Another blog :) (seasonal thing)

During the growing season I’m documenting my activities here:

It’s a temporary thing, don’t worry :)

How to store polymer clay

Storing polymer clay is a big topic, considering the prices of better brands and mediocre quality of worse or no-brand stuff.

PC may be stored in different conditions, depending on its state (phase of use).

1. Raw unprocessed PC

2. Raw PC rolled into millefiori canes/formed into parts of the final piece

3. Raw finished objects (things covered in millefiori, raw beads)

4. Baked stuff

So, in order:

1. Raw unprocessed PC

First thing is, raw PC dries. It is affected by air (gets hard/brittle and dry, forces you to use lots of energy to revitalize it), temperature (it gets pre-baked and there is no way to undo this) and various unfriendly substances (it reacts, loses colour or dissolves).

Unfriendly substance may be, among others, water. Water will make a muddy mess out of your PC and it’s hard to clean this up afterwards – I’ve never had that much patience. I won’t even go into solvents and related – just keep your PC as far from the chemicals as possible.

Other unfriendly substance for polymer clay is… any other polymer clay. Of course if they made contact in an uncontrolled way. That’s because depending on colour and brand, this may lead to them sticking together, contaminating or even mixing the colours, if you don’t manage to separate them cleanly. It’s prudent to keep your pc separated into colours, preferably each in a different container.

Some brands of clay have a defect that demonstrates as “bleeding” colours. No idea if it’s the dye or the plasticizer, but at least once I handled black clay which not only was not black, but purple (after mixing with white gave various shades of pink), but black-white millefiori after a while became black-pink. Look:


Chemistry also affects what you can store your clay in. As polymer clay is, simply, PVC with plasticizer, when in contact with other plastics of similar nature it may damage it. And in damaging it, its own structure will change (as plasticizer is used up to dissolve the other material), so it’s good to know which materials to avoid. If you unwrapped your clay, you can:

* try to wrap it back in the original wrapping and together with other pieces in a common storage, making sure they don’t touch (meaning that the clay doesn’t touch)

* each piece into an individual ziplock baggie – clay doesn’t react with that easily

Boxes and other equipment, like swirling aids, should be:

* glass

* polipropylene (they have “pp” in a triangle somewhere)


* bottles and jars marked “PET” – when exposed to clay, they dissolve as you watch them

* hard cd/dvd cases – they may seem great ie. to swirl, but they get awful dirty immediately – thats polistyrene, just like ice cream containers (that’s why you should not store clay in ice cream boxes)

2. Raw clay, processed

To store millefiori canes, you can:

1. Cut the cane in equal pieces

2. Take a roll of silicone-covered baking paper and cut piece at least as wide as the cane pieces are long

3. Wrap each piece into that paper tape: wrap one tightly, put the second, wrap around that one and first again, add third and so on, making sure no two cane pieces touch.

4. Put into non-reacting box (best to match length in pt 1 to that box) and put them in such a way that you see the “faces” of canes through the top or, if box is transparent, through the side.

5. All this, with a lid, put into your fridge or, even better, freezer. The canes will be much easier to slice after freezing.

To store elements (pieces of a doll or a box) – flat parts it’s best to layer with baking paper, the more round ones – on something that will not allow them to roll away (VVV of paper, pieces in the “rows”). Remember not to store them for too long, because if they dry, you won’t be able to attach them to the main item.

3. Items covered with clay, beads etc before baking

After covering or finally preparing for baking, we don’t always have enough items to justify heating up the oven (or we plan to create bigger batch of something). Until then, we need to secure them somehow.

It is good to make sure they aren’t exposed to sunlight (colours, chemical structure), water (see pt 1) and dust, which will get stuck to any sticky surface and is hard to remove if the finishing doesn’t include polishing (ie. dolls). From my experience, I recommend lining a baking tray with silicone paper, putting your waiting items there (with appropriate spacing) and… putting them into the oven, if nobody else is using it. Dry, not too warm (yet), no dust and no younger siblings will put their tiny dirty fingers in.

Do not put the items too closely together, as vases or figurines stuck together are hard to pull apart, and sometimes tiny movement of the tray when putting into the oven is enough to move the pieces of clay and get them stuck together.

4. Baked items

Baked polymer clay is effectively plastic. Sometimes crumbly or breakable, but plastic. Heating it up to the baking temperature (130-140 C) doesn’t hurt it, but it shouldn’t be exposed to open fire. Prolonged sunlight exposure can cause colours loss or change, depending on the clay brand.

Clay is easily breakable, so baked items shouldn’t be kept in places where they can be crushed, chipped or can fall.

Baked/cooked clay theoretically should not bleed colour, however due to specifics of some dyes and unknown quality of products of some brands, in case of adding clay elements to clothes or covers, and the need to wash these, it’s best to make an experiment of washing a few beads or buttons in warm soapy water with a sample of the cloth.

Sum up: Pay attention how you store your PC in all its various forms, and you will be able to use it much longer than if you leave it unattended. Nothing more wasteful than creating a bunch of interesting items and letting them get covered with thick layer of dust. I know something about it – been there, done that.

