Going over basics of polymer clay on a soap making website may seem a bit odd. The pieces will all come together. The technique illustrated here is one of the most simplistic for polymer clay. You condition the clay, roll it out, cut it and bake it. Once you become familiar with how to work the clay, there are a number of books out there which explore much more detailed and challenging techniques. This is, truly, just a basic overview, but it is all that will be needed for this application.
Conditioning The Clay
Conditioning a block of polymer clay can be challenging because the clay is, initially, relatively stiff. Conditioning is a process of getting the clay into a softer, more malleable state. you begin conditioning by kneading it with your hands. Using your 12-inch tile as a work surface (again), roll the clay back and forth, making it into a log. Then fold the log onto itself and roll it out again. You'll need to repeat this process numerous times.
Once you have the clay soft enough to consistently roll into a log, make a log about five inches long and feed it through your pasta press (which should only be used for polymer clay craft, not making pasta). I typically keep the press set on 7, which yields the thickest sheet. Roll the sheet back into a log or fold it into halves or quarters and run through the press a number of times to insure it has been thoroughly conditioned and is ready for the next step. It is possible to "over-work" or "over-condition" the polymer clay. Such is likely the case if you find that the clay has become excessively sticky. To fix the problem, just allow the clay to "rest"; in other words, leave it untouched on the work surface for 30 minutes or more.
If you don't have and/or don't want to invest in a pasta press, a rolling pin will also work, but measuring and controlling the thickness with consistency may be difficult.
Cutting The Clay
Baking The Clay
Once you have your shape(s) cut from the polymer clay sheet and have made the hold for the ribbon, it's time to bake. You can bake the polymer clay (still on the parchment paper) using the ceramic tile as a "cookie sheet". It's very important that you keep the polymer clay on the parchment paper for the baking process even if you elect to use a more conventional baking sheet. If you decide to bake the polymer clay using the ceramic tile, it's also important to note that the ceramic tile holds heat from the oven longer than a baking or cookie sheet. I mention this because I've come close to burning myself on the tile while it sits on the stove top. Though it's more convenient, there are precautions that must be taken.
SAFETY TIP #6
When using the ceramic tile as a "cookie sheet", be extra cautious when handling the tile. The parchment paper will have a tendency to slide around on the tile; the tile weighs quite a bit more than most cookie sheets, so use two hands (and two pot holders) when removing the tile from the oven. Also, once removed from the oven, the tile will retain heat for a longer period of time than a standard cookie or baking sheet.
As with any of the projects or materials used in those projects, when baking the polymer clay, it is imperative that you follow the manufacturer's instructions exactly. The clay I use is baked in a 275-degree oven for 30 minutes for each 1/4" thickness (1/2" thickness, obviously, would bake for 60 minutes). It is equally important that you read any warnings or other information included on the polymer clay packaging and, again, that directions from the manufacturer are followed 100%. This is not only for safety (which is, of course, the primary concern) but not following those directions may negatively affect your results.
SAFETY TIP #7
Turn on your stove's exhaust fan/vent hood fan while baking the polymer clay and for about 10 minutes after removing the clay from the oven and turning off the oven. Though the manufacturer's label (again) is your best source of information, polymer clay fumes are not toxic in any way, but may prove irritating to anyone sensitive to odors.
SAFETY TIP #8
Make sure to set your timer for the length of time you will be baking the polymer clay. Though the baking time does increase with the thickness of your polymer clay project, it does NOT increase with the number of objects you are baking. Bake one or a dozen objects that are 1/4" thick would require only 30 minutes in the oven (with the polymer clay that I use).
TIME-SAVING TIP #3
As previously indicated, you can bake only item, or you can bake as many as you can successfully fit onto your baking sheet or ceramic tile. If you are planning on making a number of ornaments (for example) to give as gifts or even use as gift tags, it will save a LOT of time to bake as many at one time as you can. You don't have to bake items of the same color, as long as the items don't touch or overlap. Whether baking one color or numerous colors, items that are touching when you put them in the oven will bake/fuse together. Keep in mind, however, that when you bake multiple items at the same time, they must also be the same thickness.
If you are using the ceramic tile as a baking sheet, leaving the polymer clay on the tile to cool means you'll be waiting for quite some time as (again) the ceramic tile holds heat longer than a standard cookie sheet. This results, of course, in your baked clay retaining heat longer (much longer, actually) than it ordinarily would.
Decorating The Clay
TIME-SAVING TIP #4
To expedite cooling time on your baked clay ornaments, simply lift the parchment paper from the ceramic tile (obviously, use caution in doing this or you can end up with burned finger tips) and re-locate the parchment paper to another heat-safe work surface. (A second 12-inch, white ceramic tile is recommended.) This re-location offers two time-saving benefits: the cool surface of the second tile assists in cooling the polymer clay objects and leaving the objects on the parchment provides a disposable surface on which you can do your decorating. After you decorate your ornaments, you simply throw the parchment paper away, minimizing clean-up time.
