Friday, June 14, 2013

The Dirty Awful Truth

This is not for the squeamish. This is not for the faint of heart. This is not for those who prefer to NOT look behind the curtain or know how their food is made.

Here is the entire bead making process in its rawest form. The dirty hands, the messy desk, the mushy clay and the icky beads in their crudest form.

This slab of clay is a custom blend of coral that I did from Cadmium Red and some white. I mixed and blended until I had the color I wanted, then I ran it through my pasta machine until I had it completely blended into this sheet of clay.


Note the view of the pond from my table. That makes you look away from my oodles of clay canes that I have scattered to the left and all the chain and findings I have scattered to the right. I also have a couple rocks on the right. They are from the Missouri headwaters where Lewis and Clark crossed. I picked them up and they remind me of how big this world is.

That bucket in the left corner is filled with scraps that I will sort and put up on eBay. There are a lot of not so right flowers in there that people love to snap up.


I have rolled my clay into measurable tubes that are 6-inches in length. I will cut them at half-inch increments to get my 15mm beads. It is hard to see, but the clay is scored.


I work one tube at a time, regardless of the colors of the clay. I prefer to create a single tube of beads at one sitting, so that they all match in size and canes. The sets I am creating here are in sets of six. I am getting two full sets of beads for each tube that I mangle. I loosely roll them in my hands to make sure that I am getting the right size. I have been doing this so long that I can feel the size of the beads in the palm of my hand and know when they are not quite the right size.



I am adding translucent checkerboard slices to these beads now. I am working with translucent canes that I want under all the other leaves and flowers that I am going to add. I like my ghost canes on the bottom, although, that is a personal preference and they look equally cool on top of the flowers. Thin slices with my tissue blade. This is a real tissue blade that is used to slice real tissue. This is the way that I can get a thin, thin, thin slice of my cane to add to the beads.


I like to add my leaves under my flowers and over the translucent clays. This is random, and I make no plans about where to lay any of the canes. I have developed a silly pattern that I unconsciously stick with, though. I add all my little leaves and watch the baby ducks float around the pond. The view beyond the pond that is not visible in the photos is the Bridger Mountain Range. I get to make beads and stare at the mountains while listening to whatever I chose to that day. I like NPR and the radio. We got snow last night. Yes, June 13, 2013 gave us snow at the 6,000 foot level.



I have added some of my flower canes to these pretty beads. They are lumpy, bumpy and odd at this point. The translucent clay is very visible in these pictures. That is the white that surrounds the flowers and the white slabs of clay that is part of my checkerboard pattern. I am ready to roll these beads into something smooth and round. I use the palms of my hands to give them their shape. It takes a certain pressure to get them round without smashing them. I do have a very light touch and it is by feel at this point in the game.


When I have them smooth and round, I use a needle tool to pierce the beads through and through without distorting them. The trick is to start on one end while gently holding the bead and when the tip peeks through the other side, flip the bead over and pierce the other direction. This keeps the edges of the beads from poking out and they are tucked back inside the hole.

I use a 2mm size hole for these for double stringing if needed. I like to tuck my stringing material back through when I finish crimping, and I want a lot of room to work with without making them loosey goosey. I string on 7 and up wire.


Here are my beads on their rack ready for baking.

The next step after they come out of the oven is to drop them immediately into ice water. This helps to clear up the translucent clay; making it crystal clear.

After I take them out of the ice water bath, which usually lasts about 15 to 20 minutes, I determine how much I will sand or polish them. If the edges of the cane slices are too thick for whatever reason, I will start with a 600 grit wet-dry sandpaper. If they are smooth and no edges are showing, I will hit them with 800 grit, and now I have all the way up to 4000 grit for polishing. Each bead goes through some sort of sanding or polishing.

Then they get a very light coat of Minwax waterbased varathene clear gloss. It is only to give them a shine and boost the color.


See how the translucent clay disappears?  The photo was shot late in the afternoon, which gave me the wrong white balance, but the beads are actually a coral pink and quite pretty.

Now, you know all my secrets :)


Julie and Blu


  1. How fascinating! I have always wondered at how you get such incredible detail in your beads (from close observing in my own hands!) and now I get an inkling. Even though I see your photos, it's still hard to imagine from going to solid coral to floral and leaves. Ahhhh . . .the magic of it all! Thanks, Julie (and Blu) for giving us a peek into you creative process.

  2. Oh, thank you. I have often wondered what you done with those little slices. That was so amazing. A great post and beautiful beads!

  3. Julie I am in amazement. Your beads are so lovely!! Thank you for sharing your process!

  4. Amazing! Thank you for showing us the process behind making these beautiful beads.

  5. Truly incredible how you do this - a great insight to your craft.

  6. Fun read! It's neat to see the process. Your beads are AMAZING!

  7. Again I learn so much! One question though, do you buy or make the roll with the leaves in it or the roll with the flowers? Maybe that was another post before I began blogging.


  8. Wow! I enjoyed seeing your process of making such detailed beads from clay, messy workroom and all. In order to create, one needs space, inspiration, and yes, mess. I'll be on the lookout to see how you use the finished beads in a piece of jewelry.

  9. I am so thankful that you shared some of your methods, Julie. In fact it is a tutorial.

    The photos are beautiful and the beads are works of art.

  10. Ah, Ann, I make all those little flowers and leaves myself. I will post a blog with those next. I need to create more purple flowers since they are my ultimate favorite.

  11. This is my kind of down and dirty awful truth! I've often wondered how the process of making polymer clay beads worked. Thanks to you, I now see what all is involved. I can see that it is very detail oriented work and that you are meticulous in your craft. The beads are truly gorgeous!

  12. Looks like great fun to make your beads. So colorful! Enjoyed reading, Julie! - Connie -

  13. Ah, the secret is out! Lol. I love the little peek you shared with us, how your studio looked like when the work is in progress and how you transformed raw clays into beautiful beads.

    Adorebynat - Handmade Party Decorations and Stationery

  14. Amazing, Julie. You took us along from mess to beauty and we all enjoyed the trip. BTW...You should see my sewing room....or maybe not.

  15. Oh my gosh! that is amazing!!! [all this time, i thought it was painted on or stickers covered in clear nail polish] this is amazing!!! wow. jsut wow!

  16. Oh my gosh! that is amazing!!! [all this time, i thought it was painted on or stickers covered in clear nail polish] this is amazing!!! wow. jsut wow!