Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Top Ten Tuesday: top ten tips for making polymer clay jewelry

Though there are more and more artists and hobbyists using polymer clay for an increasing number of non-jewelry applications (home decor, miniatures, evening bags, etc.) , beads, pendants and other "jewelry bits" remain very popular.

I haven't done any research as to why this is, but I think it has something to do with the fact that jewelry is wearable art. It's easier to show off a necklace to a bunch of people than, say, a mask or a vase. When you wear your own handmade jewelry, you never know when you might have someone say, "Wow, what a great pin! Where'd you get that?!" (And then, of course, you proudly-- or modestly-- admit that, in fact, you made it yourself. (g))

For many of us jewelry-makers, the main reason we do it is that it's lots of fun. Maybe you'd like to join us. :o) If you're just starting out-- new to polymer clay jewelry-making-- here are a few tips to help guide you along your way:

Top Ten Tips for Making Polymer Clay Jewelry:

(This week, I've decided not to "count down" from 10 to 1, but just to put the tips in semi-logical order. (g))

1. Gather inspiration.
Keep an inspiration notebook, bulletin board, blog, etc.-- just a place where you can gather and store magazine photos, jotted ideas, print-outs, paint chips, and anything else that inspires you, be it designs, color combos, or polymer clay techniques. Collect links to useful websites, too-- not only clay-related sites, but also general jewelry-making sites.

2. Adapt designs to polymer clay.
When looking through magazines, books, and websites for jewelry patterns and ideas, don't be discouraged if there aren't many designed specifically for polymer clay. Instead, consider how you can adapt the designs to suit your polymer clay beads, pendants, etc. Remember, since you make the beads, you can always tailor them to certain specifications of size, shape and color to fit a design you admire.

3. Plan ahead.
Make sketches of what you want your piece of jewelry to look like-- or at least "think out" the design-- so you'll know how many beads you need, what shapes and colors they should be, etc. (Sometimes it's fun to just make the beads first and design the jewelry around them later, but if you work this way you're more likely to find that you don't have enough beads.)

4. Make extras.
Whenever possible, make extra beads. You never know when one will have a flaw or be lost. With a few back-up beads, you can proceed without having to go back and try to duplicate the lost bead. Leftovers make lovely earrings, or save them to use in a later project that calls for mixed beads.

5. Mix media.
Consider combining time-intensive polymer clay beads with store-bought glass, acrylic, metal, and other types of beads. If you're careful in your selection, you'll not only make the polymer clay beads go further, but you'll also add attractive accents to your handmade beauties.

6. Coordinate the colors.
When ordering beads online or through catalogs, you'll soon find that catalogs (whether online or in print) don't always represent colors accurately. It's best to order beads early and have them in hand before making the polymer clay components of the design. Either that, or take your finished polymer beads/pendants to the bead store with you, so you can be sure to get a good color combination.

7. Weigh your options.
Polymer clay is relatively lightweight, but for very large beads or pendants, consider using an aluminum foil core. This option also uses less clay, which leaves more for other projects.

8. String them along.
Your beads, that is. ;o) Give some thought to stringing materials for necklaces, bracelets and anklets. Choose a stringing material that's sturdy enough to support the weight of your beads and/or pendant. Also keep in mind how the look and texture of the stringing material will work into your design-- especially important in pieces with lengths of exposed string/cord/etc. For example, large beads or pendants generally look best on (and need the extra support of) thicker stringing materials, such as leather thong or heavy rubber cord. More delicate beads probably won't even fit over leather cording and are better suited to tigertail or a thinner cord.

9. Find some findings.
Findings (the metal "bits and pieces" of jewelry, such a ear wires, clasps, jump rings, and eye pins) are made from a variety of metals-- everything from cheap base metal to pricier silver and gold. You can buy them in shops or online-- or even make many of them yourself, from a spool of wire. When you're still learning, it's probably best to use a cheaper material, but eventually, you may want to upgrade to a finer metal. If cost is an issue, you can always reserve the silver findings for your very best work.

10. Get the tools of the trade.
All the sterling silver findings in the world aren't going to do you much good if you don't have the proper tools to use with them. (Try opening and closing a jump ring neatly with your bare hands. Just try it. I dare ya. ;o)) It takes a little time-- time you'd probably rather be spending at your clay table-- but learning how to use jewelry-making tools is an important step in making your own jewelry. Just a few tools (wire cutters, flat-nose pliers, and round-nose pliers) are absolutely required for most jewelry-making, though there are others (split-ring pliers, crimping tool, bead reamer, etc.) that are also useful, in specific situations. If you can master a handful of simple techniques with these tools, you'll be able to follow almost any jewelry design you can find. Once you've gathered the "absolutely necessary" tools, there are a few ways to learn to use them. Books and jewelry-design magazines (on loan from the library or bought), Internet tutorials, videos, classes at your local bead or craft store, a crafty friend with beading know-how-- all are possible ways to learn the basics.

There's something very satisfying about taking a few unfinished materials and turning them into something that you can be proud to wear or give as a gift. Obviously, the most masterful designs are the result of time, practice, and skill (not to mention natural talent), but even a novice can achieve something attractive with a few hours of work. And with every bead you form and string, you're improving your technique-- while having fun!

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