Sunday, February 28, 2010

How to cover a pen in Polymer Clay

Anyone who's actually looked at my blog in the last month or so should have seen the "quill" I made for Thad for his 9th birthday. Basically, I attached a huge feather to a pen that I covered in clay.

As I made that pen, I took pictures and had intended to make a tutorial. I'm a bit late-ish, I suppose. But hopefully this here hugely helpful tut will get you to covering your own pens in no time!!!!

This is what you need to do if you're covering your pen in a sheet of clay. There's a slightly different approach taken for covering a pen in slices of cane. I really, really love this method, though, because you can make your own kind of polymer clay cloth out of mokume gane or mica shift or old cane bits that were too small to make anything impressive (or so you THOUGHT). To make your own clay "cloth", just get a sheet rolled in your pasta machine on the thickest setting. Lay can slices and strips of old effects, skinner blends, etc, over the top, running it through the machine on the thickest setting every now and then to get it even. Don't worry if you distort right now. Once you're ready and happy with your sheet, roll it through the machine on the next thinnest setting, first rotating your piece 90 degrees. Keep doing this rotation as you go down in settings. I like covering my pens in a sheet that is rolled from either the second or third thinnest setting.

Or you can use a plain sheet as I did here and cover in PearlEx and all of that...

Anyway, to get started you need a plain ol' cheap-O Bic pen, just like the one in the picture below.

Pull just the gold part of the ink out with your pliers. This part needs to be pulled out before baking. Apparently the ink can explode if you leave it in there while you bake. This is potentially fun, I suppose, but I still haven't tried it yet. The absolute bonus of this is the fact that your covered pen is refillable! When you run out of ink, simply pop the gold ink part out and put a new one in from another pen. Perpetual pretty pen! Posh perfect pizazz! Alliteration! Yay!

This part is only if you want to stick something in the end, okay? Line up the ink with the pen, keeping the gold tip where it would be if it were IN the pen, like I did below. Mark where on your pen the ink ends. Measuring from the edge of the pen to the mark, this is how long you can cut your thingie that you're sticking in there: a feather, artificial flower, whatever. If you're doing a beaded tassel (I'll describe later), this isn't that big of a deal, but it's still good to be familiar with what space you have when you're done with your pen.

Using a vice and a 1/16" drill bit (or a hex shaft one that you stole from your husband long ago, like I'm doing here), hand drill a hole in the end of the pen as much in the middle as you can. Unless you're SUPER good with a drill, you should do this by hand. Or else you'll get off center. Or drill straight through the side of your pen. Or your finger. Bloods is not good. Whether this is something that could actually happen or not, I don't know. Power tools and I don't really mix too well... I think all of creation shudders just a bit every time I use my Foredom or my torch. My angels don't get bored. I'll just say that and leave it there.

Once your hole is drilled (if you're planning on putting something in the end... if not, then skip that step), prep your sheet of clay. Make it very slightly wider than the pen, but not too much. You only need about 1"-1.5" or so to wrap around your actual clay. Push the clay up against the pen (it sticks so well, so no Sobo! Yay!) and gently and as evenly as possible, roll the pen forward on the clay. Roll back once the first edge hits the clay below and look at the little line it made on contact. Cut just barely before that line, towards the pen.

Finish rolling, super carefully, trying your hardest not to trap air bubbles (it's not nice--they get mad when you heat them up and their last act of defiance is to leave a huge lump in your finished piece, marking forever where they were imprisoned). If you have a small line of white like in my pen below, don't fret. Just roll the pen back and forth a bit on your surface (I've discovered that using an acrylic sheet for this part is AWESOME). The air bubbles make themselves known in this step, so even if you don't get white, still roll a bit. If you see one, just cut into the clay and push gently all around the bubble, towards the middle, to coax the air out. Once it's sealed again, it should be fine. Keep rolling, making sure that all of the air bubbles have been released (what did they ever do to you?) and then proceed with the next step.

The end where the pen goes is the most frightening, so we'll start with that one. Wrap the clay snugly around the black nib all the way around, noting the overlap. It will be a triangle shape.

