How to make lightweight (and large) polymer clay beads
Spun cotton shapes can be used as lightweight cores to make polymer clay beads and ornaments. Below is a cool tutorial explaining the process in details from start to finish. The tutorial is courtesy of Greek clay artist Klio Tsaliki (link to Klio Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.
A few examples of Klio’s work: Clay beads and ornaments
Filler shapes: 35mm balls and 18x28mm teardrops
Spun cotton shapes come in many different sizes and shapes: balls, teardrops, mushrooms, fruits, eggs… All can be covered with polymer clay.
How to make lightweight (and large) polymer clay beads
by Klio Tsaliki.
Any spun cotton shapes can be covered with polymer clay to create unique jewelry pieces or decorative items. The final pieces can reflect the original nature of the shapes, or transform them in creative ways.
Spun cotton balls come in plenty of sizes
As you can see, all spun cotton shapes carry a hole at the bottom. This is not enough if you want to hang the item, either as a jewelry piece or as a decorative one. For this purpose you need to “continue” the drilling to the other end, to create the tunnel which is necessary to pass the headpins or other stringing materials.
To do this you can use either the needle you use to drill your unbaked beads, or any drilling tool sharp enough to pass through the spun cotton layers. Insert the drilling tool through while rotating it (the way we screw), moving your tool towards the opposite side, to make the hole. Don’t use drilling tools like Dremel for example, you may destroy the shape.
Klio’s drilling tools
Always work slowly and patiently, not only for your own safety but also to protect your shape which is made out of cotton and it will deform if you press or treat it hardly.
Having completed the drilling process, rotate the tool a couple of times, to make the hole perfect and similar to the original one, at the opposite side. Now you have a nicely drilled through shape and you are ready for the next step.
A shape drilled all the way through.
To cover the shape, prepare a rather thick sheet of scrap polymer clay and run it through the pasta machine to make it smooth. Cut a strip long enough to wrap the shape.
Using Sculpey “Bake and Bond” (or any other brand you have in hand for the same use), apply some “glue” on the strip. This step is necessary, because the spun cotton shape is not smooth and so the clay will not stick on it. It is also possible to trap air between the spun cotton core and the clay which results in air bubbles after baking. Wrap the clay around the shape and then with your fingers press gently so that the clay sticks to the shape. Stretch the clay towards the top and bottom holes.
Smooth the surface of the clay with your fingers; if your item is round, roll it on your working surface with your finger to get the perfect round shape. Always remember to check that the two holes are not covered with polymer clay. If they are, use a tool to create the holes again.
Bake as any other polymer clay item, depending on the clay layer thickness, according to the instructions given by the manufacturer. Tent your tray with a piece of oven paper and stay close to the oven. Although it is safe to bake the spun cotton items, it is always better to be careful.
Let the items cool down normally. When the items are at normal temperature, you can cover them as usual.
Adding the second layer
This first layer offers a stable and smooth surface. You can then apply more layers, depending on the technique you want to use. I suggest to use again a bit of “bake and bond” between the first and second layers, the baked and the unbaked. This process will keep the two layers together during the baking time.
Cut a strip of a skinner blend or any other clay sheet you are planning to use.
Apply some “bake and bond” on the baked bead and wrap the bead carefully.
Wrap the already baked bead with the final clay sheet and work the top and bottom parts around the holes as discussed earlier. Make sure there is no clay over the holes. After baking it will be difficult to find the if it they are covered with clay.
Cut 2 thin strips of clay and wrap around the bead. Make sure to cover the seam (where the green clay meets the blue clay on the picture).
Using your mini cutters cut mini circles of different sizes in pairs, one for the top and one for the bottom of each beads, playing a bit with the different colors used in the basic clay sheet which covers the bead.
Stack them putting the biggest at the bottom and the smallest on top. Drill them all at once with your drilling tool (needle etc). Place them over the predrilled holes of the bead and with your drilling tool make sure that all the holes are properly aligned so that the headpin will pass properly.
You can make your beads even more interesting giving them a little texture. (This has an extra advantage: it removes the fingerprints). Press slightly and gently a piece of fabric i.e. a piece of an old jeans, a sponge, anything which is large enough to wrap your bead and give it a texture.
Bake as usual, covering the beads or items you made with some oven paper. Always stay close to the oven during the baking process and keep an eye on your items.
Note: When possible, because the beads or items will be covered with two layers of clay, select a spun cotton shape a bit smaller than the one needed for your project. Also remember that a thicker second layer is less likely to keep air bubbles between itself and the prebaked bead.
Let the beads cool down normally. When you try to pass the headpin through, always start with the original hole. As you screw your drilling tool in the hole, you create a tunnel which works much better when you follow the original direction. Sometimes, if the item is big, you may need to try a few times until you find the opposite hole. It is normal, don’t push and be patient. Use a long needle to make sure your hole is still open and try again.
You can use the smaller sizes for jewelry use and the bigger ones for craft and decorative use. Make Christmas ornaments, mobiles, enjoy this new way of using your favorite polymer clay. As spun cotton shapes are very light, you can create bigger items without the limits of the extra weight. So many shapes, so many possibilities!!!
More work by Klio Tsaliki:
Above: Mushroom ornament
Filler shape: 39x60mm spun cotton mushroom
Above: beads with tassels
Filler shapes: 40mm spun cotton balls
Above: beads with butterfly gems
35mm spun cotton balls
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