Now that you have your ornaments baked and moved to your work surface and are ready to decorate, the fun really begins! Decorating polymer clay Christmas ornaments can be a family affair. The age of your ornament decorators will determine what you use to decorate the ornaments. if you are using decorations that require use of a hot glue gun or "super" glue, I would not recommend bringing small children into the project. However, if you are using paint pens, glitter glue or stickers, smaller hands can help. The manufacturers often indicate the recommended age limits.
When decorating polymer clay Christmas ornaments, or any polymer clay project, you need only remember you are adhering to what is, essentially, a plastic surface. Therefore, I'm going to jump ahead with a finishing tip that can save you a lot of heartache.
FINISHING TIP #2
After you have decorated your Christmas ornament, you need to seal it. This is particularly true if you used any glitter glue or water-soluble glue. These glues will not stay adhered to the polymer clay. As soon as the glue has PARTIALLY dried (but is still lightly tacky to the touch), take the ornament outside and spray it with numerous light coats of clear, water-based acrylic. As this is a spray, much like spray paint, you'll want to use it ONLY in a well-ventilated area that is protected with newspaper. Put the ornament on the newspaper and lightly spray coat it. Take any breezes into account or they will fold the newspaper up and onto your ornament, which (if you have sprayed it with the acrylic) will stick like, well, glue. Even though it is clear, treat the spray acrylic as you would spray paint. Finally, read the label to insure that the acrylic sealant is both "non-yellowing" and formulated for use of plastics. Follow all manufacturer's instructions and heed all manufacturer's warnings.
Sealing your ornament with a clear, spray sealant may seem an unnecessary step; it's not. As previously mentioned, any water-soluble glues or adhesives not formulated for use of plastic will, once dried, slide right off the ornament. I spent a lot of time and used a lot of glitter glue on my first Christmas tree ornament only to have everything fall off when I picked it up. Talk about frustrating! Also, coating the polymer clay ornaments with the clear acrylic adds a shine that the polymer clay itself does not possess. For Christmas ornaments in particular, I like the additional sheen and the way it reflects the lights from the Christmas tree.
Glitter glue is such an improvement over the glitter and glue process I grew up with . . . remember? You would draw a line or make a dot or design with the glue and then sprinkle it with the loose glitter which, no matter how many precautions you took, would get absolutely everywhere? As you can see, glitter glue comes in many different colors and various sized containers: small squeeze bottles, large squeeze bottles and "pens".
The down side to the glitter glue pens is very much like issues with magic markers. The caps don't always stay on securely and the contents can dry out or congeal. As glue is an air-drying substance, even setting the pen aside, without a cap, for a short period of time can result in the glue thickening to the point it doesn't easily dispense.
There are also glue "pens" that are tinted with color but not "glittered". These glue paint pens can also be used effectively on polymer clay as long as you remember to seal the semi-set glue with the spray-on, clear sealant.
The hot glue gun is messy and there's that element of extreme heat that makes it a cautionary choice for this application. Nonetheless, it's a very cost effective option. The LOCTITE gel glue, which is my preference, is much more costly. Just one of the bottles shown (above, right) costs more than the entire pack of glue sticks for the glue gun. Additionally, the gel glue bottles don't hold very much adhesive. But the gel formulation makes it much easier to control than some similar products. The purpose for using either of these products is, obviously, to adhere items to the polymer clay ornament "blanks". Though only your imagination would limit what could be attached, for me, it's "buttons". I put that word in quotes because I'm not sure I consider most of these to be buttons as we know them. nonetheless, I have an enormous appreciation for how many ways these "buttons" can be used . . . both for decorating polymer clay and, believe it or not, for soap making.
The first picture (above) is a fair overview of some of my Christmas-themed buttons. The second two are merely closer and closer views that illustrate the detail these buttons can have. They come glittered and flocked and in more themes than I can recall.
Some of the "buttons" have rings on the back for attaching them to clothing, others do not (the main reason I hesitate calling them all "buttons"). For those that have rings on the back, a pair of jewelry wire cutters (below, left) is sufficient to cut through the plastic, providing you with the flatter back needed for this application.
Another fun glue-on to your polymer clay ornaments is "bling"; pretty, sparkly, flat-backed faux gems that are available in a rainbow of colors and a myriad of different shapes and sizes. Though the same could be said of some of the "buttons", the faux gems almost require the use of the gel glue rather than the glue gun. If you have a keen proficiency with the glue gun, you may be able to attach even the smallest of the "gems" using the heated glue. Lacking this ability, I choose the narrower tip of the gel glue bottle.
Finally, I encourage you to explore the use of peel-and-stick foam letters and shapes on your polymer clay creations. The adhesive is really effective on polymer clay. This is only a problem if you miscalculate the position on your ornament. And paint pens, like permanent magic markers, are a wonderful choice for drawing in details.
FINISHING TIP #3
Sign and date your work. It adds a personal touch that will allow your hand-made gift to be even more appreciated for years to come. The best way of signing polymer clay is on the back and before you add bulky ornamentation to the front. There may be sufficient room for you to make a gift tag of the gift. permanent magic marker (on very light colors of polymer clay) or the white or metallic paint pens (on dark colors of polymer clay) work best. After your signature has dried, be sure to spray the back side of the polymer clay creation with the clear, acrylic sealant. You don't want your message rubbing off.