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How To Make An Irish Shamrock Polymer Clay Necklace | Polymer Clay Beginners Tutorial

Updated on March 7, 2015

This is a free beginner tutorial for a beautiful Irish shamrock style polymer clay necklace. Make it at home with ease and wear it on St Patrick’s Day, or indeed, any other day you want to feel Irish! The finished necklace feels ceramic when enamelled and has a homemade look but it also looks as if it was created by a master crafter at home. You’d be surprised how easy it is to make fetching shamrock patterns on the beads.

Instead of caning, the technique used here is “painting” with clay and a toothpick to create floral designs in a simple two colour scheme. I find this technique works well if you have yet to master intricate canework and want to produce a piece of jewellery without wasting clay. You don’t have to “paint” just shamrocks – you can create ferns, leaves, flowers, Japanese/Chinese characters, fruit and more using the same technique in any colours you desire. This technique is very relaxing and arty - no perfectionism is needed to achieve a great looking necklace!

This necklace is suitable for all skin colours, including ivory.
This necklace is suitable for all skin colours, including ivory. | Source

Materials

You will need:

100g White polymer clay
15g Green polymer clay
Sharp/surgical knife
Glass/tiled surface to work on
Packet of wooden kebab sticks
Packet of toothpicks
Clay softener
Glossy glaze
60cm thin white elastic
Pattern - click here to download

Optional:

Pasta machine
Loose ceramic tiles
60cm thin ribbon (instead of elastic)

Notes On Materials

Polymer clay can get a bit messy, so whatever tools and surfaces you work with, expect to be cleaning them very thoroughly before reusing them for other purposes. If you’re thinking of creating multiple polymer clay projects, devoting tools and surfaces to your hobby is a wise idea as cleaning is much easier.

A smooth surface like a glass chopping board or a loose ceramic tile are useful when working with polymer clay, otherwise the clay sticks and won’t come off easily. Glass and ceramic also allow you to be able to roll on the surface and create a smooth, polished texture on the clay. I like to have multiple tiles to work on, so that white polymer clay does not end up with traces of other colours on it while working.

A sharp knife is a must for cutting canes precisely. I use a surgical blade or a super slicer, both of which offer a sharp, neat cut. In this project, you'll only need a knife to chop up chunks of polymer clay, but for other projects, a super slicer is ideal. The type of polymer clay softener I use is Sculpey brand and the glossy glaze is "Studio by Sculpey". As you can guess, I'm a big Sculpey fan, but you can use any other brands you like! You can also mix blue and yellow clay together instead of buying green clay.

Kneading lots of polymer clay to make it malleable can be a bit tough if you’re only using your hands, so investing in a pasta machine will help immensely if you are thinking of doing more than one project.

There's nothing like the feel of holding a lot of light-but-ceramic polymer clay beads in your hand, that are handmade.
There's nothing like the feel of holding a lot of light-but-ceramic polymer clay beads in your hand, that are handmade. | Source

Note

If polymer clay is pliable out of the packet, condition it using the steps on the left but without the clay softener.

Hard, flaky, dried out polymer clay - it needs hand warmth to loosen it up and clay softener to stop the flaking.
Hard, flaky, dried out polymer clay - it needs hand warmth to loosen it up and clay softener to stop the flaking. | Source
Polymer clay that is pliable and ready to use. It has the consistency of chewed chewing gum - you can flatten and fold it with your fingers easily.
Polymer clay that is pliable and ready to use. It has the consistency of chewed chewing gum - you can flatten and fold it with your fingers easily. | Source

Preparing The Polymer Clay For Working

  1. When you get the polymer clay out of the packet, it can often be hard and dried out. You need to make it very malleable to work with, a bit like the consistency of chewed chewing gum. To do this, cut off some chunks and hold the clay in your hands to warm it up and squeeze it from hand to hand until it softens a bit. This may take several minutes.
  2. Flatten the piece as much as possible and squeeze a drop of clay softener into the middle and fold the edges over it. You don’t want clay softener on your hands because everything then becomes too sticky – it’s better off inside the clay!
  3. Keep massaging and kneading the clay while adding one drop of clay softener at a time, until the clay is very pliable and you can flatten and fold it over with your fingers.
  4. Repeat process with all colours of clay you plan to use.

Although the shapes you make might not be perfect shamrocks, they should give an impression of the flora you are trying to emulate.
Although the shapes you make might not be perfect shamrocks, they should give an impression of the flora you are trying to emulate. | Source

Pasta Machine Procedure

If you have a pasta machine (and it doesn't have to be a Sculpey one), complete steps 1 and 2 above and flatten the clay. Condition and mix the clay on the flat rollers (not the patterned ones, they get messy) in the pasta machine on the widest setting and turn the handle (see video).