Topic #57: Random act of kindness (craft-wise)

Last time was actually craft-related. I saved some random girls in a large shop from buying crappy wood boxes (ones that will get their lids stuck on if you paint them, because the paint glues it together) and convinced to get ones with hinged lids.

Which led me to some thinking on the quality of materials available in the shops. Even ones that specialise in crafts. Actually, I buy most of my supplies in one chain of shops in Poland, which is Empik (deals with books, newspapers, school supplies, office supplies, CDs, DVDs, games and what not, also “arts&paper”). In Warsaw most of their outlets (pretty large shops, each one of them) have a craft section, offering large choice of paints, papers, glues, polymer clay, wires, beads, tools, jewelry findings, brushes and, what I checked recently, wood objects for decoupage.

Now, these wood objects may be trays, boxes, bowls, frames – whatever you wish. The problem is, unfortunately, the quality of the offer. In case of all wooden objects for further decoration, the cut and seasoning of the wood is most important for its’ future processing. As all items I saw are “made in China” (I’m wondering if ones made locally would be so much more expensive), I can’t even begin to guess how and of what wood they are made.

I have tried several models and there are some of them which are absolutely terrible (and one that is quite ok):
* boxes (mostly rounded) made of wood ribbon, with lids that fit over them “like a hat”, so that part of the side of the box has direct contact with the internal surface of the lid; awfully tight fit and very poorly made, very bad for decoration; actually only useful if the upper surface of the lid is the only part decorated
* square boxes with hinged lids and a lock – at first glance very nice, but after first one or two coats of paint the lid warps UP so the lock doesn’t fit anymore; quite awful in effect
* square boxes with bow lids – trunk shaped – non-stackable (unlike the above two models), but the only ones which don’t get damaged when painted

Also, shops keep bad and already damaged (warped, locks broken) boxes on display, even when staff is notified about the damage. Of course, these get bought by people who are in a hurry or don’t notice such details and then discover the problem at home (usually after discarding the receipt).

Now, the question is, what is really the situation:
* customers buy bad boxes but don’t complain because they don’t really care that much to complain about a box that cost $2
* customers buy, but don’t care about the quality
* customers complain, but too quietly to be really noticed
* customers complain, but nobody cares anyway, because even if these customers go away, new ones will come
* nobody cares at all, all boxes are categorised in one place so noone is able to draw conclusions ie. which boxes should not be ordered anymore

This, in a way, reflects the state of affairs in various craft shops. One will sell us warped boxes, another will send broken bugle beads, and yet another – items which their carrier agency can’t properly process in Europe, as they don’t have the permission (and, after three years, shop still doesn’t have a warning that you shouldn’t import pearls or nickel-plated items to EU, yes, Fire Mountain Gems, I’m writing about YOU).

Do we, as crafters, not create a market big enough? Is our demand for fine-quality (or at least tolerably good and usable) items not high enough? I would gladly pay a buck more for my wooden boxes if I had a guarantee they are well-sanded and well-seasoned and not going to warp after first painting. But I can’t – there are NO OTHER boxes to be obtained around here.

Why don’t the suppliers get something more appropriate? Offer more than one (crappy) level of quality? Maybe it’s specific to Poland, but I’m afraid that crafts and handmade items are still treated in very unserious matter, so I have this feeling that if I went and complained about the boxes quality, the staff would laugh their heads off…

More trinkets than jewelry

As lately I’m having a bit of a block as far as jewelry is concerned, I focused on decoupage. Having obtained some pretty nice papers, I have already covered a tray, several boxes, two money boxes and a mirror frame. At this moment it’s a bit like looking for new items to cover as I have so many pretty pictures to stick on stuff.

In these few days, I have learned (sometimes in the hard way) several simple truths about this way of decorating items:
1. Sand wood before painting. If it’s too rough, no amount of paint is going to make this thing look smooth.
2. Don’t paint both sides of an item at the same time, or you will be left with absolutely no way of putting it aside to dry. May sound funny, but try laughing when you have painted whole hairbrush very carefully and now the only part that you can hold is the ‘brush’ part (and there is almost no way to make a hairbrush lay straight supported only in one point)
3. If an object is varnished and you want to paint it, sand the varnish off. Or you paint will come off in flakes. A friend suggested that using a primer is the way to do this. It is, I agree. Just read the description to see if you’re buying the right kind of primer. But if you have any repressed stress to get rid of, sanding the thing off with a bit of sandpaper or rotary tool may be a good outlet :)
4. A “fan” brush is a verrrrry good friend of anyone who needs nice, flat surface of quickly-thickening varnish.
5. Water. LOTS OF IT. A huge bowl, big enough to immerse the brushes whole. Changed often. Otherwise you will have wooden sticks with lacquered/acrilic-dried blobs on the end.
6. Fabric softener does wonders for partly-stiff-dried brushes. Sometimes you may have to, unfortunately, shave a few hairs from a paticularily unlucky specimen.
7. Vacuum cleaner is your second best friend, just after the breathing mask. Or pneumoconiosis may be the first thing you hear next time you visit your doctor. Or, at least, a severe case of bronchitis. Lots of small wood and paint particles will fly around when you get to sanding your items and you really don’t want a layer of acrylic dust to cover your respiratory system.
8. Unfortunately (as concerns the above), sometimes sanding a painted surface is just a must. Some types of wood and ways of cutting make it well-nigh impossible to sand them properly when they are raw and clean. So it takes a first, very thin layer of paint, to make these before-invisible small splinters to stand up and be ready to be sanded off. But, of course, with the paint that covers them.
9. Also, when decorating a picture or mirror frame, don’t forget to check whether it is already prepared to hung in one direction or another. If it already has a nail-hole predrilled you may find yourself with roses that grow downwards. I did.
10. As per rule, whenever you want paper to get translucent from the napkin glue, it wont. If you wish it to stay opaque, it will get nicely transparent. Really.

