Readers of Creative Fire have been asking for more polymer clay techniques to use with the metal clay creations. You asked, we listened! In this installment of Clay Convergence we’ll look at a widely popular millefiori method that’s not only easy to make, but gives great results time after time. People with little or no polymer clay experience are often intimidated by the idea of working with polymer clay. They believe it’s difficult and time consuming to learn how to achieve complex looking effects. This is an often-held misconception that this project will hopefully dispel. While it’s true that some millefiori versions can be highly difficult, it doesn’t have to be the rule.
This method is one I learned from polymer clay artist Esther Anderson earlier in the last decade. This article doesn’t address how to create the metal clay bezels or frames that showcase this design. That’s up to you.
As you can see from the photo of the finished pendants a variety of metals, shapes, sizes and textures were used. You’ll have to bring your creativity to the bezel or frame you wish to create, but this step-by-step technique method will teach you how to create canes with a mod, tiled look.
Most directions for extruders call for using separate devices for both metal and polymer clays. Cross-material contamination is undesirable when using these tools. You’ll learn an easy tip on how to use only one extruder for both clays as well as how to keep the device clean between uses. Also included is an extra tutorial on how to create a coiled bail or fired and finished metal clay bezel settings and frames.
As for determining your color palette, this is your choice. I recommend working with three to four colors when creating your cane. Using more than four colors may create a mottled effect. Also, it’s a good idea to use at least one very light and one very dark value for maximum contrast and canes that pop! Using colors that have similar tones can result in muted results. This isn’t a no-no by any means, but it’s good to know what to expect when getting started. The best part is experimenting with color combinations as you create a myriad of mosaic tile canes for your metal clay projects. Uncured millefiori canes can last for many years when properly stored.
Project Materials and Supplies
–Artist Quality Polymer Clay (e.g. Pardo professional Art Clay, Kato Polyclay™) 3 – 4 blocks of different colors plus: 1 of block of black clay (if not included in the color selection) and 1 of block of white clay (if not included in the color selection)
-Lisa Pavelka Poly Bonder High Temp™ bonding glue
-Fired and finished metal clay bezel setting or frame
Clear UV Resin
12” (30cm) 20 gauge (0.8mm) wire for a bail
Chaton crystal component
Tools, Supplies and Equipment
–Basic Polymer Clay Set -Up
-Pasta machine dedicated to craft use only
-Makins Clay™ extruder with the largest square die
-Smooth glazed ceramic work tile
-Plastic food wrap
Large knitting needle
Stone setting burr – size to match the chaton crystal
Condition the clay. Condition one half block of each clay color (starting with the lightest color first) by kneading or rolling repeatedly through the largest setting of the pasta machine until soft and pliable.
Cut out the discs. Roll out a sheet of each clay color on the largest setting of the pasta machine (starting with clay lightest to darkest). Unscrew the collar from the end of the extruder. Use the end of the extruder barrel to punch out several (4-7) discs of each color of clay . If the clay sticks inside the barrel use the tip of the craft knife to remove it. Don’t worry if the discs are marred. This won’t matter in the finished cane.
Prepare the clay stack. Stack the discs one on top of another. This can be done randomly or in a uniform pattern . (Tip: I use more discs of the lighter colors than darker ones to ensure sufficient contrast). Do this until your stack is approximately 2.25” (60mm) high. Compress the stack slightly with your hand to ensure the discs stick to one another. Roll the stack back and forth over your work tile, using your palm and light pressure . Roll until the diameter of the stack is slightly narrower than the extruder barrel; it should be just small enough to easily slip inside.
Wrap the clay stack. Cut a 2” (50mm) x 4” (100mm) piece of plastic wrap with scissors. Place the clay stack on top of the plastic wrap sheet so that one end is flush with the straight edge of the plastic wrap. Roll the plastic wrap around the stack one and a half to two times. Twist the excess length at the other end like a candy wrapper .
Extrude the stack. With the extruder plunger twisted all the way out as far as it will go, insert the wrapped disc stack with the twisted plastic end, inside first. Reattach the collar with the largest square shaped die inserted . Holding the extruder high over your work surface twist the handle until all the clay comes out . Cut off the clay with the craft knife. Open the extruder at the handle end and remove the plunger. Pull out the plastic wrap and wipe away any excess clay.
