Last month, Staedtler came out with a new range in the Fimo line of polymer clay. Fimo Leather is the first new type of polymer clay that we’ve had since Sculpey Souffle came out in 2015. Because Souffle is billed as having a “suede-like finish”, it’s only natural to assume that Fimo Leather will be a clone. Let me state this up front. They are not at all similar. But what is Fimo Leather and how can it be used?
First Impressions of Fimo Leather Effect
I’m not sure if it’s called Fimo Leather or Fimo Leather Effect. It’s not labelled as being part of the Effect line (which includes pearl, gemstone, and glitter effects). Fimo Leather comes in 12 colors and is sold in 2 ounce (57g) packages just like Fimo Soft and Fimo Effect. The blocks are the same size as Fimo’s other 2 ounce packages. The packages look just the same as any block of clay except they have a bumpiness that suggests there’s something unique about this clay.
The colors are Berry, Indigo, Lagoon, Nut, Ochre, Olive, Rust, Saffron, Watermelon, Ivory, Dove Gray, and Black. Note there are no translucent or metallic colors.
The clay itself is quite soft. Because it’s brand new and therefore fresh, the softness may subside over time. The clay itself is somewhat sticky and doesn’t feel like any other brand of polymer clay. The first thing you notice is the clay itself is not smooth. It has a texture to it. When you pull it apart, you can see the texture quite readily.
The color of the clay is quite sticky and it will stick to your hands as you work with it. The color is not a stain. It wipes off easily with a baby wipe. But be aware that it will mark your work surface, tools, and pasta machine. Wipe them between color changes to prevent transfer.
The clay itself rolls out just fine, either by hand or with your pasta machine. And interestingly, the texture of the clay remains. Here’s what an unbaked sheet looks like as it comes out of the pasta machine.
When you slice through this clay with a blade, you can feel substantial resistance. It doesn’t slice cleanly. And when you do, you’ll find that a residue collects on the edge of your blade. You also get smearing and drag marks. (This means it won’t be good for making canes or mokume gane.)
When you cut a sheet with a cutter, the edges don’t cut smoothly. You can see fibers sticking out from the edge of the clay. Here’s an unbaked sheet of ivory and you can clearly see there’s something unusual going on here!
As you can see in the pictures and the video, the surface of the raw clay is pretty shiny, but the baked surface is a bit more dull. It’s not completely matte, though. Of the colors I have tried, the color does darken up on baking.
What’s in it?
So we have already figured that there must be fibers in this stuff. You can see them on the edges. But what kind? The way the raw clay behaves reminded me of something I’ve used before. As you might know, I have a background of working in molecular biology labs and this stuff reminded me of a cellulose-based slurry I used to work with. Well, I got curious. I had to know what it was.
I have an old microscope from my former scientist days and I dug it out of the closet and had a look at the Fimo Leather up close and personal. (Can you believe it’s taken me this long to do this with polymer clay!) I could clearly see the fibers, the pigment particles, and the tiny PVC particles.
Now I can’t ID the fibers without having a lab. But I can tell you that they are consistent with wood pulp, cellulose fibers, or paper pulp. They are absolutely not plastic fibers. They are definitely natural fibers. Well, that made sense. It FEELS like there is paper pulp in there. In fact, it feels a bit like what would happen if you made a new clay from Polymer Clay and Creative Paper Clay.
Working With Fimo Leather
While the colors can be mixed together, it takes more work to get them thoroughly blended. The clumps of fibers tend to stick together and don’t blend readily. This means that graduated blended sheets have a unique clumpy appearance to them.
There is an advantage to this, however. You can create a marbled effect that is unlike anything else in polymer clay. Here’s a sheet that I made with four colors. It is baked.
Sculpey Souffle doesn’t sand and buff very well due to the type of inclusions it has (microbeads), but surprisingly, Fimo Leather sands and buffs quite well. If all you need is a smooth surface, there are better clays to use. But I can see how this unique marbling might be quite effective in faux stone cabochons which you would want to sand and buff.
If you look closely at that video, you’ll notice there are flaws that didn’t sand out. That’s because Fimo Leather has some difficulty sticking to itself, making blended seams problematic. I found that even if it looked blended, some gentle pressure would open them back up again.
The texture of a sheet of Fimo Leather Effect can be pressed flat and smooth, but it pops right back up again as the sheet is moved. Gently pulling on the sides of a sheet restores the pebbly or orange-skin texture.
This texture is still present when a texture sheet is used. In fact, where a texture sheet makes normal polymer clay look like molded plastic, Fimo leather really does look more like tooled leather. This sheet was pressed with a texture sheet and then antiqued with brown acrylic paint. Looks like leather to me!
Because of the fibers, you can’t cut it cleanly with cutters. But that can be used to your advantage. This means your cutouts can look like die-cut leather pieces. See what I mean with these earrings made from stacked shapes.
Because of the fibers and because of the drag you feel on your blade when you slice it, you can’t take advantage of techniques that require slicing, such as canes, mokume gane, bargello, Sutton Slice, etc. But that does open up the possibility of unique techniques that take advantage of this smearing effect. Experiment!
