Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Polymer clay 'brocade'

I was reading Donna Kato's 2nd book on Polymer Clay (Surface Effects for Polymer Clay), which I can highly recommend as having great eye candy and clear instructions, when I came across 'polymer clay brocade' and fell in love.

I've really enjoyed making these pieces, and thought I'd share how I did them.

First, gather your supplies - you'll need:

a ceramic tile or piece of silicone coated baking paper to work on
a pasta machine or Wizard die cutting machine if you have one (but you can knead the clay by hand if you don't)
black polymer clay - preferably Kato or Fimo
metallic acrylic paint, plus 3 colours of acrylic paint
rubber stamps - deeply etched with all over texture or pattern rather than images (you could also use texture plates, or perhaps even an opened out Cuttlebug folder)
cornstarch, talc or similar for dusting
rolling pin - preferably acrylic or brass rod or acrylic brayer but I managed with a glass bottle!
metal cookie or similar cutters if you have them

The very basic instructions for the technique are really very simple, as follows:

Condition clay and roll into sheets. Paint clay, and impress with a stamp. paint clay again, and roll flat. Cut into shapes and bake as per manufacturer's instructions. Simple!!!

You'll be pleased to know there are step photos below, with added hints and tips and leaning points from the mistakes I made when I made mine!!!

Gathering the supplies

I chose to make 3 different pieces of 'brocade' - one with a silver base, one gold, one copper. I thought it would be a good way of using up some cheap copper and silver metallic paint I had. This was a BIG mistake. As you will see, this technique works MUCH better using good quality paint, like the Lumieres or Golden products. Here are the paints I started off with:

Next, I chose my acrylic colours for the copper based piece:

and for the silver based piece:

and for the gold based piece:

All the coloured acrylic paints shown above performed very well for this technique.

Next I chose my rubber stamps, these need to be all over textures or patterns, and one large stamp is easier to use than stamping more than once with a smaller one. The effect is better with deeply cut stamps, rather than shallow ones. The stamps I chose are (from left to right) from Innovative Stamp Creations, Stamp Camp, and Polymer Clay Express. The one on the right worked best of all - it was big, deeply cut, and designed for using with polymer clay.

A rolling pin. Preferably an acrylic one or a brass rod, but I didn't have either. I used this tall thin glass bottle, as I had read somewhere that you can work on clay tiles or sheets of glass and the clay doesn't stick to them. The clay stuck to it. So I used a layer of silicone coated baking paper between the clay and the bottle and it worked absolutely FINE. A wooden rolling pin and a sheet of silicone coated baking parchment would work, too. As would a thick metal knitting needle.

Something to dust your stamps with. You could grab a square of muslin and put some cornflour (cornstarch) in it and hold it together with an elastic band, or perhaps try using talc, or you could take the easy option and use one of these if you have one:

Polymer clay. I used Fimo soft clay. I want to try Kato clay, and have ordered some from the US, but I couldn't wait for it to arrive to try this technique so used what I had. I made about 30 embellishments out of one small pack, which cost less than £2.


Condition the clay by running it though a pasta machine a few times, folding the sheets into smaller packages before running them through the machine again. You can also use the Wizard (and maybe even other die cutting machines) for this bit, just sandwich the clay between two pieces of silicone coated baking paper, run it through, and fold up the sheets of clay before running though again. If you don't have a pasta machine or Wizard, you can condition the clay by hand by kneading it until it feels smooth and soft. This will take you between 5 and 15 minutes, depending on how much effort you put in and how hot your hands are!

Once the clay is conditioned, you need to roll it into sheets. If you use a pasta machine to do this, use the thickest setting. If you roll by hand, use something either side of your clay to ensure an even thickness - you could use double thickness of chip board, for instance. They are somewhere between 1/8th and 3/16th of an inch thick. The thickness is not critical, if your finished 'brocade' is too thin, you can layer it onto another thin sheet of plain clay. I got 3 sheets from my small packet, here are the two smaller ones, the tiles they are on are 6 inches square. I was a little concerned at the obvious ridges, but they didn't show at all in the finished 'brocade', so you don't need to be too picky about pasta machine or rolling pin marks.

Now, dab a very thin layer of metallic paint all over the clay, using your fingertips. Less is definitely more, you will build up 4 or maybe even 5 thin layers. As I found out, if you put the paint on too thick, it will come off when you add the next layer. So, this is what it looks like after 1 layer, I tried using my finger to apply the paint on the left, and a sponge brush for the piece on the right:

Allow 10 minutes for the paint to dry between layers. This next pic is after the second layer, and this is where I began to notice the difference between the cheap paint on the right and the better quality Lumiere paint on the left:

The cheap paint was looking distinctly thin and patchy, but I added a third layer, and found that the cheap paint was coming off as fast as it was going on. The better quality paints have better binders and more pigment, working on polymer clay needs a good binder and lots of pigment.

