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Polymer Clay Tips

Softening Clay
I shy away from using Fimo because it is too hard on my hands. If I have to use it, I cut thin slices with a knife and lay them on a metal cookie sheet. I run the hair blower over the slices (on high heat) for about 30 seconds, holding the dryer about 6 inches away from the tray. This seems to work well.

Baking Time
I think that under baking is the most frequent problem that new clay users face. From my experience, if the oven temperature is correct, the colors will not darken (and clay will not burn) even if a one inch thickness is baked for several hours. Since one oven varies from another, finding the perfect temperature can be tricky. I don't use a thermometer, so I found the right temperature by trial and error.

I recommend making a little "snake" out of half inch balls of clay. Use a ball of white, a ball of ivory, and several dark colors. Start out with the package recommendations, which would be to bake at 275* for every quarter inch of thickness. In this case, the snake is one half inch thick, so you would bake for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, leave the piece in the oven until completely cool. If the colors have darkened at all, the temperature on that oven is too high. Make a new snake, lower the temperature by 5 degrees and bake again. At the end of 30 minutes, if the snake has retained its color, bake for an additional 30 minutes. If the colors still look good... that's the temperature that you should use. If the colors darkened during the last 30 minutes, lower the temperature a tad.

I generally bake a half inch thickness for 45 to 50 minutes, leaving it in the oven until cool. When finished, the colors look as vibrant as they did going in.

My husband would not be happy to read this, but one night, I went to bed and forgot to turn my oven off. Some nine hours later when I remembered.... I ran to the basement expecting to find some crispy critters in the oven. Surprisingly, the pieces were fine, and I had three of the sturdiest ornaments I ever made.

So finding the correct temperature can also be a good safety issue.

Keep in mind that very thin pieces do not need to bake long. Five or ten minutes will do for pieces that are an eighth of an inch or thinner. With thicker pieces, if the temperature is correct, you really cannot "over bake", so when in doubt, bake a little longer for added strength.

Hand Cleaning
I primarily make Christmas ornaments. The worse thing about making Santas is working with red clay and then having to make that white trim. The frequent hand washing gave me "sandpaper hands".

I went to the discount store and bought a box of baby wipes and a pump bottle of hand lotion. After working with red clay, I use the baby wipes to clean my hands. I then pump hand lotion, rub it in well and wipe my hands with a terry cloth towel. If the red really gets into the creases on my hands, I'll follow that up by spraying them with a little Windex. That seems to work.

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