Mixing with Other Clay Brands
I’ve heard that you can’t mix Fimo Leather with other brands. That’s not true. It mixes just fine with other brands. But as you would expect, the unique characteristics will be “diluted” and it will take on the character of the other clay as you add more and more. Honestly, I see no advantage to doing this. But please know that it won’t fall apart or melt of blow up if you mix other clays with Fimo Leather.
Feel of Fimo Leather After Baking
Fimo Leather bakes at 265°F (130°C) for 30 minutes. At least that’s what it says on the label. I found that it will tolerate a bit higher temperature and as always, I find it is stronger with longer baking.
Sheets made from Fimo Leather don’t feel like leather. It does retain the texture, but that’s where the similarity ends. The sheets feel like plastic. They don’t have the stretchy soft-vinyl feeling of vinyl upholstery, either. You can, however, bend and flex the sheets without them breaking. They are not stiff and rigid like a sheet of Kato would be. It’s on par with a sheet of well-baked Souffle. One thing to note, if you crease a sheet of Fimo Leather, you will get a white mark. (Note: Bettina Welker told me that baking at hotter temps can prevent this.) Creasing it sharply will cause it to break, just like other brands of polymer clay.
It is strong and certainly not brittle, but it will tear quite readily if you try to tear a sheet. And once it starts tearing, it will continue to rip. This becomes relevant below when we talk about sewing it. (Yes, you can sew it!) You can easily cut sheets of Fimo Leather with scissors or a rotary cutter.
You Can Sew It!
Yes, you can sew sheets of Fimo Leather with a needle and thread. You can even use a sewing machine. I do recommend using a leather or sharp needle, long stitch length, thicker thread, and use wide seam allowances (then trim them) so the presser foot has enough of the sheet to “grab”. It’s slippery against the feed dogs. (Sewists will know what all of that means.)
Because the material tears so readily, I’m afraid that strong snaps would pull right out, so I did use a cut-out shape (baked) to reinforce the snaps. The material can also be turned after stitching, to hide the seams inside. But it’s not flexible enough to turn sharp points. Here’s what I mean.
Paint and Surface Treatments
Because of the textured surface, it’s easy to assume that Fimo Leather would be really great for accepting paint and other surface treatments. I did some preliminary tests and found that Lumiere paints from Jacquard does dry on baked Fimo Leather, but not on unbaked. So you could not use that brand of paint for unbaked veneers.
Craft paint sticks readily and doesn’t come off easily. Though I did find that silkscreens had trouble printing cleanly on the textured surface of both baked and unbaked clay.
The textured surface also means that image transfers may not work cleanly. But I didn’t get a chance to try it. Let me know if you try it.
Applying mica powders to unbaked Fimo Leather has some truly wonderful possibilities. This will give you a metallic or iridescent faux leather to use in your crafts. Because the texture shows through the mica, it makes the surface more shimmery and sparkly than the usually-smooth surface of regular polymer clay.
Extruding Fimo Leather
The fibers in Fimo Leather do strange things when they go through an extruder. They pop out, making it look hairy. See what I mean?
Now that can be an advantage, however! It makes it look remarkably like suede lacing. I tried extruding various sizes and shapes and it made some interesting “lacing”. I can see where this might be useful as a decorative accent.
But unfortunately, the lacing is too stiff to be practical and far too weak to be useful. It breaks easily. And the “hairs” are stiff, making this impractical for skin contact. But keep it in your mind. I’m sure someone will find a good use for this technique.
Fimo Leather is a fun novelty, but it will not become part of our “normal” clay toolkit the way that Sculpey Souffle has. It has some neat features, but also some annoying drawbacks. The texture is cool. It is unique in the clay world and it makes some new things possible such as fingerprint reduction, fun marbling effects, and automatic texture. But it’s not as flexible, elastic, and tear-resistant as I think it should be. It doesn’t have the fibrous, flexible strength that leather has. It’s not supple.
It’s perfect for making key fobs, bookmarks, journal covers, barrettes, hair accessories, leather-look pendants and the like. It will allow you to make faux leather crafting sheets with marbled or mica-enhanced designs. Unlike regular polymer, that we use to make decorative panels on a journal, this material could be used to make the entire cover of a journal. My Bullet-Journalling husband was all over this!
I see this material as a sheet-making material more than one which you’d use for making sculptures. Because this product is made from vinyl, I can see where it gives a viable cruelty-free faux leather option for craft materials.
In short, it’s not a whole lot stronger than sheets of other brands of polymer clay (if at all), and the fun novelty is the texture.
Where to Buy Fimo Leather
I don’t yet know of any suppliers of Fimo Leather in North America. So far it only seems to be available in Europe. Good suppliers are Hobbyrian from Sweden and Happy Things from The Netherlands, both will ship to the US. Clayaround in the UK will ship to the UK and the EU. I’ve worked with them all and they’re great suppliers.