I tried using my fingers instead of the sponge brush but it got worse, so I decided to change paint, for this high quality one by Golden (but I think any good quality, highly pigmented paint would work just as well).

Just look at the difference, after the 4th coat:

Because I'd used the cheap paint and got poor coverage, I added a fifth coat of the copper. if I'd used good paint form the outset, I think 4 coats would be enough.

The next step is to THOROUGHLY dust your stamp, then lay it on top of the clay (patterned side facing downwards) and take you rolling pin and roll it ONCE, pressing down hard. This is where you find out if you dusted well enough. If you didn't, you'll be picking bits off clay off your stamp for a while, believe me. This is what my gold sheet looked like after impressing the stamp into it:

And this is what the copper one looked like. I used a smaller stamp, and impressed twice. You can see the join line at this point, but not in the finished 'brocade'.

I completely forgot to dust the stamp in between impressing it into the clay. After the second impression, it was hard to get the stamp off the clay, and the sheet broke into small pieces while I was trying. And this last small piece was not the easiest thing to get off the stamp. I picked it all of bit by bit and scrubbed the stamp with warm soapy water and it is fine, but I learnt how important dusting the stamps is!

After impressing the clay, you add colour, again with you fingertips. Here's what the copper colour looked like after adding my paints:

After the paint dries (about 10 minutes) you roll the piece flat, here's what the gold sheet looked like after painting and rolling flat:

Finally, make embellishments from your sheets of 'biocade'. Here are a selection of the embellishments I made from the gold and copper sheets:

Here are pictures of my third sheet, using the same process. This sheet is about 3.5 inches wide and 7-8 inches long. I began this sheet with cheap paint and switched to better paint mid way:

Top half has a third coat of the Golden paint, the bottom half has a third coat of the cheap stuff:

After stamping:

After adding 3 acrylic colours with my fingertips:

After rolling to create a flat surface:

And here are some embellishments I made from the finished 'brocade' - I poked holes into these with an awl before baking, so that they can be made into pendants and earrings:

There will always be left over polymer clay when you do something like this. I rolled all my scraps up and ran them though the pasta machine a few times. All the acrylic paimnt got absorbed by the clay, and I used the scraps to make some moulded embellishments.

If you brush your moulds with PearlEx before putting the clay in, then bake in the mould, this is the sort of thing you get:

This was made in a home made mould, taken from a milagro ornament I bought in an art gallery shop in 2007. I brushed the mould with 3 colours of PearlEx before pushing the polymer clay into the mould, and baking it.


  1. Lovely. I've just dug out the book!


  2. Are you something! Glad I signed up for the challenge! Now to play. Better go empty a wine bottle (wink wink) and find that anti static bag!

  3. All i can say is "wow!!!"

  4. WOW! What a great process tutorial. You are enticing me to try it!

  5. Fun Technique, I played around with it yesterday. I used a couple of my stylus tip molding mats and ran them and the clay thru the pasta machine after the paint was dry. If you do this place the clay at the very bottom of the mat as it will move and stretch up. It makes very deep impressions.
    Thanks for a fun technique...Linda Strawn

  6. Adrienne, these are lovely. I've had various sorts of 'clay' in my stash for ages and haven't got round to trying it yet, you've really inspired me and I love the step-by-step photos, such a great help. Do you sell all those pieces you've made ready for earrings or pendants? I don't think I'd know what to do with that many 'left-overs' myself!

  7. Thanks Adrienne for a fun weekend,although my pieces didnt turn out as good as yours I did enjoy playing,will practice more, my problems is not having a lot of the materials needed,so making do !
    Your explainations are fab,easy to follow !

  8. Great tutorial. Love the pieces you ended up with. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Absolutely stunning, Adrienne - fantastic tutorial - TFS!

  10. Hi ya Adrienne
    I've been away to Queensland(Nrth east Australia) and while there I did some art classes with etched metal.They would work well with brocade clay enclosures.May just ave to five it a try
    Annette In Oz

  11. WOW

    The finished pieces are stunning. Thanks for the tutorial, I want to try this.

    Best wishes


  12. Hi!

    Today I posted an entry on my blog with a link to this tutorial.

    Would you let me know if that's OK?


    Nancy Ward




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