Sunday, March 11, 2012

"Minuet" Bracelet Tutorial, as seen on Good Morning, Arizona

This morning, I went on 3TV's Good Morning Arizona to demonstrate simple stamping and texturing techniques in polymer clay--so simple that even kids can do it!

However, I know that even though we like looking for projects to do with our kids, moms and dads also like something that they can do for themselves.  That's why I've put this tutorial together.  It's a much more complex application of the simple techniques, but that's the point.  This shows you some of what is possible on a slightly larger scale.  I'd love to see what you make from here!

This is definitely not a kids' project because it uses tissue blades (essentially 6 inch long razor blades).  These are very handy tools, but obviously not for kids.  You can do a similar project using different shaped cutters that are not actually sharp, such as biscuit or cookie cutters.  Once a cutter is used for polymer clay, it shouldn't be used again for food.

"Minuet" Bracelet Tutorial

-Polymer clay in desired color (I used a light pink mix)
-Acrylic paint in desired color (I used Folk Art Burnt Umber)
-Jumprings, at least 8mm, approximately 18 gauge
-Smaller jumprings for attaching other charms, if desired
-Clasp (I'm using a slide lock clasp, but any kind of clasp will do)
-Charms, if desired
-Ribbon and ribbon clamps, if desired

-Pasta machine for polymer clay, or acrylic roller
-Stamps in desired designs... I used a large music sheet texture stamp, small letter stamps, and tiny heart and tiny damask stamps from the Stampin' Up! Tiny Tags set
-Tissue blades
-Needle tool, for poking holes
-1/16" drill bit for finishing holes after baking, if necessary
-Hard bristle paintbrush or old tooth brush
-Paper towels
-Two pairs of jewelry pliers, either two pairs of chain nose or one pair of chain nose and one pair of flat nose

Instructions for each step are detailed beneath that step's photo.

Begin by conditioning your clay (roll and fold it through the pasta machine several times, or roll by hand... for more detailed instructions, please search online for one of the many thorough and detailed tutorials on clay conditioning), then roll it out on the thickest setting of your pasta machine, or about 1/8" thick.  Stamp your image on the clay surface.  If dissatisfied with the results, fold and roll the clay out flat again.  Repeat the stamping until you're satisfied with how it looks.

You may want to make your bracelet pieces similar in size to your clasp.  If so, use your clasp as a measuring guide for cutting your strips.  (This isn't really necessary unless you're using a clasp similar to mine.)  Cut the strips in the area you find most attractive.  In my case, I wanted to include the double staff of the music strips.  Cut the left side straight so that you can begin cutting your pieces.

I wanted my pieces to be smallish rectangles, so I cut the first piece to my desired size.  (For a bracelet like this, depending on how loose it will be, you don't want pieces that are too wide.  They won't move smoothly on the wrist.)  If you want all of your pieces to be roughly the same size, use the first piece you cut as your template for each subsequent piece you cut.  This way, you may have some variation, but because you always used the same initial piece as your template, you shouldn't go too far off.  If, however, you choose to disregard this instruction (I know slightly rebellious artistic souls all too well... Don't ask me how.), you may find that you keep using the next piece cut as your template instead, and all of the pieces get slightly bigger and bigger until you're cutting pieces that are nowhere near the same size as the first piece you cut.

Sometimes you'll be able to get every piece you need from the first stamping, but other times you'll need to fold the clay up and roll it out again and re-stamp to get all of your pieces.  If this happens, use that first piece you cut as your template again to do every cut for each subsequent strip you make, height and width.  Not all the pieces will be perfectly the same since you are cutting them by hand, but the differences shouldn't be so pronounced that they cause a problem.  Cut more than you think you need to make a bracelet.  Line them up with a ruler to be sure.  I made about 7.5" of pieces knowing that there would be extra space in the finished bracelet, so I knew I had enough.

For a little bit of added interest, I like to take the non-cutting end of my tissue blade and press gently just inside the edges all around the pieces.  It gives them a little frame.  Because this stamp was largely made of lines, though, I didn't put the extra border on all of the sides.

I like to frequently throw little details into my work--things that most people would probably never notice.  In this bracelet, I decided to make the left most piece, or the start of the bracelet, with the beginning of the musical score, showing the artistic treble and bass clefs, the key signature, and the common time "c".  So the start of the bracelet is the start of the song.  I made the right most piece, or the end of the bracelet, with the double bar line, or the end of the song.  I've played piano for most of my life, so this kind of detailing is almost compulsory to me.  ^_~

If using a clasp similar to mine, with multiple holes, use the clasp itself as your template for poking starter holes.  Once your starter holes are in place, go ahead and gently enlarge them by poking further with your needle tool or by whirling the tip of the tool around inside of the hole.  Try to get it bigger than the diameter of your jump rings.  The strongest holes are the ones made before pieces are baked.

