Saturday, February 16, 2013

Three of my favorite polymer bead making tips

I've been making polymer clay beads for… uh… a long time. First for myself and my own jewelry designs, and now in the past two years for jewelry makers around the world. I have to say it's quite an honor to have my little creations put into YOUR jewelry designs.

In this bead-making journey, I went from just making beads whenever the whimsy struck to artists NEEDING my beads. Right. Now. (Yikes!) And so I had to do some things to keep my beads consistent in shape and size, streamline production, and reduce the turn out of ho-hum beads.

You might be thinking, "well, I don't make lots of beads. I don't even sell my beads. I do it for fun!" That's perfectly fine. But I've always found simplifying the mundane of any sort of creating leaves more time for imagination and play… so new ideas actually have a chance to develop.

So here are three of my favorite tips and time savers…

Tip #1. Freezing molded polymer. This one is my all-time favorite! (I have to thank my Aunt for convincing me to actually use molds for my beads in the first place… long story!! ;-) And the only way I can keep my beads consistently the same size. It also enables me to make deep molds and have my castings come out perfect each time.

Simply fill your molds with softened polymer, pack in, pop in the freezer for about 10 minutes, remove from the freezer and pop your molded creation out of the mold! They turn out perfect every time!

See the difference? The rose on the left is without freezing, the one on the right is after freezing.

There's no way I could make all these guys in an afternoon without the help of molds! I use Art Clay World USA five minute cold molding compound. The molds I make for these critters are simple——only to keep the basic shape and size——I add their fur, tails, eyes, and noses after casting. Mold details that are too fine, usually just get obscured.

My stash of most-used molds.

Tip #2. Leaching over-soft polymer. For my bead making, I do a lot of hand-sculpting and if the polymer is too soft, pair that up with the warmth of my hands… and you have one very squishy bead with very poor detail. So frustrating! Here's how I solve that problem:

First I slice the blocks of polymer to a thickness that will fit through the thickest setting on my pasta machine.

Then I roll each section through on the thickest setting.

Next I sandwich them between layers of white copy paper.

And roll over the top with an acrylic roller so they stick to the paper.

This is about 2 hours later——you can see already the excess oils are leaching out. Normally I leave the polymer on the paper for a day or two, depending on how soft it is, and then it is so much firmer and easier to handle and work with.

This last tip is really, really simple——many of you probably already use it——I thought about not including it… but it has saved many of my creations from the scrap pile, so I'll share it anyway…

Tip #3. Clean hands and light colored polymer. How many times have you ruined a perfectly good polymer bead by just touching it? And you had just washed your hands!? But now it has little bits of dust and lint stuck to it… into the trash it goes! For most of my dragon beads I use light colored polymer and one tiny bit of dust can mean I have to start all over. How do you solve the problem? Wash your hands, of course. And DON'T dry them on a towel——lint will always stick to your hands and then stick to the polymer. Use paper towels to dry your hands instead. And then the fool-proof way to be absolutely sure your hands are lint and dust free——roll a ball of scrap clay in your hands——it picks up anything on your hands and you're now safe to work that light colored polymer! I also always work on a sheet of copy paper so I never have to place my beads directly on the tabletop.

I don't have any photos of that one… but I bet most of you can picture it in your mind's eye pretty well… the poor dirty beads… and the perfect ones. Ahhh! Wonderful!

What tips and tricks have you learned from working with polymer? Any problems have you still stumped about what to do and frustrated?

Do share! :-)


  1. Fascinating insight Rebekah and thanks for sharing....these little tips and tricks can save us all so much time and frustration!

  2. I appreciate these tips. I am still building the nerve to try!

  3. Great tips Rebekah!! I'm thinking about digging in to my PC, I haven't touched it in years so these tips are very timely for me. Thank you!

  4. I love this! I'm about to take my first polymer clay class with Christi Freisen and this article is actually the start of my polymer education. Thank you

  5. I appreciate the tips. Makes me wanna go play with clay!

  6. I don't know the first thing about polymer clay, so this was fascinating to me. I always enjoy reading about the artist's process because it develops a deep appreciation of all the work that went into each bead or component. I have a bunny bead of yours, sitting on my work table right now. When I start to work with him, I'll be picturing all the steps that went into his creation. Thank you.

  7. That is awesome advice. I have the clay but I just can't seem to figure it out. Thank you so much!

  8. I am not a bead maker but a bead user, so this is such a wonderful thing for me to be able to see. It helps me appreciate the work more than I already do! Thanks.

  9. Fantastic tips, thank you so much :-)

  10. I had heard about freezing canes before slicing them to make them firmer. but it never occured to me to freeze the clay in molds. Thanks for the tip. I will be sure to use it.

  11. Great post Rebekah! I haven't worked with polymer clay for a while, but I remember my OH getting very confused at seeing molds with polymer clay in the freezer!
    I went through a stage of making spacer beads by rolling out a snake of clay, pushing a knitting needle throught the middle and rolling some more and making it nice and even. I'd then parbake the clay, carefully pull the needle out and use a tissue blade to cut the resulting tube into beads. The clay had cooked enough to make it hold it's shape but soft enough still to cut. I then popped the beads back in to finish baking.

  12. Freezing! What a perfect solution.... I work in polymer a bit lately, and am liking it. Glad you are on the team! I look forward to more brilliant tips from your years of experience.

  13. Thank you!!!! My molded clay always turned out squished. I would never have thought of freezing the clay.

  14. Thanks for the info, Rebekah! One of these days I will use the skills I learned from Christine Damm and actually use polymer clay!

  15. I never saw this post the first time around. I am bookmarking this now! I would really like to find a way to make molds of some new pieces I envision and the idea of freezing them is pure genius! Also the idea of leaching and the copy paper work surface. Smart tips! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge! Enjoy the day! Erin


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