Make the cane. Trim off the distorted ends. Measure the length of the extruded clay and divide it into nine equal sections, each should be about 1.25” (32mm) to 1.5” (38mm) long. Stack each of the nine sections to form a square. Make sure to alternate the designs as you create the block or cane. After doing this gently using your hands and an acrylic roller to tightly compact the sections together while retaining a crisp square block. This is done by frequently rotating the clay while you compress and reduce the cane until it is about ¾” (20mm) square along the face .
Make the finished clay infill. Create a veneer using thin slices (about 1/16” (1.5mm) thick) cut using the clay blade from your cane. Abut these slices over a thin sheet of white clay until you have created an area that is slightly larger than your finished metal clay bezel or frame window . This formation should be placed over a deli/parchment paper work surface. Place another sheet of deli/parchment paper over the abutted clay slices and roll gently using an acrylic roller . Rotate the clay often and continue to roll until the seams are melded together to form one solid sheet.
Fill the metal clay frame or bezel. To fill a beze: press the finished setting down over the clay to create an outline of the bezel edges. Cut just inside the line with the craft knife. Glue the trimmed piece down in the bezel using bonding glue. If the sides don’t meet the edges of the bezel walls use a blending tool to stretch it out to meet the sidewalls. To use a frame setting: apply glue sparingly to the reverse of the finished metal clay. Press this down quickly and firmly over the clay veneer. Trim the excess clay using a craft knife . Bake for 20 minutes in a preheated oven following the manufacturer’s instructions for the temperature. Cool the piece.
Finishing the reverse. If your piece already has a bail finish the back by gluing on a thin layer of conditioned black clay rolled out to about the 4th largest setting of the pasta machine. Use coarse sandpaper (or other tool or stamp) to texture the surface. Trim any excess clay away from the edges and re-bake for 30 minutes.
If your piece does not have a bail you can add a trapped hidden suspension method such as a plain or decorative jump ring or a coiled wire bail as directed in the extra steps that follow.
Create a coiled wire bail. To create a unique coiled bail for hanging your work: tightly wrap 8” (20cm) of 20-gauge (0.8mm) wire around a needle tool . Trim off the excess wire with wire cutters. Insert a 3” (7.5cm) length of 20-gauge (0.8mm) wire into the coil. Bend the coil around a large knitting needle until the desired degree of curvature is achieved .
Step 11: Finishing the reverse with a bail set into it. Bend the excess wire ends protruding from the coil ends into hooks that lie parallel to the coil. These can face in or outward as long as they won’t protrude beyond the edges of the bezel/frame. Roll out black clay through the 2nd largest setting of the pasta machine. Cut it to the approximate shape of the bezel or frame and place this over a piece of parchment/deli paper. Press the hooked ends of the coil down into the black clay along the top edge of the shape . The wire hooks should lie flush with the surface of the black clay backing. Apply a thin coat of bonding glue to the back of the bezel/frame. Press this down firmly over the clay backing to trap the coil hooks. After several seconds trim the excess black clay away with the craft knife. Turn the bezel/frame upside down. Repeatedly press the sandpaper into the clay until the surface is completely textured . Re-trim the bezel/frame edges and bake a second time for 30 minutes according to the manufacturer’s instructions for temperature.
Optional finishing tip: Apply clear UV resin over the finished veneer for a domed, glass-like cabochon effect. Follow the manufacturer’s directions. An hour after curing the center can be drilled to add a crystal focal point if desired.
Extruder Cleaning Tips: It’s very important to clean your extruder each and every time you use it, especially when using the same device for multiple types of clay. Be sure to wipe away any clay from ends of the extruder barrel, the collars, and dies. Do not leave any clay around the rubber gasket. Even though replacement gaskets are available you’ll prolong the life of this component by making sure to clean it thoroughly after each use. Using the plastic wrap method on any type of clay you insert in the extruder will make cleaning it much easier. If metal or polymer clay residue persists around the die collar or barrel edges, baking the extruder and collar at 250F (120c) will harden or dry any excess clay, making it easy to remove. Do not bake the plunger!