Unlimited Possibilities: Making Jewelry with "Delicate, Organic, Exquisite" Polymer Clay

Having spent so many years working in the craft industry, I have been familiar with polymer clay for a long time–but hardly ever in terms of jewelry making. And after spending so much time working with gemstones and the cool hardness of metal, the versatility and fluidity of colorful polymer clay jewelry is refreshing. (Not to mention the affordability!)


I had never fully grasped the artistic qualities that polymer clay jewelry could have, though, until I saw Rie Nagumo's work in our new book, Enlightened Polymer Clay: Artisan Jewelry Designs Inspired by Nature. Rie is a polymer clay and metal clay jewelry artist and teacher who lives in Japan–and that beautiful simplicity that comes to mind when I think of Japan and Japanese design is evident throughout this book. Even the book's format is unique and distinctively Japanese, which makes for a no-fuss way of learning polymer clay jewelry-making techniques such as basics like rolling and flattening but also more creative techniques like mokume gane (which began as a Japanese sword-making  technique), image transfers, and caning.

Many of Rie's designs have a softness and translucence about them that I've rarely seen in polymer clay. She replicates natural elements such as flowers, leaves, seeds, and even quills with such skill, it's hard to tell that they aren't the real thing. Her work truly captures and embodies the "delicate, organic, and exquisite nature of polymer clay," but at the same time, she shares basic information that makes this book just right for polymer clay enthusiasts of all levels. Rie begins by reviewing these five basic processes used to create with polymer clay.


1. Conditioning polymer clay makes it easy to work with and involves kneading the clay between your hands to warm it before rolling it with a rolling pin until it's thin enough to pass through a clay-dedicated pasta machine. Folding and passing polymer clay through a pasta machine repeatedly, raising the setting each time, prepares it for the next step in making polymer clay jewelry. Note: If you don't have a pasta machine or prefer not to use one, Rie recommends conditioning polymer clay in sections by hand and then with a rolling pin, with the help of a hair dryer or heat lamp for added heat, which relaxes the clay and makes it easier to condition.

2. Color making: One of the most appealing features about polymer clay, for me, is the limitless colors and color patterns that can be achieved with it. In various brands, polymer clay is available in dozens of colors, but those colors can all be modified and mixed to create new colors and color patterns. You mix polymer clay colors the same way you condition the clay; simply combine two or more colors in your hands, then by rolling pin, and then move on to folding and passing through a pasta machine repeatedly until the desired color or effect is achieved.


3. Forming polymer clay is the most fun of all the basic clay-working processes. You can roll it, flatten it, texture it, stamp it, mold it . . . ruffle it, fold it, stack it, coil it. . . . Anything goes! Flattening, rolling, and layering are the techniques that Rie focuses on in the book, but don't be fooled–she creates masterpieces with those simple techniques.

4. Curing: In order to harden and preserve your polymer clay designs, it should be cured in a clay-dedicated small oven. You'll want to place a piece of cardboard on the oven tray, topped with parchment paper, and place your polymer clay jewelry on the parchment. (Curing on direct metal will cause your clay to become shiny and should be avoided.) Preheat the oven to 250° F first, and then cure your polymer clay pieces for 30 to 60 minutes between 250° and 265° F. Note: Polymer clay can melt and/or release toxic smoke if its temperature goes above 265° F. Make sure you have a good oven thermometer for a temperature gauge (don't rely on the oven's setting to tell you the temperature) and watch it carefully; also always work in an area with good ventilation.


5. Finishing: Don't forget the finishing! After you've cured your polymer clay jewelry masterpieces and they've cooled completely, they need to be finished just like any other jewelry creation would be. Finishing for polymer clay means wet sanding with waterproof sandpaper or a sanding sponge, using progressively finer grits, and then dry polishing with a cloth buffer in a rotary tool or something similar. You can follow that by coating the piece with a thin layer of varnish if you want to further protect it and/or give it some shine.

To learn more about making polymer clay jewelry and to be inspired by twenty-nine polymer clay jewelry designs that are, I dare say, unlike others you've seen, get your copy of Rie Nagumo's Enlightened Polymer Clay. Whether you're entirely new to polymer clay or have been using it for years, you'll be comfortable with and inspired by this gorgeous little book.

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