5 Helpful Tips to Remember when you begin Working with Polymer Clay

An ariel shot of a brightly coloured raw polymer clay slab with a 3D raised abstract design

Get ready to start claying!

Over the last 5 years, I've spent hundreds of hours handling raw polymer clay before it even goes into the oven to be baked/ cured and let me tell you, there are a whole heap of things that can go wrong - believe me when I say that I've learnt through my own mistakes!

Here are 5 simple tips to follow before committing to baking your jewellery, that will help make your first experiences more enjoyable and successful!

PLUS as a bonus, I'm giving you the opportunity to try 3 fabulous Gracie Face polymer clay colour recipes for FREE!

1. Keep your workspace clean

Ok, so I'm not going to lie - by the end of a making session my workbench looks completely ram-sacked! Having said that, I always start with it as clean as a whistle.

Before you even think about getting out your polymer clay and whipping up your first masterpiece, you need to have a clean and clutter-free workspace.

Polymer clay is like a magnet for dust and lint from your clothing; it's not such a big deal if you're working with black or dark clays but anything light and you will see it. 

I use a combination of fragrance free baby wipes and isopropyl (rubbing alcohol, which I keep in a spray bottle) to wipe everything down, removing lint, dust & clay colour residue. I also dust regularly in my studio, including any containers/ drawers that store my clay and equipment plus the rest of the studio and windows.

A Gracie Face designed polymer clay cane in many different colours. The cane has been sliced and the cross section is visible. The pattern looks like chevrons or zig zags and is very bright.
Gracie Face​​

Tip: Try to avoid wearing tops that are knitted/ woolly/ chunky when you're claying and if you can, wear short sleeves. When I'm working with polymer clay, I'm always in a cotton jersey tshirt preferably in a light colour. That way, if any fibres do land on my clay, they're less obvious. If it's cooler, I'll wear a jersey hoodie/ sweatshirt as they drop less fibres.

2. Clean your tools and equipment after each use

It doesn't take long and your tools will last longer. Think about:

  • The work surface you use - this gets cleaned after every colour used.
  • Stainless steel blades and craft knife blades - I never wipe blades with anything wet as this causes them to rust faster.
  • ALL cutters you use - wipe after every use to prevent shapes clinging to the cutter.
  • Roller
  • Extruder and discs - old clay can harden and jam your extruder completely. Use a needle tool to go around the screw indents and inside. Grease the long screw regularly with pawpaw ointment, Vaseline or similar.
  • Pasta machine - use a baby wipe or lint free cloth with isopropryl to clean and prevent build up. Learn how to service your pasta machine every couple of months.*** 
I am using a fragrance free baby wipe to carefully clean a 3D printed shape cutter, removing traces of polymer clay residue from it. Underneath my hands, you can see a bottle of isopropyl, a pack of baby wipes, a dotting tool, craft knife , mini blade and an extruder.
Gracie ​​Face

***Tip: If you're using a Mercato Atlas pasta machine or similar, head to this YouTube video that teaches you how to service your machine. In fact, most other pasta machines are built based on this Italian machine so it's still worth following this tutorial. 

My advice is to remove the fenders that cover the rollers - this makes it even easier to clean.

There is one fiddly bit where it's useful to have someone help you by holding the parts in place while you reassemble after cleaning. You'll be amazed at how much build up you can get over time in the areas you can't reach without taking apart. Your pasta machine will last longer and after a couple of goes, it gets easier.

If you have the motor for the Atlas pasta machine, ALWAYS clean with the motor turned off!

3. Condition your polymer clay properly...

Conditioning is the process of making polymer clay soft and pliable enough to work with and helps to prevent issues after baking.

You can condition using a pasta machine or by hand. The latter is more time consuming but since clay is such a tactile material, this can actually be quite a therapeutic process! 

Conditioning by hand: cut the desired amount from your block (I slice into 5mm thick sections) and start by forming a ball between your palms. Make a long worm and then bring back together, continuing until your clay is soft, pliable and ready to be rolled into a sheet. 

It's important to note that different brands of clay have different conditioning times, so be sure to read the manufacturer's instructions.

Learn more about the best polymer clay for beginners in my article Choosing the best Polymer Clay for Beginners

Random slices of polymer clay and a stainless steel tissue blade are laid out in the image. My hands are shown above this and are rolling a lump of polymer clay into a ball to condition it by hand.
Gracie ​​Face

3. ...Condition your polymer clay properly continued

Conditioning using a pasta machine: 

Set the pasta machine to its widest setting and pass your sliced clay (about 5mm thickness through the rollers. If you have more than 1 slice, once you pass 2 slices through, stack them and pass again to bring together. 

Continue this process as needed and then fold the clay sheet in half. With the fold upright/ vertical, pass it through the rollers again. Fold in half again and always keeping the fold vertical, keep passing through the rollers to soften the clay evenly until your polymer clay passes the 'fold test'.

Fold your clay in half and then unfold it. If there are no cracks or lines on the fold, then your clay is ready to use.

Follow this process to prevent cracking or breaking after baking. 

A sheet of 3mm thick polymer clay folded in half vertically and being passed through the rollers of a metal pasta machine.
Gracie ​​Face

4. Practise new techniques with small quantities of clay

One of many mistakes I made as a beginner to polymer clay jewellery making 5 years ago, was that I used way too much whilst I was upskilling. I made pieces that had all kinds of issues - burnt, cracked, warped, bubbles, you name it! Ultimately it was all wasted. Remember that polymer clay is still a plastic and it's really not necessary to be using vast amounts when practising, not to mention the cost of the clay.

Instead, practise with smaller quantities and focus on specific techniques that interest you. You'll be able to practice shaping, sculpting, and combining different colours without feeling overwhelmed by a large amount of clay.

Using small quantities of clay also enables you to conserve your resources if you're still in the learning phase. Polymer clay can be reused in its raw state, so if you're not satisfied with a particular component, you can simply roll it back into a ball and start again.  

Shot of hands slicing through a stripey polymer clay cane. There are a few slices randomly scattered in the image plus a thicker uncut block. There is also a rectangular metal cutter, which I use to cut the colours and stack to make the stripey cane initially.
Gracie ​​Face

5. Take your time and enjoy the process!

If you've landed on this article, it's likely because you're thinking about or have recently started learning to master the art of polymer clay jewellery making for a reason. That reason is personal to you, whether you're looking at it for a hobby, a side hustle or a business venture. 

Regardless of your reason, remember that learning a new skill takes time - it doesn't happen overnight. The techniques that are hard and fail many times before they are perfected may well be where you end up feeling your biggest sense of achievement.

So slow down, be patient, enjoy the process and experience the mindfulness that can come from working with polymer clay; this is what I love the most about this medium. This was my reason for learning and this is why no matter what other products I explore, I always come back to polymer clay.

A group shot, which includes all of the materials shown in the individual photos in this article. These all shape cutters, polymer clay rolled into a worm shape, a ball and cut into different shapes. There is a craft knife and metal cutter, a dotting tool, a striped polymer clay cane and a mini 3D layered slab with a check pattern.
Gracie ​​Face

FREE Gracie Face Polymer Clay Colour Recipe Trio!

I love to use a heap of vibrant colours in my work & now's your chance to play with 3 of my current favourite Gracie Face colour recipes for FREE!

To get your hands on this adorable pack of 3 polymer clay colour recipes, simply click on the white button below, pop your details in the form & I'll send you the pdf with your new colour recipes!

Don't forget to tag @graciefaceau in your creations! x

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