In the 20 years that I’ve worked with polymer clay, a constant frustration has always been that clay is too hard, crumbly, or difficult to smooth out. I’m used to having to soften my clay to get a smooth sheet. Stickiness was a rarity. But right now, most people are working with clay that’s fresh from the factory. That means new makers are facing a whole host of problems and perhaps getting some pretty poor advice from fellow makers. Here are some tidbits to consider.
Sticking in Cutters – If your clay is sticky, it’s too soft. Also, you should keep your clay stable by laying it on a glossy work surface. Then it won’t stick in the cutters as much. Then you lift the clay with your blade (here’s how). Basic cutter shapes should not require any sort of release (such as water, cornstarch, or leather spray). Even complex cutter shapes should work well if the cutter is made properly and you adhere the clay to the work surface. Here’s a whole article on dealing with sticking in cutters.
Distortion – If you can’t lift your pieces with a blade, your clay is too soft! The same goes if you can’t transfer your pieces to a baking tray without stretching and distorting them.
Pits on the back – Yes, you should bake your pieces on paper. But if the clay is too soft, you will still get bubbles trapped behind the clay. The clay shouldn’t droop onto the paper.
Bubbles – Sticky clay will stick to your pasta machine rollers and pull the sheet apart a bit, causing little blisters that expand in the oven to make “polymer acne”.
How to Solve this Problem?
Freezing your clay can help, but it’s temporary and attracts moisture which causes more problems. Cornstarch can help, but it can leave a white residue and prevent the clay from attaching to itself in later steps.
It’s much better to make sure your clay is the right consistency before you start working. If it’s too soft, leach it! Not sure what leaching is? You can learn about leaching in this article.
And while we’re at it, when new makers are used to too-fresh clay, they later freak out when faced with any stiffness or crumbling in clay. They’re then told to add clay softener or oil which…you guessed it…just makes things sticky again.
Learn to make your clay STIFFER! How stiff should the clay be? It’s a matter of personal preference, of course, and some brands are definitely always going to be softer or firmer than others. But generally, you should not be running into any of the problems you see listed here. Properly prepared polymer clay should hold its shape and never droop with gravity.
Get some paper and start leaching. It will take a bit to get used to the new texture, but you’ll find much less distortion and be able to work more neatly.
Sand better, not harder
Everyone loves a perfectly smooth, glassy finish, but it seems to be elusive. Does your polymer clay look scratched and rough after sanding? This course will change everything.