Slice along the edge of that overlap, removing that triangle wedge of clay. When you push the clay back down against the black, you should see the edges meet. Roll this edge gently between your fingers. Prop the pen, black part down, onto your work surface and roll just on that part. You'll end up making a big circle with the pen as you roll that piece of the pen. Put it back on your work surface, flat, and roll it that way. Roll with your fingers at the place where the white and the black meet. Once everything is all smooth and nice, pull the excess clay slowly and carefully all around where the hole is. Pull the clay to the middle of the hole, pushing with your fingers on the outside edge to cut the clay right off of the edge. This gives you a perfect edge around the hole of your pen. If it doesn't make sense now, just do it. It makes more sense once you start making it.

Now the back... After everything has been all rolled and smoothed, pull at the edges of the back of the pen, towards the middle just like for the hole, until you end up with something that looks roughly like this:

Either use a small circle cutter about the size of your pen (this Kemper one works PERFECTLY) to cut out a circle or make a small ball of clay and flatten it on your work surface until it is about the same size as the end of the pen, then pull it off with your tissue blade and proceed. Set the circle on the end of the pen as shown below and begin to gently smooth the seam downward all around. In the picture you can see that I've begun the smoothing process, but haven't finished it.

When you're finished smoothing (how pretty!), re-poke the hole if you have one. As you were working with the end, you should have seen the indent show up. If not, gently press with your thumb on the end piece of the pen and you should see it show up, then you'll know where to poke!

Stick a bamboo skewer or a long, thin knitting needle, or something, into the pen and stroke the entire thing with your hands to remove the last of seams and fingerprints. It helps to stroke it a bit with water sometimes, to get it extra, extra smooth, especially if you're doing a finish like PearlEx and will not be sanding it later.

Set the pen, using the skewer, onto your surface. From this point on, you should try your hardest not to touch the pen with your fingers anymore. Spread the PearlEx, if desired, with a soft paintbrush until you get a good coating.

Slip the pen back on your skewer and rub the entire pen again with the PearlEx on there. Your hands will get messy. Wear the mess with pride, my artiste sister/brother! This pushes the PearlEx into the clay and also serves to smooth it out even more. Put the pen back onto your work surface if desired and create decorative grooves. Use a needle or a knitting needle or something long and thin to make the marks. Start on one spot, keeping your tool as perfectly at a 90 degree angle as you can to your piece (perpendicular perfection!) and roll back and forth, maintaining the angle, to create the ridges.

When finished, pick the whole thing up and bake on a bed of polyester fiberfill for the recommended amount of time by your clay manufacturer. (Usually 275 for 25 minutes or so)

Let it cool. Sand and buff if it's plain (your fingers will thank you... a perfectly sanded and buffed pen is almost pure sin to write with, or pure heaven, I suppose) or cover any finishes with varnish. I chose the DuraClear satin varnish since I didn't want it TOO shiny. You can pick this varnish up really cheap in the acrylic paint section of most craft stores.

When finished, prep your feather or whatever, if desired. Squish the ends if you need to. Put a dollop of hot glue at the end of your pen and shove the item through the glue and into the hole. Sprinkle the hot glue with glitter while it's still hot to finish it more, if you desire. That feather is IN there.

To make a beaded dangle: After everything is prepped and baked, make a headpin for a smallish bead that will fit through the black tip hole of the pen without slipping through the end hole, of course. (Bend about 1/16" of the wire end back on itself and slide a bead on, leaving a long tail of wire to fish through the entire pen.) Put the wire through the pen until it comes out of the hole, pull taught against the bead inside (this bead will be forever hidden inside your pen, so make sure you don't care too much about it, or that it's your absolute favorite as it has been given the honor of being your secret treasure bead inside of your pen) and slip other beads or do a wrapped loop at the end of the pen and dangle more beads off.

If any of these instructions used terms you weren't familiar with, then Google is your friend. Look up "how to do a wrapped loop" or whatever and you can find instructions that are probably much better than the ones I could provide here.

Hopefully this inspires some people to do some March National Craft Month stuff!!! I can't wait. 31 days of crafting!! I'm going to participate with relish.


  1. Great tutorial, Kathy. I have yet to cover a you gave me the incentive to go try one!

  2. Fabulous - I will give this a go