Skinner Blend Tips

If you try making a skinner blend with too little clay, it will get wider and skinnier like this.No, that’s not a rainbow striped tube worm. That’s a sad, sad skinner blend. And most of us have had this happen, especially when we first started working with polymer clay. A skinner blend is the name for a method of creating sheets of clay in graduated colors. There are lots and lots of ways to create them, from the original triangle method by Judith Skinner to more free-form methods such as the teardrop blend. You can even just jam the colors together into a general rectangle-shaped sheet and go from there. But there are a few skinner blend tips that I learned which can help you get better results and that aren’t typically mentioned when this blend is taught.

Use Enough Clay

Polymer clay costs money and nobody wants to mess up a whole big bunch by making a bad skinner blend. So it’s very temping to make a blend with a small amount of clay. The problem with that is it doesn’t give you very much to work with, leaving you with a very short sheet. I’d say that making a blend with any less than a 1/4 of a block is asking for trouble. Even then, it will take diligent care to get such a small amount to work. Until you learn the process, use between a half and a block of clay, total, to make your skinner blend. That sad tube worm blend up there was mainly problematic because I used such a small amount of clay.

Test the Blend

Always test your color blends so you won't have ugly surprises.

Even when you understand color, polymer clay colors can blend together in ways that you don’t expect. Before creating a large skinner blend, take a minute to combine small pieces of each of your component colors. Mix up a small dab to see how the colors will mix in the blend.

One day I was inspired by a glorious sunset and I came home with idea to make a blend from purple to yellow through orange to magenta. In my mind it was gorgeous. But when I made it, I was shocked to find that most of the blend was a dull brown. What happened? Well, if I’d done this quick test I would have instantly seen that purple and yellow make a dull, brown that really belongs in a diaper, not a sunset.

Use Width Limiters

Another problem with that sad skinner blend up there is that I didn’t do anything to limit the width. As you roll any sheet of clay through the pasta machine over and over, it will gradually expand in width. This is normal. But it can be very frustrating when making a skinner blend.

To avoid this problem, you can limit the width of your rollers. You could use a roll of magnets or magnetic beads. Using scrap clay, you could make a width limiter. Here’s another one made from clay. Or use magnets and clay together in this neat trick. Or try cutting wooden dowels to various lengths. You could just use your finger. Or you could use a block of clay. Yes, just set a block of clay on top of the rollers. It works great to keep the sheet from getting wider. And everyone has a block of clay sitting around!You can limit the width of your skinner blends by using a block of clay on the rollers. More skinner blend tips at The Blue Bottle Tree.

Line Up the Fold Properly

When making a graduated color blended sheet, you pass the sheet through the pasta machine in the same direction over and over. After each pass, you fold the sheet and put it through again. Be very, very careful how you line up that sheet. The top of the sheet will almost always not be even. Sometimes, especially if you’re working quickly and don’t put the sheet into the machine evenly, the sheet will come out skewed. If the top and bottom edge are slanted, it will be very easy to try to line up the two slanted edges. Don’t do this! Pay very close attention to the sides of your sheet. Always keep the sides parallel to each other.

Learn why this skinner blend isn't going to work. More skinner blend tips at The Blue Bottle Tree.
This sheet is skewed. If I try to line up the top and bottom edges , this causes the colors to overlap too much and the resulting blend will be muddy.
Always line up the side edges, even when the sheet's top and bottom edges don't match.
Instead, line up the side edges, making sure they are parallel. Even if the top and bottom edges are totally out of whack, if the sides are right, the blend will be right. Note how the colors lie on top of each other properly.

Line Up Your Stripes

All pasta machines stretch the clay as it comes through. So when you create the fold, one edge is often wider than the other. Take care to line up the edges and if you’re doing a striped blend, make sure the stripes line up too. Ease in any excess clay. This can sometimes mean you have a little ripple. That’s okay it will flatten out in the pasta machine and be in the right place.

