How to make polymer clay beads – a fun, easy project that you’ll enjoy, whether you plan to make jewelry or add accents to other decor pieces, you’ll definitely want to learn how to make your own clay beads! This is also a great way to use up leftover clay that you may have on hand from another project, that you can’t seem to find a use for too.
And don’t worry, this approach will not be as advanced as canes and mokume gane, so let’s dig in!
So gather up your supplies – you’ll need several small clay bricks (or go over all your scraps of clay if you want to take that approach), roller, knife and a few shaping tools….also get a cutting board, wax paper and foil to protect your work area.
Roll out your clay balls like this, be sure to flip them over and roll again, several times, to properly aerate the clay.
Affix the two layers together like this…and go back to kneading them. Try to pinch a little out of the middle to see how the colors are looking. I like to go for a nice swirl, but this is something I don’t want to “over work” as it can cause the effects to get lost if you knead it too much.
When you like the effect pinch off a little bit and work it by rolling it between your thumb and forefingers.
A word about different shapes: I like to make triangles, squares and oblong beads as well as round ones. (Plus those other shapes won’t roll around like the round ones do 😁.)Round bead are easy, it’s mostly a matter of getting a “precise” round ball. You may want to place it on a flat surface as you roll as that seems to work better than just your fingers.
For oblong/ovals, gently pull out the ends a little and roll. For triangles, I take a round ball of clay and tap the bottom to make it flat, then pinch it between my fingers, to create the sides. Squares, about the same with one more side.
You may also want to add some color, if you’ve got an obscure collection of colors that might not look good swirled together. The best way to do this, if you’ve got white (or another light color) clay, is to add a little color via chalk dust. For all the details you can find my tutorial for that here. Keep adding color gradually and kneading and re-kneading until you get the desired effect.
Add this colored clay piece to the two-color layer and knead again, see how the colors look. I decided I liked this design better. Blue, green and a little white-yellow seemed to be in sync. Here is my set of swirled color beads :
Making Beads with Outer Textures
Now I thought I ‘d show you a different approach – adding a little detail to the outside of the beads. If you’ve got a batch of solid color beads that would look a little more jazzy with some extra designs on the outside. For my next bead batch, I rolled an equal number of light yellow beads, and then I added a few outer pieces of clay to these to give them a little extra dimension.
To do that, I rolled super-skinny coils of clay in contrasting colors and applied them to the outside. Kind of tricky as skinny strips like these don’t move around easily. Here’s how some of them look with the extra detailing:
As a pro tip, it’s best to use a firmer brand of clay for the outer detail. Sculpey Premo! is a good brand for this. Sculpey III tends to be softer and while softer clays are easier to work with, they tend to be easily messed up while unbaked.
Piercing Your Beads
To create holes for the beads, there is a trick to doing this right. The first time I did this, I used a bamboo skewer which is not the worst idea (mainly did it in the name of expediency.) but it’s best to have tiny holes, which is accomplished more easily with a sculpting needle. Of course it has to be done individually. If you can find a skinny stick (the actual game of “pick up sticks” comes to mind, yes, that was a thing once) you may be able to pierce all your beads simultaneously, just be sure it’s oven/heat safe.
Turn the bead to the side to find the center of it and pierce with the needle , then gently push it through (you can twist it a little) until the sharp end comes out on the other side. You may notice the other side looks a little ‘raggedy” in which case take the needle and re-pierce that end -you don’t have to push it all the way in this time)- so it looks more defined.
If you don’t have a sculpting needle you may want to use a toothpick; it works , less friction than the needle but it will pierce the right size of hole. Repeat with the other beads. I have a total of 28. Another move to pierce all your beads at once is to get a length of craft wire that’s a heavier gauge like 16 or 18; This is thicker wire but it will make appropriately small holes.
Now its time to bake them – I’m using my toaster oven, which I’ve set to 275 degrees for 20 minutes (I do keep an eye on it – I use my conventional oven timer which beeps when the time is up and I can hear in the next room.)
Check them out and see how they look…OK! You are now free to do whatever you want with them. String them, or save them for a full-on necklace. Better yet, keep going with some more beads in pretty colors.
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll love doing this, plus you’ll have a ready-made use for all those bits and pieces of clay in ambiguous colors that you have left over from other projects!