing about polymer clay is the fact that, unlike air dry clays, that it stays 'open' i.e. it doesn't dry out, so you can work on it for as long as you like, until you fix it by heating.
To set the clay, you need to fire it and this will make the particles form into a solid. During this process the clay is heated on a low heat for a period of time and this will harden the item, without altering the colours or the size of it. Polymer clay makes great embellishments for cards, because it is strong and very versatile to use.
There are a number of polymer clay brands out there, perhaps the most well known being FIMO and SCULPEY. These do much the same thing and the choice is really a matter of personal choice.
So I have got some clay, what else do I need?
You don't need any special equipment or tools to work with polymer clay, although there are lots of tools available on the market. I have invested in a few pieces of equipment but if you are just starting out, you really just need:
A surface to work on - polymer clay can ruin some surfaces, particularly plastic and wood. Here is a picture of my prized IKEA table after I had worked on it with air dry and polymer clays..... A good tip is to get an old tile to work on. I find that you can sometimes pick up cheap tiles from the DIY store, when they are getting rid of old ranges. A tile has a nice smooth surface, ideal for working with clay and you can just put the tile straight into the oven. If you don't have a tile, try taping a piece of baking sheet to a table and use this to work on.
Craft Knife - often you need to cut clay and a sharp blade will give you a cleaner cut. You can buy special cutting blades but I find that an old craft knife works fine for me.
A piercing tool - this is used to poke through the clay to make holes, eg when you are making beads. You don't need to buy one of these. I use a toothpick or wooden skewer to make holes or sometimes an old knitting needle, if I want a bigger hole.
Rolling Pin - I use a child's wooden rolling pin to roll out clay. I picked this up in a discount store I think. You could just use the side of a smooth glass jar if you don't want to buy one. Don't use your kitchen rolling pin, you need to keep one especially for clay, as you shouldn't be ingesting the chemicals contained in it and even cleaning won't remove them all.
If you are working with clay a lot, you might decide to invest in a pasta machine, which is invaluable for rolling out clay to get it smooth and to a regular thickness. I have a pasta machine but I just can't bring myself to 'ruin' it with clay.
Tip - place a stack of playing cards either side of your tile and use this to get the clay rolled out to a uniform consistency. Just make sure that you have the same number of cards in each pile!
An oven - polymer clay does release fumes when it bakes and the packets do contain warnings about not baking them at too high a heat, which burns the clay or baking them longer than the prescribed time. I didn't really take this seriously years ago but I really wish I had taken more care, as I undoubtably inhaled poisonous fumes.
Even if you don't overheat or cook the clay too long, there is some belief that the clay will line your oven with chemicals. If you can possible afford it and you are thinking you might be using polymer clay a lot, it would be worth investing in a small toaster oven to bake your clay. Whatever, you decide, you should always ventilate your work area, by opening a door or window, so that you are not inhaling fumes unecessarily.
You should also stick rigidly to the baking instructions given on the side of the packet, to avoid burning the clay and releasing toxic fumes.
Apart from this, I have a number of other tools which I use, which are shown in the photo and these include icing cutters and marking tools. To be hones, I don't use these very often at all, as most of the time I will shape the clay with my hands.
How do I use the clay?
Some of the clays need to be worked before you start to mould them. This warms, softens and conditions it for use. If your clay is tstill oo hard, you can add clay softener, which comes in either a block form or as a liquid. FIMO have a traditional clay and one they call 'Soft' and it is worth going for the soft one if you don't want to be handling the clay for ages.
Now you can start to roll out and mould the clay to form some shapes.
What can I make with my clay?
You can make more or less anything with this type of clay. I have seen some really intricate ornaments and display pieces made by very clever and artistic people, over the years. It is best to start on simple creations, until you get more confident using the clay.
A nice thing to make to start off with, is tiny flowers, hearts and stars. I sometimes sit down and make a big batch of them, so that I have some embellishments to hand for a super quick card. I use icing cutters to make mine and you can either use a simple press and cut one or invest in one that pushes the shape out after you have cut it. Have a look in the craft store for icing tools, which can be used with your clay.
My favourite thing to make with clay is little animals and creatures. They lend themselves very well to clay and look lovely on cards. Once you have got confident with flat shapes, have a go at making some more 3D creations.
I'm no good at making things, is there anything I can use?
If you don't want to make your own shapes, you can use clay moulds. There are many, many different moulds available to buy on the internet. Lots of people have set up businesses selling moulds that they have made themselves, as well as the commercial ones by manufacturers like Sculpey.
You simply push the clay into the mould and when it releases, you get a clay piece that you then bake in the normal way. You can sometimes have problems getting the clay to release from the mould, particularly if the clay has become warm and sticky. You can dust the inside with talcum powder to make it easier or put the tray in the fridge for a few moments to cool the clay a little.
You can also make your own moulds, with a special Mould Maker. This contains a material that you can press different objects into, which then dries to form a mould that you can use again and again with your polymer clay. The one by Sculpey can also be used to soften and condition clay that has gone too hard.
Can I add anything to the clay before baking
You can add things to your clay before you bake. There are special pigment powders available that you can mix into the clay or dust onto the surface of the clay before you bake and these can look quite spectacular. You can also use Pearl-Ex powders or similar if you have them.
Do I need to varnish?
I sometimes seal my polymer clay creations with a varnish, particularly if there are vulnerable bits like tiny eyes or other details added to them. The varnish will fix them to the main piece so they don't fall off. I also like the glossy finish of a varnish. You can get special varnishes but I just use a varnish that I use over acrylic paints, which is available in matt, glossy or satin finishes. I have also used glitter glues to get an attractive sealed finish on clay pieces, or you can use a watered down PVA glue.
How do I store my clay?
Although, it takes heat to make the clay go solid and therefore it should not harden in the air, I have had some of my FIMO clay dry and go very hard, when left uncovered. For this reason, I tend to put my polymer clay in little ziplock bags, which I store in a tin nside a plastic box. You don't want to let your clay get too hot either, as this can cause it to harden.
What is the best way to attach embellishments to a card?
Polymer clay embellishments can be quite heavy when finished so you need a good strong glue to adhere them to your card. I tend to use a tacky PVA (whie glue) or a craft glue. Glue sticks won't work. Leave them to dry for a while to make sure they are stuck well.
Here are just a small selection of the cards I have made, with wording I have created to go with them. All these were made with a couple of colours of polymer clay, the tools mentioned in the article above and a bit of patience. This is a good thing to do on a wet day!
Clay carrots with some wool threads for leaves
Clay hearts painted with red glitter glue after baking
Another heart with glitter glue glaze
Shop card template with mini polymer clay cakes
Here are some polymer clay fairies, which are a little heavy for adding to cards but they would look nice attached to a gift box or maybe the edge of a photo frame.
I hope you have enjoyed this first article on polymer clay. If you would like further tutorials on making any of the items shown on the cards above, please leave me a comment and I will do a separate blog post for each one.
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