What is polymer clay?

You may know of polymer clay as “Sculpey” or “Fimo”, a modelling clay traditionally used by model makers and children.

Polymer clay is a manmade material that remains pliable for long periods, but cures or “bakes” in your home oven at a fairly low temperature.  Though hard when cured, thin sheets are often flexible. It can be sculpted, carved, moulded, drilled, sanded, buffed and painted. It is one of a few materials which can be made into canes with an internal pattern that is reduced in width as the cane is stretched – think of pulling millefiori glass or candies with patterns through the middle.  For example, the photo shows the process of making a leaf cane, and shows the smaller sizes achieved by cutting pieces off, then gently stretching out the remainder of the cane (and so on).

leaf cane construction

While the clay can be painted, the colors in the creations are usually a result of the pigment in the clay.  Clay is sold in a range of colors, and an endless range of colors can be mixed.  Techniques can include the creation of color blends and graduations.

Polymer clay is classified as “non-toxic”, but it shouldn’t be used by children who are likely to put it in their mouths.  Some manufacturers advise that it only be used by children over 8 years, others simply advise that children should be supervised.   Tools used for polymer clay (such as knives or pasta machines) should never be used for food.  It is important to follow baking instructions, as the clay can burn if the oven is too hot, and I understand these fumes are toxic.  Length of baking time isn’t a risk here, but temperature is.  If you are familiar with celsius temperatures, make sure you convert the farenheit temperature on the pack.  While polymer clay can be baked in a home oven, it is recommended to use a separate oven if baking polymer clay regularly.

Polymer clay can “eat through” some plastics.  Store polymer clay in food wrap, or in containers of softer plastic – avoid hard plastics as some hard plastics will react with the clay.  It is not necessary to have air-tight containers – it is heat, rather than air, that will harden the clay and make it unworkable.  I have used un-baked polymer clay which I’ve had in a cupboard for over 5 years, but 1 hour in a hot car can be enough to ruin it for good.

For more information about the material and safety information, search for data sheets on particular brands, or see the Kato Clay data sheet, and Sarajane Helm’s site.

Go here to start working with polymer clay.

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