What is Polymer Clay?

by Tammy Honaman, Author, Jewelry-Making Expert and Educator,
Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

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Polymer clay is a clay-like material made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), plasticizer and pigment. It is available in many colors and brands, with each brand offering its own color palette and properties.

Polymer clay is an amazing art material that can be molded, shaped, stamped, layered and turned into almost anything!

Some common ways the material is used are:
  • "Caning"--a millefiori (thousand flowers) technique borrowed from the Italians, where you arrange layers of prepared clay into a picture or design--the simplest being a jellyroll cane;
  • Sculpting--the original polymer clay was invented in the 1930s and was used primarily for sculpting dolls--all the clays on the market today are still ideal for this purpose;
  • Image transfers--you can transfer images onto polymer, preserving them and utilizing them in ways not possible before. Images that can be transferred include: photos, drawings, photo copies (made using a copier that uses toner rather than ink) and screen stencils;
  • Faux techniques--polymer clay is a very versatile material which can be used to create faux stones, such as turquoise and jade, or to mimic materials no longer available for use, such as ivory. It can also be used to mimic mokume gane, an ancient Japanese metalworking technique.
For any technique you choose to try, the clay must be cured to capture your creativity. To cure polymer clay, bake your piece in an oven (household, toaster or convection) at 275 degrees Fahrenheit (135 degrees Celcius) for one hour. Once cured, the clay can be further enhanced by sanding and buffing. You can also carve, cut, and sew the clay once cured, the possibilities are endless.

The clay has very few limitations, but there are a few rules you need to understand before you begin--once you know the rules, you'll be all set.

Polymer clay itself is non-toxic, so it makes it an ideal medium for people of all ages; however you must follow these safety tips to ensure your safety and the safety of those around you.
  • Polymer clay must never be baked in a microwave or under a broiler and should only be baked at the manufacturer's recommended temperature.
  • If you accidentally bake the clay at a higher temperature and cause the clay to burn or catch on fire, extinguish any flames with a fire extinguisher, turn off the oven, open the windows and leave the room until the noxious fumes have dissipated.
  • You must dedicate your "kitchen" tools (pasta maker and anything else you would normally use for food) and baking surface (cookie sheet or ceramic tile) to polymer use only.
  • The clay should not be ingested, so make it a rule to not eat food while working with the clay. Not only will this keep you from eating the clay but it will also keep you from getting any crumbs into your creations!
  • You must condition the clay before you begin working with it. Conditioning not only makes the clay easier to work with it also gives it strength and stability.

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