Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Leave the Potting Soil in the Shed

We are going to make flowers with polymer clay, not dirt and seeds.

Just where do those little details come from? One thing that I had to learn when I first started creating millefiori canes in polymer clay is create the details in the correct size for the piece you are working on. It is all relevant when reducing the cane from three inches to a quarter inch. Think those slice and bake sugar cookies with the image all the way through the roll.

The flower I am creating today is a standard on my website and in my tool box. I love the flower, and I use it a lot in my own creations. This little purple flower is simple and colorful. It plays well with other background clays and makes yellow beads exciting.

Depending upon my needs, I normally will custom blend colors for my flowers, but the purple I use straight out of the package, no matter which brand I am using. This one happens to be Fimo soft.

Because of the work of those talented clayers that went before me, I have the information needed to create blended and shaded clays through geometry. Judith Skinner has created a way to blend two colors of clay into a smooth transition that works so very well in shaping petals and creating kaleidoscope canes. It is the shading that gives the images and flowers their dimension and makes them visually interesting. It starts with two colors that are conditioned by hand to get them ready to work together. Purple and white in block form.


Here they are conditioned and laid together in preparation of blending. I am using equal side triangles to make my blend, but this is subject to what end results you want to see once the clay is completely blended. More or less white will give a subtle shading, a black edge will give dark depth to a petal like my roses and more than two colors will give you a rainbow effect.


Once they are laid together, they are ready to go into the pasta machine that I use to compress and blend the clay. I have a metal back piece that allows me to work with longer pieces of clay.


The piece goes through the pasta machine and then is immediately folded in half bottom to top and sent back through again.


This is repeated as many times as necessary to get the blend that you want.


This is what I was looking to create. This is laid dark to light, and since I want to create my petal with the light on the inside of the petal, I will compress this slab of clay so that the it comes out with the light on the end. I do this by creating an accordion fold with the light on the bottom and pleating until I get a plug of clay. It will not be perfect, but it will all blend together eventually.


This is my petal. You only create ONE petal when you are creating a flower cane. It is a manageable size and easy to detail at this point. I want tiny lines running up from the end that is in the center; just like small veins. In order to create those lines, I use any left over clay that I cut away from the slab and other fresh darker color from the package. I take that clay and make it a solid color and run it through my pasta machine on a thin setting in order to get tiny lines that will run through my petal.


I slice spots in the end of the petal and slip these thin sheets down into the cuts. This is shown from above.


Here you can see the excess scrap sticking out of the cuts, but you can see how the petal will have these tiny veins running through them.


I trim off the excess clay and wrap the entire petal in an outer wrap of this darker clay. This will give my petals definition when they are all placed side by side around the center. Without the definition, the petals will all look as if they are one big petal since they are all the same color.


The next step is to take this chunk of a petal and slowly stretch it out, working from the center to the end. This petal is stretched out 12 inches and the ends have been cut off where the distortion occurs from stretching. If you are not careful, you can overstretch or unevenly stretch the clay. That will cause you to have distorted petals and uneven sizing when you cut this stretched clay up.

I cut at 2-inch increments for a 6-petal flower.


The center, which is seen in the background is a simple brown to white blend like we did with the purple and white, only instead of making a plug of clay with the light to dark, like the petal, I rolled this clay up starting with the white and rolled like a jelly roll. That gives me a white center and a dark outer layer. I put this brown tube in the center of my cut petals and arranged them to line up with the center.

We are not done by a long shot, but we are happy with our flower.

We now have to build the outer translucent holder to keep all the petals in place.


Slicing and conditioning my translucent clay is the next step in the process.


I wrap my flower with a thinnish layer of translucent clay to start. This keeps the petals from smooshing together when I do my final reduction. The only way to get definition is to keep things apart by using translucent clay.


This is a strange step, but it is very important to getting the petals to separate. This is a thin tube of translucent clay that I rolled out like a small snake. I am pinching the clay up to a triangle point. It will be flat on the surface with a pointed top. This is then placed into the edges of the petals to keep them apart.


See where I tucked those points? This will keep the petals from touching in the end cane.


After all the tucking is done, I wrap my flower in a couple layers of thin translucent clay. This will hold the shape of the petal and keep them all uniform when slicing.


Just like when I stretched the petal out, I am stretching out my completed flower. This one was almost 24 inches in length when I was done. I cut my canes at 2-inch intervals with a half-inch face. Shall we see how the flower turned out?














Here are these little flowers dancing around a set of sunflower yellow beads. See why the purple flower is my favorite?


Dsc_0042 Dsc_0043


Now, you know how I make the simplest flowers that I use every day.


Oh, and in between squishing, blending and smooshing, we look at ducks.





Julie and Blu


  1. WOW!! I love this post!!! Thank you so much for sharing. I have to try this. I love how your flower turned out and they look amazing on those beads!! Wish I had a nice big lake and some ducks to look at :)

  2. Fascinating with a beautiful result! What sweet purple flowers to use in your beads.

  3. How fun to see the process. The flowers are beautiful!!

  4. How cool! I am amazed by the beautiful items in your shop!


  5. Amazing! I watched the process, read and reread and think..... if I did that I'd get one huge blob of purple! lol... So beautiful!
    Thanks for sharing.


  6. Super cool. Very interesting to see the process behind the items. Beautiful!

  7. Julie, your polymer clay millefiori technique is beautiful and this post so informative. I love the attention paid to the subtle veins in flower petals and slight color variations like shading that achieve a natural look even with a fanciful flower.

  8. Fabulous, Julie! Have always wondered how you make the canes/beads like you do, especially when I hold one in my hand. This gives a wonderful insight into all your hard work. Thank you for taking the time out to pull this together. And Seamus says Blu must have a belly rub (:

  9. Great post. I love the steps for making the flower cane and then seeing them on the beads!

  10. Julie, I have played around off and on over the years with polymer clay and I can make flowers...but they don't turn out as nice as yours as I get too much distortion. Both the blog and the beads are very well done! Thanks for sharing!

  11. Fantastic step by step tutorial, Julie. I feel as though I was there with you in your studio. I have always loved your flower beads. Oh, and thanks for the duck photo. Aren't those babies cute?