Polymer Clay & Crafts for Kids
Known for its flexibility and ability to create various textures and forms, many artists, sculptors and jewelry artisans are choosing polymer clay as preferred to other clay forms. Despite its name, polymer clay doesn’t consist of clay minerals as do many modeling clays, but rather it consists of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Polymer clay is a popular building medium for children and adults of all ages as it will permanently harden at low temperatures. It isn’t uncommon to fire polymer clay in a low temperature oven, meaning that teachers can use the clay with students in a classroom setting. There are inexpensive ovens that may be used for firing polymer clay projects as well. Polymer clay projects are vast and there are numerous tutorials that can get even the novice creating like a pro in little time.
How is Polymer Clay Made
Unlike mineral based clay, polymer clay is not a naturally occurring substance of the earth, but rather is a synthetic, manmade material. Polymer clay is a combination of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), liquid plasticizers and various dyes or pigments. PVC is a thermoplastic polymer, indicating that it changes from a liquid to a glassy, solid state when heated and then cooled. It is also a vinyl polymer therefore it is combined with a plasticizer in order to give it flexibility and prevent it from breaking when handled. Without plasticizers, polymer clay would be extremely brittle, fragile and would be impossible to work with.
Advantages of Using Polymer Clay
Polymer clay holds many advantages compared to other modeling and building materials, the first of which is you don’t need to use a kiln in order to fire or cure it. There are also several polymer clays that air dry, making them perfect for use in the classroom. Polymer clays that must be heated to cure typically require an oven setting between 265 degrees and 275 degrees F, making this easy to accomplish in the home or school environment. Many who are new to sculpting find that polymer clay is an easy material to work with; it is suitable for both the novice and skilled artisan.
Safety Precautions When Using Polymer Clay
Choose polymer clay that is certified nontoxic and has the Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI-AP) safety seal. The ACMI-AP seal guarantees that the polymer clay has been tested and deemed nontoxic to humans. Use polymer clay according to the manufacturer’s instructions in order to ensure safety. Though polymer clay is safe, it does contain plasticizers, which are known to be harmful, and it is a wise idea to institute safe handling procedures as a precaution. Never use your cooking materials with polymer clay and don’t use polymer clay products in a manner that will come in contact with food.
The highest temperature you should fire polymer clay at is 275 degrees F. If your oven is hotter than 300 degrees you run the risk of burning PVC, which could possibly release toxic fumes. Ensure that you fire polymer clay according to the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid problems.
Different Polymer Clay Tools and What They are Used For
It’s best to use tools designed for use with polymer clay as this avoids possible cross contamination with kitchen items. Though you can safely fire polymer clay in your home oven, if you fire the clay at extremely high temperatures or burn it, you can release toxic fumes in the environment. There are polymer clay baking ovens as well as toaster ovens that are easy to control and ensure you have full control over your firing. These sit easily on a countertop and are a popular way of firing polymer clay creations.
Other polymer clay tools include those used for beading, baking, making jewelry, molds, rollers, knives, and other tools used for cutting or shaping polymer clay, and those for adding texture to the clay. Finishing tools include glazes and glues. There are also softeners that you can use that will revitalize old clay that has become brittle or hard.
Clay Craft Ideas
Those looking for polymer clay craft ideas won’t be disappointed as there are many to select from. From jewelry, beading, figurines, and molds there are numerous items you can make. Craft ideas span age levels and experience ensuring that everyone can participate in this fun hobby and pastime. As polymer clay is also highly flexible, it’s a popular choice for those seeking to cover items with the clay. Some projects include applying the clay to bowls, cups, or other figures in order to create a new look.
Polymer Clay Bowls - Due to polymer clay’s durability and ease of coloring techniques, many artisans create a wide array of colorful polymer clay bowls. Some artists choose to focus solely on bowls and develop their own businesses. Teachers interested in using polymer clay with students of all ages often find that a small bowl is a good project to use to introduce children to the craft. As polymer clay can be glazed, giving it a finished, brilliant hue, bowls crafted from this art form often have a professional look.
- How to Make a Polymer Clay Bowl: This tutorial shows step by step how to make a small bowl using polymer clay. Pictures are included with each step.
Polymer Clay Jewelry Crafts - Another popular use of polymer clay is in making jewelry. Polymer clay can be combined to make delicate and intricate patterns. As the clay is easy to work with, many jewelry crafters choose to use the clay for creating their own beads. Other styles include creating beads in the millefiori style. Millefiori is an ancient glass technique that means thousands of little flowers. It was frequently used in Italian glasswork and featured in jewelry, vases, and other glass work items. Millefiori is just one technique that has become a popular style for polymer clay jewelry crafts.
- Polymer Clay Millefiori Beads Activity: Lesson plan from the Illinois State Museum for children age 10-years-old to adult on creating millefiori beads (Italian glass beads) from polymer clay
Polymer Clay Holiday Themed Crafts - Polymer clay is a great material used in holiday themed crafts. From Christmas ornaments and Thanksgiving turkeys to Halloween pumpkins, hearts for Valentine’s Day and Easter bunnies, polymer clay is the perfect choice for those creating holiday themed crafts and decorations. Easily introduced in the classroom setting, many teachers can use the clay for special activities and projects that coincide with holidays.
- Hava’s Ghosts: Make a ghost ornament out of polymer clay and small Christmas ball ornaments. This tutorial shows you step by step how to do it.
Polymer Clay Figures
Polymer clay figurines are an extremely popular use for the modeling clay. Some figurines are cute and whimsical while others are fantasy based. There are numerous tutorials that will show you systematically how to make various figures. Whether creating cartoon characters, cute cherubs, children, or dolls you’ll find that there is a vast market for polymer clay figures and those that are interested in turning their crafting hobby into a business may do very well by crafting polymer clay figures.
- Polymer Clay Figures: Lesson plan by Incredible@rt Department that discusses how to create polymer figures
Please see the links below for further information regarding polymer clay crafts.
- Polymer Clay lessons: Lesson for those new to using polymer clay by EZL.
- International Polymer Clay Association (IPCA): The official website for the International Polymer Clay Association with resources, event listings and local guilds.
- British Polymer Clay Guild: The official website for the U.K. guild
- Polymer Clay Tools: Desiree’s Desired Creations features section regarding polymer clay tools with photos
- Tips and Tidbits from Clay Connection: Tips from the Southern Connecticut Polymer Clay Guild
- Poly Clay Play Fun: Free techniques, tips, and tutorials for those using polymer clay in PDF format
- Polymer Clay Lesson Plans: Polymer Clay Express at the ArtWay Studio features a number of free lesson plans and tutorials
- Polymer Clay tutorials: Free tutorials and techniques from Polymer Clay web
- Polymer Clay Cylcopedia: Site illustrates Polymer Clay tools, blades, guns and more
- Polymer Clay How To Links: List of links by Skygrazer Designs to tutorials, free lesson plans, sculpting, tutorials and more.
- Bears and Stars: Learn how to create cute star and bear ornaments out of polymer clay materials.