So, without further ado, the effect and sources of above meditations.

Advice to young magicians

I mean, to young crafters. Of any kind.

1. Don’t buy too much.

In what we call in Poland “straw zeal” (słomiany zapał) – which is when you like something keenly and suddenly lose the interest – you can spend way too much at the beginning and be left with way too large quantity of odds and ends. Sometimes you will have more leftovers than materials you had actually used for any project.
Buy no more than you can predict to use in the first project or practice sessions.
This will save you:
* money
* storage space
* grief, if the craft you’re trying isn’t as much fun as you expected and you don’t have any other use for the materials or tools

2. Don’t invest in high-level tools at first.

Of course, trying to use dad’s huge nail pliers for your delicate 0,3mm wire or large-scale drill for detailed woodwork isn’t the way. But you don’t have to buy your first set of pliers for 160 bucks. Go to your friendly local Lidl on “hobby day” (or any kind of home improvement store anytime at all) and ask for basic set of cutting, round and chain-nose pliers for hobby/jewlery purposes. Craft stores may also have something to offer to beginner crafters, but remember – the salesperson may try to convince you to spend much more than it’s worth for beginners set. My first set, a few years back, was 4 pliers (the three above + bent ones) and I spent equivalent of $6 on it. It worked pretty well and I even could give them to another – much more talented – jewelry maker, when I got a new set.
So, if you are keen on beginning something new, a new craft or hobby, think VERY carefully about supplies you want to buy. In case of polymer clay – don’t freeze your cash in special-for-fimo blades, or brandname surface covers. Buy snap-off blades (replacements for this type of knife) or use razor blades and get a large, smooth, ceramic tile (left after kitchen or bathroom do-over).

3. Start small.

You don’t have to have all kinds of tools at once. No, polymer clay working doesn’t really REQUIRE a bead roller, wavy blade and pasta machine. Beads may be rolled manually, wavy blade is needed for specific techniques and pasta machine can really wait until you make sure you want to put your money in this area. You don’t need the largest available standing loom. Get one which is 30x50cm and I assure you, it will be big enough for you just to try your hand at making rugs or other weaving.

4. Choose your first project wisely.

If you pick a project that uses lots of resources and time, you may easily become disappointed with the whole idea. Also, if you choose a project way above your level of experience,
Polymer clay? Simple figures, no mixing media, maybe a small millefiori cane (flower ones are the easiest comparing to effect).
Beading? Leave that tiara pattern, make a bracelet. Come on, this is just for start.
Weaving? No, not a whole *carpet*, start with a rag rug or coarse wool mat.
Crocheting or knitting? Scarf. A long one, a short one, but a scarf can be used and be useful even if it’s not as long as planned. A hat or a jumper has to be properly finished, and that takes time. Scarf you can give up on finishing any time you want.
The same goes for every craft – quilting, cross-stitching or mosaic. Pick wisely the first project to make sure you feel comfortable with your tools and materials and with the whole technique as itself.

Now, why am I writing this? Because I have vast experience in how “storage problems” may look. They look like 8 or 10 cubic metres of STUFF gathered in my living-room. Includes paints, crayons, pastels, beads (and really lots of them), wires, 3 boxfulls of knitting wool/cotton/acrylic, thread, needles, pins, jewelry findings, DREMEL drill and its bits, polymer clay (around 2 litres of various types), pasta machine, boxes of boxes of organizers and 2 boxfulls (see above) of craft books.

Now, if you don’t want to became swamped by your own collection of interesting and disturbing craft leftovers, you should either buy reasonably (which is usually a problem, as most of crafters are related to magpies and hamsters – “Ooooh! Shiny! And I’m going to take it and stuff it in my nest!”)) OR, having hardened against the pain of parting with your storage contents, try to sell some doubles on eBay.

Give me your own ideas and experiences on effects of craft shopping sprees – what was the most useless and outrageous thing you brought home just because it looked pretty and SOMEWHAT useful? Huge, shiny, pink bead? A tool you can’t use? Useless organizer box nothing fits in? A ball of wool you’re allergic to? :)