Three of my favorite polymer bead making tips

February 16, 2013 , In: General

I’ve been making polymer clay beads for… uh… a long time. First for
myself and my own jewelry designs, and now in the past two years for
jewelry makers around the world. I have to say it’s quite an honor to
have my little creations put into YOUR jewelry designs.

In this bead-making journey, I went from just making beads whenever the
whimsy struck to artists NEEDING my beads. Right. Now. (Yikes!) And so I had to do some things to keep my beads consistent in shape and size,
streamline production, and reduce the turn out of ho-hum beads.

might be thinking, “well, I don’t make lots of beads. I don’t even sell
my beads. I do it for fun!” That’s perfectly fine. But I’ve always
found simplifying the mundane of any sort of creating leaves more time
for imagination and play… so new ideas actually have a chance to

So here are three of my favorite tips and time savers…

Tip #1.
Freezing molded polymer. This one is my all-time favorite! (I have to thank my Aunt for convincing me to actually use molds for my beads in the first place… long story!! 😉 And the only
way I can keep my beads consistently the same size. It also enables me
to make deep molds and have my castings come out perfect each time.

Simply fill your molds with softened polymer, pack in, pop in the
freezer for about 10 minutes, remove from the freezer and pop your
molded creation out of the mold! They turn out perfect every time!

See the difference? The rose on the left is without freezing, the one on the right is after freezing.

no way I could make all these guys in an afternoon without the help of
molds! I use Art Clay World USA five minute cold molding compound. The
molds I make for these critters are simple——only to keep the basic shape and size——I add their fur, tails, eyes, and noses after casting. Mold details that
are too fine, usually just get obscured.

My stash of most-used molds.

Tip #2.
Leaching over-soft polymer. For my bead making, I do a lot of
hand-sculpting and if the polymer is too soft, pair that up with the
warmth of my hands… and you have one very squishy bead with very poor
detail. So frustrating! Here’s how I solve that problem:

First I slice the blocks of polymer to a thickness that will fit through the thickest setting on my pasta machine.

Then I roll each section through on the thickest setting.

Next I sandwich them between layers of white copy paper.

And roll over the top with an acrylic roller so they stick to the paper.

is about 2 hours later——you can see already the excess oils are leaching
out. Normally I leave the polymer on the paper for a day or two, depending on
how soft it is, and then it is so much firmer and easier
to handle and work with.

This last tip is
really, really simple——many of you probably already use it——I thought
about not including it… but it has saved many of my creations from the
scrap pile, so I’ll share it anyway…

Tip #3. Clean hands
and light colored polymer. How many times have you ruined a perfectly good
polymer bead by just touching it? And you had just washed your hands!?
But now it has little bits of dust and lint stuck to it… into the trash it goes! For most of my dragon beads
I use light colored polymer and one tiny bit of dust can mean I have to
start all over. How do you solve the problem? Wash your hands, of course.
And DON’T dry them on a towel——lint will always stick to your hands and
then stick to the polymer. Use paper towels to dry your hands instead.
And then the fool-proof way to be absolutely sure your hands are lint
and dust free——roll a ball of scrap clay in your hands——it picks up
anything on your hands and you’re now safe to work that light colored
polymer! I also always work on a sheet of copy paper so I never have to place my beads directly on the tabletop.

I don’t have any photos of that one… but I bet
most of you can picture it in your mind’s eye pretty well… the poor
dirty beads… and the perfect ones. Ahhh! Wonderful!

tips and tricks have you learned from working with polymer? Any problems
have you still stumped about what to do and frustrated?

Do share! 🙂

Rebekah Payne

Rebekah Payne is the designer and creator behind Tree Wings Studio. What started out as just a few beads for her own jewelry creations quickly grew into more than a hobby and she now spends every spare moment busy in her studio crafting beads for jewelry designers around the world… and the occasional piece of jewelry for herself. She loves fine details, rustic charm, earthy hues, and all things textural. These days her medium of choice is polymer clay, but she also dabbles in wire-working and uses various fibers and leather.
  1. Reply

    Fascinating insight Rebekah and thanks for sharing….these little tips and tricks can save us all so much time and frustration!

  2. Reply

    I appreciate these tips. I am still building the nerve to try!

  3. Reply

    Great tips Rebekah!! I'm thinking about digging in to my PC, I haven't touched it in years so these tips are very timely for me. Thank you!

  4. Reply

    I love this! I'm about to take my first polymer clay class with Christi Freisen and this article is actually the start of my polymer education. Thank you

  5. Reply

    I appreciate the tips. Makes me wanna go play with clay!

  6. Reply

    I don't know the first thing about polymer clay, so this was fascinating to me. I always enjoy reading about the artist's process because it develops a deep appreciation of all the work that went into each bead or component. I have a bunny bead of yours, sitting on my work table right now. When I start to work with him, I'll be picturing all the steps that went into his creation. Thank you.

  7. Reply

    That is awesome advice. I have the clay but I just can't seem to figure it out. Thank you so much!

  8. Reply

    I am not a bead maker but a bead user, so this is such a wonderful thing for me to be able to see. It helps me appreciate the work more than I already do! Thanks.

  9. Reply

    Fantastic tips, thank you so much 🙂

  10. Reply

    Love the freezing tip…

    • JuLee
    • February 16, 2013

    I had heard about freezing canes before slicing them to make them firmer. but it never occured to me to freeze the clay in molds. Thanks for the tip. I will be sure to use it.

  11. Reply

    Great post Rebekah! I haven't worked with polymer clay for a while, but I remember my OH getting very confused at seeing molds with polymer clay in the freezer!
    I went through a stage of making spacer beads by rolling out a snake of clay, pushing a knitting needle throught the middle and rolling some more and making it nice and even. I'd then parbake the clay, carefully pull the needle out and use a tissue blade to cut the resulting tube into beads. The clay had cooked enough to make it hold it's shape but soft enough still to cut. I then popped the beads back in to finish baking.

  12. Reply

    Freezing! What a perfect solution…. I work in polymer a bit lately, and am liking it. Glad you are on the team! I look forward to more brilliant tips from your years of experience.

  13. Reply

    Thank you!!!! My molded clay always turned out squished. I would never have thought of freezing the clay.

  14. Reply

    Thanks for the info, Rebekah! One of these days I will use the skills I learned from Christine Damm and actually use polymer clay!

  15. Reply

    I never saw this post the first time around. I am bookmarking this now! I would really like to find a way to make molds of some new pieces I envision and the idea of freezing them is pure genius! Also the idea of leaching and the copy paper work surface. Smart tips! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge! Enjoy the day! Erin

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