You can eyeball the rest of the holes.  Put four holes into one piece first, and then, just like you did with the cutting, use that initial piece as your template for poking the rest of the holes.  Don't poke them too far in from the edge, but make sure to leave enough clay on the edges so that the holes don't just tear open when tugged.  Basically, your jump rings need to be large enough to fit both pieces together when slipped through the holes.  I did two holes in each of the regular pieces, but used three holes on the right and left pieces to fit my clasp.

Incidentally, if you happen to poke one of the pieces WAY off (like I did on the two pieces at the very bottom in the above picture), just poke another piece similarly on the opposite side and keep those two pieces together during baking and assembly.  For example, if you messed up one piece when poking along the right side of the piece, take a second piece, line it up next to the first, and poke the left side of the second piece to match the right side of the first piece.  That way, your wonky holes will match each other and no one will ever notice in the finished bracelet.  Poke the outer edge of the second piece lined up with your initial template piece so that it can fit well with the rest of the bracelet pieces.

To create an extra decoration, layer other stamped images on top of your first stamped layer.  Roll a sheet on the middle setting of your pasta machine (if it has 7 settings... if not, roll it on the fourth thickest setting), or about 1/16" thick.  Stamp this clay with whatever you desire and cut the image(s) out.

Layer your cut images as desired onto the bracelet pieces.  Bake the pieces in your polymer clay dedicated oven (or in your oven within an oven setup, which is essentially two aluminum pie plates stuck together, one inverted over the other, with clothespins or aluminum foil along the seams) at the recommended temperature for the recommended time.

When cool, accent your pieces as desired with acrylic paint.  I chose burnt umber to give this an antiqued appearance.  Using a hard bristle paint brush (pretty much the cheapest brush you can get your hands on), dab the paint onto the piece so that paint gets into all of the little crevices of the textured surface.

Get the piece completely covered, then quickly...!

Wipe off the paint with a paper towel before it dries and... viola!  It's like blocking lace knitting, but so much faster.  What a high.  I don't think I ever get over seeing how cool the paint accented pieces look once they've got their paint on them.  ^_^  This particular piece didn't look dark enough for me...

If that happens to you, simply cover the piece in paint again, and this time, when you wipe with the towel, wipe much more softly.  You should leave more paint on the piece then.  Repeat if necessary until you get the desired effect.

If the paint should dry on the surface and you hate the way it looks, quickly wash it off with water and a little soap if necessary.  As long as it hasn't rested on the clay too long, it should be easy to wipe off.

Once you're satisfied with the way all of your pieces look, bake all of the pieces again at the recommended temperature for about 10-15 minutes.  This bonds the paint to the surface of the clay so that only sanding or scratching with a sharp instrument will remove it.

When everything is baked and painted, it's time to assemble!  Lay out the pieces next to a ruler, estimating about how long it will be, and arrange the pieces accordingly.  You'll almost always be wrong about this estimate, by the way.  But more on that later.

To assemble with jump rings, open your jump ring with your two pairs of pliers as shown.  You open the ring with a slight twist rather than pulling them open by pulling the ring apart.  This way they can be closed again securely while retaining their shape.

Join your pieces together like a book, as shown, starting at one end.  (I always save the clasp for last.)

If you need more details, here they are...  Slip one half of the jump ring from front to back in the left piece.  (Reverse these instructions if you're left handed.)

Turn the whole thing upside down and arrange the second piece so that when viewed from the right side, the pieces are facing the same way.  You'll still be looking at both pieces from the back.  Put the second piece at a slight angle and slip it onto the jump ring as shown.

Allow the second piece to go along the jump ring until enough of the ring is exposed on both ends for you to get your pliers in there and close it up.  Close it with another slight twist and you're good to go.

Work from the ends to the middle.  Once you've gotten a few of the pieces established, go ahead and measure it again now that you know how much space is going to be between each piece.  I had to take some of the pieces out to make it a good length.  Aim for about 1/2" larger than your wrist for a close fitting bracelet, or up to an inch larger for a really loose bracelet.

Once all of the pieces are attached to one another, go ahead and attach the clasp to one end.  When using a slide lock clasp like this, it's really easy to attach the clasp incorrectly on one side so that you have to take the entire thing apart and reattach it.  Avoid this problem by leaving the clasp assembled.  Simply form the complete bracelet and attach the first ring on the clasp to the first hole of the last piece as pictured.  Once this is done, you can unhook the clasp and finish attaching it to the bracelet.

At this point, you've finished assembling your bracelet and you can be finished.  It's really cute!

I made some extra clay charms when I made the bracelet.  Basically, I stamped an image and then cut around it, leaving a roundish tab at the top center of the cut piece where I poked a hole before baking.  To arrange extra charms on top of the bracelet, I just throw them around until I find the places I want them to be.

Attach the charms with jump rings, including little ribbon charms, if desired.  To create ribbon charms, clamp a short, folded ribbon into a ribbon crimp and attach the crimp with a jump ring to your work.

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