If you have a cane that’s been sitting around for a while, you might notice that it’s stiff and tends to crack when you flex it. Even if you can slice it without crumbling, the clay is often quite resistant to blending with other clay. Mixing the cane will ruin it. So how can you condition it?
Because we typically condition our clay by sheeting and folding with a roller, it’s easy to assume that mixing is an important part of the process. But it’s actually not. Polymer clay needs to be DISTURBED to be conditioned. Mixing is just the fastest and easiest way to do it. Just like we have to slowly move stiff muscles first thing in the morning, we also need to “wake up” our canes in order to use them.
Wake up your canes first by warming them. Carry them next to your body or set them on a low (body temperature) heating pad for a while. Next, gently start wiggling the cane. Twist it gently. Essentially, you are trying to make the clay move on a micro level without causing the design to smear or distort. Do this for a while, and you should start to feel the resistance soften.
Next, start pressing on the cane as if you are reducing it. In fact, reducing a cane is a perfect way to get it conditioned and ready to use. For this reason, I recommend storing your canes large and then reducing them to the size you need right before use.
As you’ve found with conditioning in general, the clay brand matters. Shattering clays like Fimo, Cernit Number One, Pardo, and CosClay will usually soften with movement and reduction. Premo, Souffle, and Kato will often need to have softener added.
To do this, smear your cane with a liquid clay softener, wrap it in plastic, and let it sit for a week or more. Check to see if the cane has absorbed the liquid, and add more as necessary. This doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a try. Hopefully, the softener will absorb into the cane, softening it. Then, resume trying to wiggle/move it.
Sadly, sometimes canes can’t be revived. I’ve had a few that were completely resistant to being saved. But at least you have more information to get you headed in the right direction. Good luck!