Polymer Clay Basics

Justine Durrant

Polymer Clay is a type of modeling clay that hardens. It has no actual clay properties but the term clay comes from baking it in the oven to harden (as you do with clay). Before baking, the clay is a soft gel like texture and is used to make and mold many different craft items, from jewelry to miniature figures. Read on to learn about some helpful basics and tips when crafting with polymer clay.

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Before you Begin

Look after your hands as well as the clay. Before you even touch your clay, give your hands a good wash with soap and dry them off. Use hand lotion that has silicon as an ingredient and let it absorb into your skin before starting your project. Your hands can become quite dry when working with clay and this also causes the colors to absorb into your skin and then transfer to the other clay colors.

Condition Your Clay 

Don’t underestimate the value of household utensils and equipment when doing crafts. You don’t need to spend a fortune on fancy clay tools - invest in a pasta roller. You can make pasta and roll out silky smooth clay with no bubbles. Fold your clay over as you would with pasta and insert it into the machine fold side first. You don’t want any bubbles as this will affect the outcome once it is in the oven. 

Corn-starch is Your Friend

Corn-starch has many uses when crafting with clay. You can use it as a mold release when you unmold your clay, preventing it from rolling and cracking. To get rid of fingerprints on your clay creations, dip your finger into corn-starch and gently rub your prints away before baking. You can also bury your clay in corn-starch while baking to prevent your creations from rolling around or scorching in the oven. You can replace corn-starch with baking soda for baking in the oven, some say it is easier to rinse off the clay once you are done.

Bake Your Clay in a Tray

You can pick up great aluminum food trays at the store for next to nothing. Bake your clay creations inside a tray and close it with a second tray, using metal clips to hold the trays closed. By using these trays you protect your clay from the heat so that it won’t burn or , you also maintain the temperature inside the trays. It’s also a neat and clean way of keeping everything together. Always follow the packaging instructions for baking time and temperature. 

Cleaning Supplies

As with most crafts, clay can be messy. Rubbing alcohols are great for cleaning up clay as well as cleaning your hands and tools. Baby wipes or hand sanitizer are also excellent for cleaning up and they aren't as harsh on your skin. You always want to make sure that you are working on a clean surface so that the clay doesn't become dirty. Cleaning your surface with rubbing alcohol will clear away any dirt that you may not see. 

Useful Tools

A sharp blade is the one essential tool that you need for crafting with Polymer Clay. While the rest of the tools available are not essential, they do make your clay crafting days a lot more fun and a lot easier than cutting out shapes with a blade. You don’t have to spend a fortune buying special craft tools, have a look through your kitchen drawers and have fun trying out the simple household tools that you find. Cookie cutters, sand paper, silicone molds and different knives with different types of blades are great tools to use. Other tools that you can buy are special blades with different ripples, texturing tools, stamps and extruder's. Be creative, there are many different tools that you can use to achieve the same look. 

A Few Helpful Hints

To help warm your clay to a workable consistency, sit on it for a while to warm it up.

Nail polish, spray paint and solvents will degrade your clay, stay away from them. Use Polymer Clay safe products only.

Invest in an oven thermometer; it may be the difference between a beautiful creation and a browned one. Follow the baking instructions on the packaging but use your bought thermometer to test the temperature.

Store your left over clay in zip lock bags. They won’t affect the clay and they are easy to open, seal and store.

When you work with any clay there are always those pesky tiny bits that get everywhere. Use a small piece of white clay to clean your hands and collect any tiny bits lying around.

A piece of tightly crumpled aluminum foil makes a great core for beads or figures. It also saves you on wasting clay. Simply roll it tight and mold your clay around it.

If you have an idea and don’t know how to create it, sketch it on a piece of paper first. It is easier to model something from a piece of paper than from your mind.

Don’t buy cheap clay and stick to the well-known brands. Cheap clay cracks and breaks a lot faster than the quality brands.

Have fun with it, there are no rules! Experiment and try new things with different tools and objects. Let your kids get involved too.

Categories: Clay
Tags: clay, polymer-clay