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Polymer Clay Basics

by Jacqueline Gikow

A polymer clay-covered object.

A polymer clay-covered object. Instructions are provided below for how to create a jigsaw puzzle heart stool.

Polymer clay is a man-made, oil-based alternative to natural clay. It's not true-earth clay that is made up of fine particles of silicate suspended in water; polymer clay is fine particles of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) suspended in plasticizer. A plasticizer is an organic compound used in modifying plastics, to incorporate flexibility and toughness.

Because of its make-up, polymer clay can be used much like clay. A high-temperature kiln is not needed, though, because the temperatures needed are easy to manage in a home oven (265°F to 275°F).

Guidelines for Preparing Clay to Cover Objects

While you are creating, watch that you don't trap air bubbles between the support surface and the clay. Problems occur after firing. Little bubbles expand in the heat of the oven and become big, ugly bubbles during firing. If you don't plan properly, the clay will crack and detach from glass, wood, or ceramic.

The following planning steps help eliminate potential problems:
- Eliminate air bubbles
- Use clay that is flexible after firing
- Thorough baking.

You can paint a vessel with PVA glue, such as Gem-Tac, before covering it. PVA is a thick glue that acts as a buffer between the polymer clay that contracts and expands at a slightly different rate than the two surfaces that contract and expand at different rates. Let the glue dry or tack up a bit before adding clay.

Jigsaw Puzzle Heart Stool Project

Materials and Supplies

Fimo polymer clay
10 oz. black
4 oz. silver
4 oz. indian red
2 oz. lemon yellow
4 oz. peppermint
Pasta machine or roller
Tissue blade
Wavy blade
Clay gun extruder
Needle tool
X-Acto knife
Tracing paper
Bamboo skewer or other thin, straight edge
Heart-shaped stool (available from Walnut Hollow)
PVA glue
Clay gun (optional)
Flecto Varathane Diamond Finish (optional)
Polymer clay-covered jigsaw puzzle heart stool
Polymer clay-covered jigsaw puzzle heart stool.

Preparation

1. Preheat the oven to 275°F and put the stool in to heat dry for 20 minutes. Let it cool and unscrew the legs from the seat.

2. Make one round and one square bullseye cane using red and black clay. Reduce the round cane to 1/2" in diameter. Keep the square cane larger as you will be using it in a variety of sizes. Reserve some of the red clay for the stool legs.

3. Make a gradient blend (refer to Chapter 3 for instructions) of the lemon yellow and peppermint clay.When the blend is smooth, roll it out to #3 on the pasta machine (1/16"). Set it aside.

The Stool Seat

4. Apply a layer of PVA to the stool seat. Let it get tacky, but not dry. Condition the black clay and roll it to #3 (1/16") and cover the seat with it. The clay should wrap around the bottom of the seat to create a mechanical bond.Make sure there are no air bubbles trapped between the clay and the wood.

5. Enlarge the template 200% and trace the inner heart line to the stool. Do this by piercing the line with your needle tool or a pin so you get a dotted line guide.

6. Extrude or roll a snake of clay about 1/8" in diameter and position it along the dotted line. Gently press it on the seat so it sticks but doesn't distort.

7. Bake the seat for about 15 minutes at 265°F.

8. Apply PVA glue to the black layer of clay on the outside of the clay coil. Roll out more black clay at #3 and layer it smoothly on the surface, again overlapping the bottom of the seat.

9. Roll the silver clay to #5 on the pasta machine and cut thin strips using the wavy blade. Spread some PVA glue down and apply the strips to the stool seat as shown in the color key.

10. Bake the seat for another 15 minutes.

Make the Jigsaw Puzzle Insert

11. Roll a sheet of black clay to #3 and cut it to the size of the inner heart shape on the template. Trace the four divisions from the enlarged template onto the clay.

12. Roll the rest of the silver clay to #3 on the pasta machine; cut it to the shapes shown on the template, and position on the black heart as indicated on the color key illustration.

13. Cut the color gradient clay to the shapes shown on the template, and position on the black heart as indicated on the color key illustration.

14. Indent the clay at the seams between the colors with the bamboo skewer. Roll or extrude a 1/32" coil of black clay and gently press it in the indentation.

15. Cut thin slices of the canes and arrange them as shown on the color key.

16. Carefully roll everything smooth, making sure not to distort the seams or trap any air bubbles. Trim neatly back to the correct size.

17. Incise the jigsaw lines onto this heart shape using a needle tool.

18. Bake at 265°F for 15 minutes, Note: It's a good idea to bake this heart between two tiles to be sure it stays flat.

19.When the heart is cool, make sure it fits snugly inside the coil of clay on the stool, trimming as necessary. Then cut along the jigsaw shapes with a sharp knife or a jeweler's saw. Sand the edges of the puzzle pieces smooth.

The Stool Legs

20. Apply a layer of PVA to the each leg as you work on it. Cover the three legs with different colors of leftover clay: peppermint, red, and silver. Trim the clay back so the legs fit into the holes provided for them.

21. Insert the legs into the seat. Extrude or roll out 1/16" diameter, or less, coils of black clay and wrap them around each leg as illustrated in the finished example.

22. Bake the finished stool at 265°F for 45 minutes to an hour.

23. Leave as is or apply two light coats of Flecto Varathane Diamond Finish to protect the stool from handling. You can also glue the legs permanently into the seat using PVA wood glue.

Related articles

How to Make a Polymer Clay House Necklace | Make Faux Ivory Buttons | Clay Basics | Precious Metal Clay

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