Saturday, October 22, 2011

The emotional thrill of polymer clay caning (part 2)

This post is the second-half of a two-part series by PCAGOE member Jackie Sieben of The Pleasant Pheasant. Jackie offers her insights on caning just in time for our November caning challenge. Read Part 1.


Part 2 of a 2-part series: The emotional thrill of polymer clay caning


Avoiding Frustration
Mostly it’s the smallest things that make the difference in the frustration levels, so listen carefully. You cannot be heavy-handed when you want perfect canes. You have to treat the clay GENTLY during most processes, and that was where I failed early on. I was smashing, pushing, pulling, squishing, beating…. And my canes showed the bruises!

Now this word GENTLY is going to be overused in this missive, but I want to be sure you can make some commonly-used canes and do them well, so I have to repeat myself often at various stages. Okay, so if you’re good with that, we can go on to where I recommend newer caners begin, Skinner blend rolls, Jelly rolls, Stripes and Checkerboards. Very importantly… once you can make these canes look good every time, you’ll be on your way to bigger and better detailed canes.

Skinner blend roll – Make a flat Skinner blend, ending on a medium thickness on your pasta machine. Here’s a tip, once you have the finished blend lying on your work surface, run your blade down the center length, from the dark color to the light color. Now put these through your pasta machine from light to dark again on a medium thin setting. The strips will get quite long. You can roll one of the pieces from the light to the dark, and the other from the dark to the light.


Gently! Slowly… making sure air is not being trapped between the layers as you roll, especially at the beginning when you roll that first tiny little bit of clay in. When finished rolling, rub the seam down gently to flatten it into the roll, set the roll on your table and give it a few rolls back and forth without changing the original size of the roll. Now let these two rolls sit. No no no – do NOT slice into them yet! They need to rest for about an hour while you move on to making a…
Jelly roll – Take two conditioned sheets of clay of contrasting colors rolled out on the thickest setting of your pasta machine. Not too big, about 5” wide by 3” tall. Lay a piece of deli paper on your work surface, put the first sheet down, then set the second sheet on top – by starting at one end and gently moving your other hand along the sheet to avoid introducing air bubbles.



Once down, gently roll them together with a brayer. Don’t smash!! You want each sheet to remain at the thickness they came from the pasta machine, but stuck together now. As an aside, if you do see air pockets, slice into them with your blade and gently remove the air without leaving dents in the clay.
To make these two sheets into a jelly roll, trim the two ends, and measure the center. Fold at the center line avoiding air bubbles, press that fold down so it is stuck with no space left, and brayer together again.

** Start rolling at the center fold, slowly, carefully, and roll to the end. Slit any air pockets with your blade, press out the air without leaving dents, and let the jelly roll sit for 1 hour before trimming ends and reducing.
** (You can also do Jelly rolls by rolling from one end rather than doing the center folding and rolling step.)
** In both cases, before you begin rolling, you’ll want to slightly brayer the end where you plan to start rolling to slant it a bit. This will make the center of your Jelly roll neater. This is one of those “be careful not to press it down too hard” steps. You need both layers to stay near the same thickness throughout the entire length of the roll.)
Stripes some people tend to have trouble with striped canes but I’ve learned that working slowly and carefully does the trick, and so if you work that way, too, you’ll be successful in making striped canes. Take two sheets of contrasting clay colors, thickest pasta machine setting, about 4.5” wide by 2.5 inches tall. Place first sheet on your work surface, and second sheet on top as for the Jelly roll and brayer together gently. Cut into 3 equal pieces, each 1.5 inches wide.

Set the left side piece on to the center piece and brayer gently to remove air, and do the same to the right side piece. Allow a few minutes resting time, then put the stack on your work surface and press it down to stick. You will be cutting the LONG length.



With your eyes directly over the stack, hold your tissue blade tightly at each end and pull the blade apart with your hands as you slice down through the stack. Don’t remove the slices as you go, just keep slicing. Do it SLOWLY and always pull on the two ends of the blade as you do. You can measure or use a tool to show where you want to cut before slicing if you want to. A hair comb, a Kato Marxit tool or even a tomato holder tool work for this marking. 


Now gently take each slice and lay them on deli paper, setting them close together, making sure your stripes are light-dark-light-dark, etc. Put a plastic deli sheet over the top (the material that sliced meat is wrapped in from the delicatessen) and rub the seams with your finger going ONLY in the direction of the stripes, to stick the pieces together.

Take the top deli sheet off and brayer (gently, of course!)  Do NOT try to lift the clay from the bottom piece of paper, instead turn it over on your work surface and remove the paper from the clay without bending the clay. Trim the bottom edge of your stripes and you have a striped sheet all ready to use in your work.

(I highly recommend pages 18 and 19 of Kim Cavender’s book, “Polymer Clay For the Fun Of It” for excellent instructions for stripes and jelly rolls.)
Checkerboard – Start with the same size clay as for stripes, but cut those first two contrasting layers into FOUR equal sections.

Stack each section as you did for stripes, and trim all four sides. (You will have to trim more for the checkerboard than you did for stripes once you have a stack, to start with clean edges all around the stack.) This time when you stick the stack to your work surface, you will be cutting the SHORT edge of the stack.


Make your equal cuts without removing the slices yet. Now take each slice, one by one, and flip them back and forth to match them with the previous slice into a checkerboard pattern. VERY important that you check both the top of the stack and then the bottom of the stack for each slice, to be sure the opposite colors are lining up neatly.  

Gently press together and let the stack rest for at least an hour before slicing to use in your work.
VOILA!! With a little practice, these canes will become second nature to you and you’ll be on your way to more elaborate cane-making before you know it.

Read Part 1.