You will probably end up with a pile of flaky pieces. Pile some of these together with one drop of clay softener somewhere between the layers, fold and flatten again and repeat running it through the pasta machine. Do this procedure until the clay is very pliable and well mixed. You can mix colours well together in the pasta machine in this way too - for example, mix yellow and blue to get a shamrock green colour.

Do not use too much clay softener or the clay will become too sticky and will leave a mess on your hands. Plus when baking, too much softener will make the clay weaker instead of stronger.

Getting the bead sizes right will ensure that the necklace has great curvature.
Getting the bead sizes right will ensure that the necklace has great curvature. | Source

Handy Tips

Don’t worry about fingerprints as they tend to disappear when baking. If you're a bit messy like me, you'll end up with little hairs and dirt on the beads (I used some old white polymer I had spare) and as long as they blend in, they'll look like recycled paper from a distance. Sometimes, no matter how much you wash your hands, the white just wants to collect specks.

Sizing The Beads

Download and print out a copy of the pattern PDF. This has all the bead sizes on it and how many to make. I based this pattern on a 43.5cm long necklace, including the clasp, so check the measurements are to your liking and add or subtract beads from the pattern to get the size you want.

Roll bits of white polymer clay into balls and place on the printed pattern to check the size is right. Some slight size difference is OK as it adds to the handmade appearance, but try to get them as uniform as possible.

Bead balls on the pattern sheet, for sizing. It doesn't matter if they are a bit rough at this point as you re-roll them before making the final beads.
Bead balls on the pattern sheet, for sizing. It doesn't matter if they are a bit rough at this point as you re-roll them before making the final beads. | Source
Mash the green polymer clay onto a tile or glass surface, then use the end of a toothpick to get tiny specks of green for "painting".
Mash the green polymer clay onto a tile or glass surface, then use the end of a toothpick to get tiny specks of green for "painting". | Source
A design like this...
A design like this... | Source
...ends up looking like this, after rolling.
...ends up looking like this, after rolling. | Source

Making The Beads

Take a spare test piece of clay in any colour, make a medium sized ball (additional to the necklace balls) and practise making a bead. This bead will be for the first oven bead to test the temperature when baking.

Roll the ball again, making sure it is smooth, with no creases or cracks in it. When smooth, use a toothpick to “paint” small bits of green polymer clay in heart shapes on the bead. Do this with as much fine detail as possible and don't worry about getting it exactly right, it should be a bit random.

I like to put the green polymer clay on a tile and mash and smush it onto the tile, then pick off bits with the end of the toothpick. You can see an example of what to do in the photos.

For large and medium beads, I “paint” four designs around the bead (leaving two ends undecorated for the holes). For small beads, I “paint” two designs and leave the two hole ends undecorated.

When you’ve created some designs, gently roll the bead into a ball again. The funny part is, the more you roll the bead, the more the pattern can suggest greenery.

"Painting" a shamrock onto the bead with the sharp end of a toothpick.
"Painting" a shamrock onto the bead with the sharp end of a toothpick. | Source
Gently twist the sharp end of a toothpick through one end until it reaches the other side. Then take the toothpick out and drill the other end until the hole is perfectly formed.
Gently twist the sharp end of a toothpick through one end until it reaches the other side. Then take the toothpick out and drill the other end until the hole is perfectly formed. | Source
Twist the beads onto a kebab stick in batches of similar sizes for baking.
Twist the beads onto a kebab stick in batches of similar sizes for baking. | Source
Ready for baking (or firing).
Ready for baking (or firing). | Source

Clay Firing Notes

If beads turn brown, they are overcooked and you will need to reduce time/check your oven temperature. You know when they are cooked correctly, because after cooling, they should slide easily off the kebab stick with rotation. As they cool further, they should feel like ceramics (eg. drop one into a bowl and see what noise it makes – it should go “clink”).

Baking / Curing The Beads

When the design is no longer sitting on the surface of the bead, and has been worked in, use a clean toothpick to drill a hole. Hold one end of the bead between thumb and forefinger and using the other hand twist gently with the toothpick until you just reach the other side and make a very small hole. Take the toothpick out and put it in the other end’s small hole, drilling until the complete hole through the bead is finished.

If beads squeeze out of shape as you are drilling, push them back into shape where possible. Some uneven surfaces and shapes are inevitable and add to the charm of a handmade item. For any beads that completely lose shape, flatten them, fold the edges over and create a new white bead with the previous decoration left in the middle.

Gently rotate the bead onto a kebab stick for baking, and put the kebab stick on an oven tray. Oven temperatures are usually on the polymer clay packet – for Sculpey they are 130 degrees celsius (275 degrees fahrenheit) at 15 mins for each 6mm (1/4”) thickness. Get the oven up to temperature, put the test bead in and cook for the required time.

