Some hints for using polymer clay to construct handmade Pandora-style beads for your next jewelry project

I should start by telling you I’m a crafter of many things, but beaded jewelry and polymer clay are my passions. A close friend of mine introduced me to this unique clay several years ago, and I've been leading instructional workshops off and on ever since. Unfortunately, it's been an uphill battle to garner interest in such a little known medium. If you're unfamiliar with polymer clay, a quick search on Etsy or Pinterest will reveal a wealth of art, jewelry, sculpture, and other items made entirely from this versatile product. Actually, it's not really a "little known medium." In fact, it's everywhere! Then why do so few people know of its many virtues? 

I won't lie to you; polymer clay can become a fairly expensive hobby (but only if you let it). Couple that with the amount of time and space one needs to dedicate to the craft, and it makes sense why some artists would rather avoid adding it to their list of hobbies. But what it lacks in these areas, it more than makes up for when it comes to jewelry-making.

Once you get the hang of it and have the time to dedicate to it, polymer clay is quite easy to use. It molds perfectly, mixes well, holds its shape with only minimal support during the baking process, and buffs to a gorgeous shine. All of these attributes can make it a much sought-after medium for jewelry designers. If you're not convinced yet, revisit that search on Etsy or Pinterest. This time, enter "polymer clay jewelry" in the search box and see what you find. Several hours later when you return to read the rest of this article...

Incorporating Polymer Clay Into Your Jewelry

Now you see what I'm talking about. So as someone who loves to make your own jewelry but has never explored the intriguing world of polymer clay, how do you get started? It's easy; think simple and begin with a project that requires a minimal amount of clay, very few tools, and limited embellishments. 

Glitter and Flower BeadsCredit: TerraTrade Studios

My suggestion for jewelry enthusiasts who want to explore this medium is to begin by making your own Pandora-style beads. Anyone can form a ball out of clay (after all, most of us have practiced with Play-Doh before, right?) and once you’ve done that, the rest is easy. Below are some simple instructions. A number of websites exist which will provide you with more detailed information on the tools and equipment you might need if you choose to get more serious.

  1. Begin by conditioning your clay. Roll it around in your hands until it becomes soft enough that when bent in half, it doesn’t break.
  2. Form your clay into a log shape.  Use a ruler to measure and cut your log into uniform pieces so your beads will be of equal size.
  3. Roll these equally-proportioned bits of clay into balls.
  4. Use a toothpick to carefully poke a hole through the middle of each ball (yes, it takes practice to center the holes just right).
  5. Use a bamboo skewer to enlarge your holes and add grommets on each side of your beads if desired.
  6. Adjust the overall shape of the beads to your liking. You can shape your beads into long cylinders, balls of varying sizes, cubes, etc.
  7. Embellish! Use tiny crystals, glitter, more clay (perhaps in the shapes of tiny flowers or leaves), or textures. Avoid using plastics of any kind as they will likely melt in the oven.
  8. Bake according to the manufacturer’s directions. If you don’t have a small toaster oven you can dedicate specifically to your polymer clay, be sure to enclose your projects in a turkey roasting bag and seal tight before baking.

Many different designs of Pandora beads exist on the market today, and with a little time and a few simple tools, you can mimic a good number of them. The most expensive item you’ll want to purchase to get started with your new (and very addictive, by the way) hobby is a toaster oven, and you can find those just about anywhere for $20-$50, if you don’t already have an old one lying around somewhere like I did. Although polymer clay can be baked in a conventional oven, it is wise to use a toaster oven as it prevents you from continuously having to clean your household oven. The fumes produced when it bakes are annoying and most certainly will not add to the flavor of your favorite recipes. Don’t worry, this versatile medium is considered non-toxic, but most crafters steer clear of curing it in a conventional oven because of those unsavory fumes.

Marbled beadsCredit: TerraTrade Studios

Once your beads have been baked according to the clay manufacturer’s instructions, you can use alcohol inks (if you’re a scrap-booker, you may already have some of these) or acrylic paints to further decorate your beads. Once dry, use a polymer clay glaze or sand and buff to give your beads that characteristic glassy shine.

And that’s all there is to it! If you’re a jewelry designer, I hope you’ll consider incorporating polymer clay into your work in the future. I have, and it’s made my jewelry so much more adaptable. Not only can I use it to create just about any shape of bead, frame for a focal piece, or embellishment, but it's also used frequently to mimic stone, wood, and metals. It doesn't stop there; this clay can even be used to create beautiful sculptures, household items such as light switch covers, and so much more! I hope this article inspires you to learn more about the wonderful world of polymer clay.

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