An Interview with Carol Blackburn

Carol Blackburn is the author of Making Polymer Clay Beads. Carol is an active member of the British and American Polymer Clay Guilds and studied textiles at Manchester College of Art. She lives in London.

Michelle: You mention in the foreword of your book that you come from textile work. Can you tell me a little about your transition from textiles to polymer clay? What kind of textile work were you doing?

Carol: I was designing knitted fabrics and selling them to clothing manufacturers in the U.S., London, and Paris. I was always designing a year and a half in advance and following color forecasts and story boards for each season. The fabric designs were either used directly for men and women's knitwear or as inspiration by manufactures and their inhouse designers. Each design sample or "swatch" required several elements of interest besides the pattern, color, and texture. Womenswear swatches often included beadwork. It was while I was looking for interesting beads that I visited a bead fair. Here, I saw beads being made in polymer clay and was intrigued! After one polymer clay class, I realized I was happy to be hooked by polymer clay and gradually my knitting machines were packed away.

Michelle: Are there any similarities between the two (textiles and polymer clay)?

Carol: I've found no similarities between textiles and polymer clay. When things go wrong with polymer clay, it's a design opportunity, but with knitting you have to unpick and start again!

Michelle: Do you have a favorite technique in the book? Why is it your favorite?

Carol: There were lots of techniques from the book that I enjoy using but if I have to choose one, then I guess, at present, it would be the Rorschach technique because it has so much potential. I like the way I always get surprising results. With practice, I've found that I can control what appears, enough to produce consistently similar beads–all different–but similar enough to make interesting necklaces.

At left: A necklace of beads made using the Rorschach technique. After cutting and folding back the clay to form the Rorschach bead, Carol twisted each bead slightly into a twist stick shaped bead to add interest. The disk beads inbetween are made by cutting a color-blended clay sheet with a circular cookie cutter.

Michelle: What advice do you have for someone who is just getting started with polymer clay?

Carol: To get started, you only need a few basic tools, most of which you'll find around your home: a smooth tile or piece of glass, a rolling pin or a straight-sided wine bottle, a craft knife or a razor blade, a needle for making holes, and cocktail sticks or bamboo skewers for baking beads on. Pretty soon you'll want a pasta machine for rolling and blending colored sheets of clay and a small toaster oven, but a domestic oven is OK to begin with. If you find that you are doing a lot of polymer clay baking, then it is better to use a separate oven from that used to cook family food. And of course, your hands are the most useful tool you have!  

To learn more about Carol Blackburn, including her upcoming teaching schedule, visit her website: 

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