Anyone Can Make Polymer Clay Beads…Right?

The necklace from Enlightened Polymer Clay that served as my inspiration.

I've never felt that polymer clay has been a particularly strong set of jewelry making skills for me. After watching a peculiarly talented friend of mine create an entire Lord of the Rings chess set from polymer clay years ago, I was itching to try my hand at bead making with polymer clay. And while I jumped into polymer clay bead making with my usual enthusiasm for beads and jewelry making, the results were, shall we say, less than spectacular.

When my son started approaching the appropriate age for Play Doh, I felt my old anxieties about clay resurface. Thankfully, he was perfectly happy with my ability to make little "worms" and "snakes" and simple, rolled balls of clay. I think I mistook his delight at my colorful little piles of snakes and balls for an acknowledgement of my polymer clay bead making skills, because when a whole box full of polymer clay and supplies arrived at my house, I dove right back in with my usual can-do attitude.

The pile of polymer clay beads and jewelry making components, awaiting their transformation into a finished piece of jewelry.

Once again, I got shot down. My polymer clay beads collapsed when I tried to pierce them with a toothpick. My beautiful simulated wood-grain bracelet got too close to the top elements in my toaster oven and bubbled and melted into a huge mess. Wasn't there anything that I could do with polymer clay beads that would come out right? I was ready to just give up on bead making with polymer clay.

But, no. I'm too stubborn for that. So, I cracked open my copy of Enlightened Polymer Clay and picked a project that I was determined to make. After all, if I can make snakes and balls out of Play Doh, I can make something out of polymer clay, right? I picked out a necklace that I liked and decided that I was going to make something useful and beautiful out of polymer clay, even if it killed me.

Stylish and safe: wear proper safety gear when you're drilling holes in polymer clay beads.

My son had had a blast cutting out shapes in the polymer clay with the little clay cutters I had, so I figured that was where I would start. I conditioned two different colors of polymer clay and then cut out about a dozen each of two different shapes. I laid these carefully on the tray in my clay-dedicated toaster oven and turned it on.

This time around, however, I was more careful with the heat and the time. Instead of baking it at the temperature suggested on the package, I went about twenty-five degrees lower. I also left the pieces in for only ten minutes, since they weren't very thick and weren't very big. Success! My polymer clay jewelry making components came out of the oven perfect!

Next up, I was going to make some polymer clay beads. Oh, yes, I was! I mashed up three different colors of polymer clay, conditioned it, rolled it out, and then tore off little pieces and rolled them into balls.

Now, here was my dilemma again. How did I get the holes in these beads without making them collapse on themselves when I inserted the toothpick? The answer hit me as I was thinking about my little polymer clay shapes, now cooling on my work table. I could drill holes in them!

I threaded the beads on the thin skewers of my bead baking rack and put them in the toaster oven. Again, I was very careful with the heat and time, and these beads came out of the oven looking as perfect as they had going in. I was ready to drill!

Thankfully, I have a totally decked-out Dremel tool from my glass days when I would drill holes in my fused glass earrings and bracelet-making components. Just like when I drilled my glass, I wore my safety goggles and a dust mask. You wouldn't believe it, but polymer clay makes a lot of dust and nasty things that you just don't want to breathe while you're working.

My very first polymer clay bead necklace! I'm so proud!

Once I was happy with the holes in my beads and components, it was time to wire and string them together! This was where I totally wimped out. With a looming deadline, I linked about half of them together with jump rings and wire-wrapped loops, and I finished the necklace with a piece of chain instead of spending more time wrapping and looping. The effect was pretty cool: a vintage-looking necklace with my first successful polymer clay beads!

Using polymer clay for bead making definitely has its advantages. Polymer clay is lightweight, easy to work with, and has so many possibilities for finishing! You can sand it down, carve it, or paint it. There's so much room for self-expression with polymer clay bead making that I'm sure to try it again!

If you are looking for some beautiful and unusual polymer clay bead making projects, check out Enlightened Polymer Clay. The simple and organic shapes of the polymer clay beads and components will inspire you to create your own polymer clay jewelry using these simple clay techniques. Get your copy of Enlightened Polymer Clay and see just how satisfying it is to make your own polymer clay beads and jewelry creations!

Do you have a tip for working with polymer clay? How do you get the holes in your beads without collapsing the beads? Do you use a drill or sander to finish your beads? Leave a comment on the blog and share your tips and advice for making your own polymer clay beads and jewelry making components!

Bead Happy,

Jennifer

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