By Mary Moore
This article originally appeared in ArtTrader Magazine, Winter 2011 Issue 13
Introduction: What is a “Pandora” style bead?
PANDORA is a global jewelry brand founded in Denmark. It sells customizable charm bracelets, rings, earrings, and necklaces in more than 50 countries. They are known for the silver lining that is in the center of the bead that gives them a beautifully finished design. Our 3/16 sized eyelets will mimic this look.
This article details my version of how to make similar beads using polymer clay.
- Polymer Clay: Premo, Sculpey, Fimo and Kato Clay are some of the various clays available at your local craft store or online suppliers listed at the bottom of this tutorial.
- Clay Roller or Pasta Machine for conditioning clay. The Pasta Machine is not necessary but it does make it easier to mix the clay.
- 3/16 Eyelets found at local craft shops.
- Small Convection or Toaster Oven: If you plan to use polymer clay frequently, it is best to have an oven dedicated to clay. Polymer clay can release toxins and is not recommended for long term use around food. Kato clay has changed their formula and is now safe to use in a regular oven on a re-occurring basis.
- Misc tools: You will want tools to make holes in the clay. Tools may include a small knitting needle or wooden skewers. I have made my own tools using large sewing needles and scrap clay.
- Optional Finish: Judi Kins Diamond Glaze, Future floor wax, or Petal Porcelain to add a finish to your beads.
Step 1. Conditioning your Clay
Conditioning polymer clay can be a fairly quick and easy process. Conditioning is the process of mixing the pigments of the color and the polymer molecules together. You must do this with all your clay regardless if you choose to mix the clay for a custom color or use right out of the package. Conditioning makes the clay soft, pliable and easy to work with. If you are using a light or white color, you will want to clean your hands and tools to avoid accidental transfer of the color. This is easily done with a baby wipe. Begin by warming the clay between your hands, and then kneading and stretching it until it becomes soft and pliable. You can also use an acrylic clay roller or a Pasta machine to condition the clay. If using a rolling pin, use it like you would to roll out pie crust. If using the pasta machine, set on the widest setting and feed the clay through the machine. The firmer clays may take a several minutes to properly condition.
Sculpey III is softer clay; once it is warmed it will only take a few seconds to condition. If clay becomes too soft, let it sit for a few minutes or place in refrigerator. It will firm up and it will be ready to work with again.
Step 2. Making the Beads
Start with a small piece of clay about the size of a nickel, and roll the clay into balls the size of small marbles. Place the eyelets into the clay to match each other, back to back, and clear the hole with a piece of wire, a toothpick or a needle. I am using a very thin knitting needle. Your bead may become distorted and need to be reshaped. Not to worry—this is done slowly and easily by rolling between the fingers. It may take some practice and letting your clay cool if it is too pliable.
You can reduce fingerprints on the clay by using rubbing alcohol on a Q-tip around the bead. You can also wear a rubber glove or put the finger tips of the rubber glove on your fingers to reduce fingerprints.
If you wish to embellish the beads, do so before the curing (baking) process. Pearl Ex powders work beautifully by high lighting rubber stamped images in the clay. You can achieve great color and texture by using glass marble beads, gold leaf flakes, spices; imagination is always encouraged in this process.
Step 3. Curing (Baking) the Beads
Curing is the process that hardens the clay and sets the beads; this is done by baking. Bake the beads according to the instructions on the package. Most clay will bake at 275 degrees. However; always read the baking instructions of the particular clay you are using for proper temperatures.
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F (135 C). Bake for 15 minutes per quarter inch of thickness. Example: a piece of 1/2” thickness will need to bake (cure) for 30 minutes. To test the curing, try pressing the tip of your fingernail into the bottom of your piece after it has cooled; it will leave a mark but will not actually enter the clay.
To ensure the accuracy of the oven temperature and protect your clay, you may want to use an oven thermometer. There are some available that have been designed specifically for polymer clay curing. Over baking can cause the clay to darken, bubble, and or burn.
Do not microwave your polymer clay! It won’t work and you may start a fire. Polymer Clay easily bakes on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper or card stock or in a dish of baking soda to support odd shaped objects. Ceramic tiles are also an option that can serve as both a work and baking surface. For beads I use a wire with the beads strung between the wires of the baking rack, to evenly cook without shiny or flat spots.
Step 4. Finishing your Bead
You can use polymer clay without any special finishing treatment at all. For many pieces, you may find that the clay’s natural finish best enhances the effect you want. For other pieces, you may prefer the shinier or glossier finish available with various finishing techniques such as wet sanding, buffing, and glazing. Buffing produces a deeper, more subtle sheen; glazing produces a harder shine and takes considerably less time.
The easiest way to glaze a bead is to stick it on a toothpick or skewer. Hold the bead by the toothpick to lightly paint on the glaze, and then stick the end of the toothpick into a block of Styrofoam to let the glaze dry. Applying many coats lightly will prevent the globing of the glaze at the base of the bead. Future floor wax and Judi Kins Diamond Glaze makes a great finish.
Polymer clay can also be painted. This is best done after baking if you so choose to change or enhance the design. Polymer clay can also be re-baked if you choose to add to your design or fix a piece later. Polymer clay is a great medium to use for various projects from jewelry, ATCs, and sculpture. Check out the various websites and swaps on ATCsforAll.com and see where your imagination will take you with polymer clay.
Tips for Polymer Clay
- TIP: Keep baby wipes handy for in between cleaning your hands and pasta machine. If they dry out add in rubbing alcohol or just use rubbing alcohol and paper towels
- TIP: Before using a rubber stamp, spritz the stamp with water to get a release from the clay or use the various rubber stamp inks for variations in color. If you are using the ink, no water necessary, the ink will release the rubber stamp from the clay.
- TIP: Do not cure beads near birds. Birds are very sensitive to the polymer fumes that may be released during the baking process.