Welcome to rec.crafts.polymer-clay, the Usenet newsgroup for discussion
of all aspects of art and craft work in the medium of polymer clay!
Certain topics are covered over and over again. This periodic post
answers some questions that are frequently asked in
rec.crafts.polymer-clay, as well as documenting guidelines for posting.
Please take a moment to scan this document before posting to
rec.crafts.polymer-clay; the answer to your question may already be
ready and waiting.
What topics are appropriate for rec.crafts.polymer-clay?
What is polymer clay?
What's a cane?
Is there such a thing as transparent polymer clay?
How long should the clay be fired?
What do I do about hard or crumbly clay? Is it still good?
What do I do about clay that's too soft?
What's a swap?
Where can I find out more?
------ What topics are appropriate for rec.crafts.polymer-clay?
This newsgroup is here for discussion of any aspect of polymer clay,
including technique questions, new techniques, safety information,
comparison of polymer clay brands, shameless bragging and/or pleas for
help on your current projects, announcements of polymer clay events,
and anything else that's relevant to polymer clay work. Tasteful ads
are generally acceptable if they relate directly to polymer clay.
Topics that are not appropriate for this newsgroup include:
- questions about earth clays (try rec.crafts.pottery instead)
- questions about laboratory or other non-art use of polymers
- posts containing binaries, HTML-ized copies of the text, or other
As in all newsgroups, spam is unwelcome in the extreme.
(If you are new to Usenet, please check the introductory articles in
news.announce.newusers to learn about guidelines and hints that apply
to all newsgroups.)
------ What is polymer clay?
Polymer clay is a pliable, blendable polymer compound for artists and
crafters. It's not a true earth clay - clay is fine particles of
silicate suspended in water, whereas polymer clay is fine particles of
polyvinyl chloride (PVC) suspended in plasticizer - but it can be used
much like clay. Artists and crafters use it to make beads and jewelry,
miniatures and small sculptures, dolls, and many other objects.
There are several different manufacturers of polymer clay; some brand
names are Fimo, Sculpey, Premo, Promat, Cernit, Creall-therm, Formello,
Modelene, Du-Kit, Prima, and Jonco. Which brands are available depends
largely on what part of the world you're in. Each of the brands has
somewhat different properties - Cernit and Creall-therm are especially
favored by dollmakers, Fimo and Premo are often used in cane work, etc.
- but they are all fundamentally the same sort of substance, and for
the most part can be substituted for each other.
What makes polymer clay special is its versatility. It comes in dozens
of colors, and you can blend clays together like paints to make your
own colors. The clay's pliability and ductility let you use techniques
from glasswork, textile arts, and sculpture. And polymer clay doesn't
dry out, so you can sculpt and form it without worrying about a time
limit. Firing - the process that fuses the particles into a solid -
requires only low temperatures, low enough to use a home oven as your
kiln. When fired, the clay gets hard enough to make durable objects,
and can be finished in various ways to obtain textures from glassy to
Occasionally people ask what the best brand is. There's no simple
answer to this question; all the clay brands have their good and bad
points, softness or firmness, translucency, color choice, and so forth.
The best brand for you will depend on what you want to use the clay
for, and on your personal preferences and how you like to work with it.
You can also mix different brands of clay to get the qualities you
------ What's a cane?
Caning is a technique that originated in glasswork. A cane is a
cylindrical log of clay that has a design running through it, so that
when you slice the log, each slice shows the design. For example,
suppose you make a log of black clay, then wrap a sheet of white clay
around it, then wrap a final sheet of black around that. Each circular
slice is a cross-section of the log, so it shows a bulls-eye design:
black in the middle (your original black log), then a white circle
around the black (the white sheet you wrapped around it), and a black
circle around the outside (the final black sheet).
You can make all sorts of geometric canes like this. With careful
placement of different colors of clay, you can also make non-geometric
canes like faces, landscapes. etc. You can roll and press the cane to
reduce its size without blurring the design; this allows for extremely
fine detail in the cane slices. The final cane can be sliced thin and
the slices applied to a bead, sculpture, or other piece, or sliced
thickly and each slice pierced and made into a bead or pendant.
------ Is there such a thing as transparent polymer clay?
No polymer clay is truly transparent, due to limitations in polymer
chemistry. Several clay brands offer a "translucent" or "transparent"
color which looks white before firing, and after firing has a milky
appearance. Some clay artists use very thin sheets of translucent clay
over colored designs to get partial transparency in their designs - the
thinner the clay, the more translucent it is. Sanding and buffing the
clay also increases its translucency.
Some clay artists use other substances, such as acrylic resin or glass
marbles, along with clay in their pieces to obtain a true transparent
------ How long should the clay be fired?
Polymer clay is usually fired between 250 and 275 degrees Fahrenheit
for 20-30 minutes per half-inch of thickness. Some clays, particularly
translucent, require a lower temperature; check the package for
directions. It's dangerous to exceed 300 degrees when firing the clay,
because if it burns it can release toxic fumes. To ensure safety, you
may want to invest in an oven thermometer to check the actual
temperature of your oven.
However, you can fire the clay for much longer periods without damaging
it, as long as the temperature doesn't exceed 300 degrees. If your
piece is thick, you should fire longer than the usual 20-30 minutes to
ensure that the interior of the piece reaches the proper temperature.
Longer firing time may increase the strength of the finished piece.
------ What do I do about hard or crumbly clay? Is it still good?
If your clay seems crumbly, warm it gently and try to condition it. You
can also add substances to the clay to soften it. Eberhard-Faber,
makers of Fimo, make a product called MixQuick which is a solid clay
softener. Or you can add a drop or two of Sculpey Diluent (made by
Polyform), mineral oil, or petroleum jelly. If you're using a stiff
clay, try mixing with a softer clay brand.
If the clay is still crumbly after several minutes of conditioning, it
might be partially fired. This can happen if the clay has been exposed
to too much heat or light - allowed to sit on a hot loading dock during
shipping, for instance - and is not fixable. If this happens, return
the clay to the place you bought it. You can test clay in the store by
pressing the edge of your fingernail into it through the packaging - it
should leave a visible mark. If it's too hard to be marked by a
fingernail, it may not be usable.
------ What do I do about clay that's too soft?
Some clays are very sensitive to the heat of your hands, softening too
readily when warm. Working on a cool surface such as a marble tile, or
dipping your hands in ice water occasionally, may help. You can also
mix clay brands together, so mixing your soft clay with some of a stiff
clay like Fimo may be a solution.
Clay sometimes has so much plasticizer in it that it becomes too soft
to work with easily. If this is the case, you can flatten a piece of
conditioned clay and set it between several sheets of clean, unprinted
paper overnight. The paper will soak up some of the plasticizer, making
the clay firmer.
------ What's a swap?
A swap is a group exchange of polymer clay items - beads, boxes, almost
anything made of clay. One person serves as the swapmeister and
coordinates the swap. Each person makes enough of the item for each
participant and sends them in to the swapmeister (along with a few
bucks for postage), who parcels them out so that each participant gets
back a package containing one item from each of the other participants.
For example, if you're in a 20-person bead swap, you make 20 beads and
send them in, and you get back one bead from each person in the swap.
Swaps are a fun way to get to know other clay artists and to see a lot
of different techniques. Most swaps welcome participants at all levels
of expertise, including beginners; if you have any questions, ask the
swapmeister. For more information about swaps, see the swap How-To page
at Polymer Clay Central
------ Where can I find out more?
Delphi hosts the Polymer Clay Central site at
<http://www.delphi.com/polymerclay/>, containing projects, hints,
artists interviews, swap info, and more.
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