Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tutorial: Polymer Clay Bead Basics Part 1- Covering a Core

Okay so this isn't much of a tutorial.  It's more of a demonstration of some basic bead shapes and a bunch that I have made up.  I don't know if it will be helpful or not...

Several years ago I was making tons and tons of beads covered in cane slices and I started to get creative about the shapes I was doing them in.  I took a bunch of photos of them and filed them away for later.  Back then I was using Sculpey III.  Now I use a combination of Fimo Soft and Kato and I do very few beads (although I do like to go back to them when I am in the mood).

Anyway, the other day I ran across the folder on my flash drive where all of those photos were stored and decided that it might be good to share all of those ideas.  I have re-done all of the photos (I didn't know much about macro photography back then) and so the beads you see here are ones that I have done within the last weeks.

First things first, though.  Since this is a beginner tutorial, I thought I would show how I make scrap beads from the very start.  All of the beads I will show you in the next couple of tutorials start with a "mud" (scrap clay that has been mixed together thoroughly to make a mud color) core.  In order to get all of my beads as close to the same size as possible, I roll the mud through the pasta machine on the thickest setting and use a shape cutter to get the the same amount of clay in each ball.  The medium oval looks like it is about the right size... I'm doing these pretty big so they are easier to see in the photos:

Roll one of those into a ball to get an idea of the size.  (They will actually be a little bigger than that because you will be adding more clay to the ball; so keep that in mind.) Next, I'm going to prepare the decorative scrap clay.  These are some cane ends and slices that I just kind of squeezed together and tossed in the box with the other scraps.  My almost 2 year old loves to sink her teeth into my clay.  I think she likes the texture.  She's never swallowed any as far as I can tell.  You can see her teeth marks in the photo below:

Anyway, some people like to chop this up some before they squash it into a log but I prefer the larger variety of design that you get when you just mash it together.  So do that.  Compress the wad of clay from all sides until you are pretty sure there are no large air chambers left in there.  Then start to press the whole thing into a square log.  Make it about as wide and as tall as the diameter of the mud ball you just made:

Use a sharp blade to cut two slices of the log.  Try to make all of your slices the same thickness as this will help keep your beads closer to the same size:

Now take one of your slices and press it onto the mud ball, pressing down the corners.  (Sorry about the reflection of the light.  I didn't notice that until I was editing photos.)

Now take the other slice and lay it on the opposite side of the ball, lining up the corners of this slice with the sides of the first one, sort of like a clam shell. (Or is it oysters that have the ruffled shells?)

Wherever it looks like the edges of the slices aren't going to quite meet up, you can press in on the mud and stretch the slices to meet.

Use your fingers to gently squeeze the edges of the slices until they meet.  Do this all the way around the ball.

Here's what it looks like when the edges are all sealed up:

Now roll the ball between your hands to make the seams disappear (I was photographing with the other hand so I showed it on the table.)  When you think the seams are all gone, roll it a little longer to make sure.

Now for the hole.  With your needle tool, start to pierce the bead gently.  Twist as you push the needle tool through the bead to keep the hole going through the center.

Keep pushing and twisting until the tip of the needle barely sticks out the other side of the bead then pull the needle out.  (If you look really close, you can see the tip of the needle tool.)

Push the needle tool through from the other side, using the tiny hole as a guide.  This will keep your bead hole nice and neat.

Voila!  A pile of nice, round beads all ready to be shaped into something else.

But we'll save that for next time...



  1. Wow! With great photos too - thanks for sharing.

    Following you from the EBT forum: )

  2. Wow.. nice tutorial. I can't wait to see more.

    I'm following via Etsy Blog Team

  3. I am a fan of tutorials. So funny that your little one likes the texture in her mouth.

  4. Great tutorial! I love the teeth marks in the clay!

  5. Thanks so much for taking the time to make these helpful tutes. Wonderful and helpful pictures. I look forward to re-visiting your site when I get a bit more time.

  6. Thanks for the tutorial, very good.