If beads turn brown, they are overcooked and you will need to reduce time/check your oven temperature. You know when they are cooked correctly, because after cooling, they should slide easily off the kebab stick with rotation. As they cool further, they should feel like ceramics (eg. drop one into a bowl and see what noise it makes – it should go “clink”).

When the first test bead has been completed successfully, make more beads and put them on kebab sticks in similar size batches (eg. all of the 17mm beads on one kebab stick, 11mm beads on another). Bake each stick with time according to thickness. Let all beads sit overnight after baking.

You can make any style of greenery on these beads, not just shamrocks. Why not make one for each season?
You can make any style of greenery on these beads, not just shamrocks. Why not make one for each season? | Source

Glazing Tips

Wash your brush in ordinary water after you have finished glazing and between coats. If you don’t have a polymer clay glaze, you can also use clear nail polish.

Holding a bead on one end while glazing the other on a toothpick.
Holding a bead on one end while glazing the other on a toothpick. | Source
An improvised toothpick bead holder with two jelly packets.
An improvised toothpick bead holder with two jelly packets. | Source
The best way to glaze your polymer clay beads - a kebab "tree" with kebab sticks stuck in blu-tack.
The best way to glaze your polymer clay beads - a kebab "tree" with kebab sticks stuck in blu-tack. | Source

Glazing The Beads

When you’re ready to apply a glaze to the beads, get your toothpicks and kebab sticks ready! I like to use a glossy glaze as it adds to the ceramic look, but you can use matte if you want.

It is possible to glaze the beads on the kebab sticks the next day after they come out of the oven, but I don’t recommend this for two reasons.

Firstly, you end up with globs of glaze on the bottom side of the beads and have to turn the kebab sticks constantly as the glaze dries. Secondly, you might be keen to see if the beads cured properly and go “clink” in a bowl.

When the beads are off the kebab sticks, they often won’t go back on easily. So these make the perfect holder for glazing. Put a bead on the end of a kebab stick, apply glaze according to instructions on the bottle using any brush of your choice.

The idea is to apply it really lightly and do multiple coats if needed. I usually apply two coats. Put the kebab stick in a lump of blutack and let them dry. Apply multiple coats as needed, making sure they dry properly between coats.

If you haven’t got enough kebab sticks, you can use toothpicks. Put a bead on a toothpick (it should slide on easily) and push one end up to your fingers while you glaze the other end. Then swap ends.

The bead will roll a bit, which can be annoying, but better than waiting for extra kebab sticks if you don’t have any.

Put the toothpicks on an improvised stand (I use two jelly packets) and check occasionally to make sure there are not globs of glaze on the bottom of the beads. If there are, paint them off and keep the coating minimal.

Kebab stick trees are the best way to go and you don't need to monitor them at all as long as you apply glaze lightly.

Using a strong, but thin elastic means the necklace will be durable and can easily be taken on and off.
Using a strong, but thin elastic means the necklace will be durable and can easily be taken on and off. | Source

Ribbon Finishing Tips

If using ribbon for finishing, tightly sellotape the ends (like shoelace ends) to feed it through the bead holes.

When the beads are on, make a knot with one end of the ribbon (close to the last bead). Then do the same with the other end. Leave the ribbon ends open for tying a bow when wearing the necklace.

Prevent ribbon ends fraying by applying a few coats of clear nail varnish or by sewing the ends.

Use both ends together to make a knot. Then make another knot on top of the first one.
Use both ends together to make a knot. Then make another knot on top of the first one. | Source

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Finishing The Necklace

Normally I would use something like Tigertail (stainless steel beading wire) with a clasp to put together a necklace. However, with ceramic and polymer clay necklaces, the wire chips away at the inside of the beads, eventually destroying them.

For this necklace, I used a simple thin elastic but you could also use a ribbon (see Ribbon Finishing Tips).

Get out the paper pattern again and place beads in order of size. Cut a length of thin elastic (check it is going to fit through the holes) and thread beads on in this order:

9mm x 8
11mm x 4
13mm x 3
15mm x 2
17mm x 3
15mm x 2
13mm x 3
11mm x 4
9mm x 8

If the elastic won’t go through a bead for any reason, drill into the bead with a toothpick to clear any excess glaze or blockage.

When all beads are threaded on, take the two ends together and create a knot (see photo for example knot). Make sure the beads sit flat and there is no excess elastic showing as you pull the knot tight. Create another knot on top of the first knot.

Trim ends 3cm out from the knots and apply a couple of coats of clear nail varnish to stop the elastic from fraying. Congratulations on achieving a great polymer clay necklace!

For some reason, this necklace always looks good on driveway moss.
For some reason, this necklace always looks good on driveway moss. | Source

© 2014 Suzanne Day

working

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