Make sure you line up your skinner blend stripes with each pass.

What Are Your Skinner Blend Tips?

Have you figured out a cool ways to avoid problems when making skinner blends and graduated color blend sheets? Do you have a favorite method that you use that really makes a difference in your results? Share your best skinner blend tips in the comments. I can’t wait to read them!

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32 thoughts on “Skinner Blend Tips”

  1. Thanks for revisting this on the recent instagram post. I still use fingers for my spacers, but will give the dowels a shot. I still set up my Skinner blends the way Mike Buessler did it. Makes a good precise blend. Doing the triangle method, and inverting the second layer on top of the first layer, rather than double stacking.

  2. Thank you! I just noticed a beautiful bracelet made with a skinner blend the long way and asked her how she did that. She promptly gave me your link. Should have known! I love your site and thought I had read most of your articles. However, this one got past me. As a newbie I appreciate your advice so much!
    Thank you!

  3. Ginger, you are the best. This article is probably written some times ago, still it was new for me, and I am so glad I have found it. The tipp with magnets, just great, and working, too. I can finally make a Skinner blend! And I was wondering all time what is it that I am doing wrong!!! Every single time I got that poor rainbow worm, more or less:-(. But when I have narrowed that working width it was like magic.
    I understand now also that I have been using too small amounts of clay…
    Anyway, great article, thank you for sharing … 🙂

  4. I have a Shark from Dan. It does not work on a pasta machine that has had the fenders removed.

  5. Thanks for some great hints, Ginger. Even with a DREAM machine the sheets don’t roll evenly. One thing the DREAM has that I like are adjustable stoppers to make the clay as narrow as you want.

      1. A clay buddy gave me the tip for uneven rollers:
        Flip the clay horizontally each time thru.
        It worked great for me.

  6. Thank you, Ginger, and the commenters, for all of these great tips! I like the 1 inch dowel cut into segments for a width limiter; I will try that. Much quicker than making polymer and magnet pieces, as interesting as those sound.

    I have done a few Skinners, but I tend to use only 2 or 3 colours so far. I guess I need to go past my comfort level and try a rainbow or two. Being rather compulsive about such things, I will probably keep very careful records about which colours created what result. Has anyone else done that? Maybe we could share our results, so that others can see what has worked and what hasn’t?

  7. I’d love to get my hands on a SHARK tool. I read on their Facebook page that they’re refining the manufacturing process and will start stocking some soon (though that was back in February). For the most part I just use my fingers on one side to sort of force the clay strip to stay narrow. It does get inconvenient though. I’ll give the magnets a try!

  8. Great tips, Ginger! I used to use blocks of clay to keep my blends from spreading, but I wanted something that didn’t try to jump out of the pasta machine while spinning the rollers. I got a 1-inch diameter dowel and cut it in a variety of lengths. (Be sure to smooth the ends, btw.) Now I can choose the perfect length dowel for my blend and it sits well-behaved on the rollers.

    1. This is just what I need. I have dowels and will make spacers asap. Limiiting width has always been a problem for me.
      Lining up the edges instead of the tops is also going to help me a lot. Thanks, ladies.

  9. Great tips! Someone once told me to flip the blend horizontally each time to keep it roughly rectangular. Rollers are often slightly closer together at one end compared to the other, so this helps to minimise stretching on just one side. It mostly works unless you have very contrasting colours.

  10. I’m still laughing about the brown that belongs in a diaper, Ginge. I know well the color of which you speak!

    Here’s my tip for Skinner blends: when they begin to get a little wonky and the top is uneven, I gently pull and stretch it until it once again resembles a rectangle. Doing this a few times while making a Skinner blend, I can end up with a much neater, even piece that’s easier to work with and the colors line up again.

    You mentioned the triangle and tear.drop methods; I’d recently been using the “foldover” method: I fold one each in half, and where the edges meet, I insert the next color into it so that the edges of the next color are pinched inside the edges of the previous color. (Wow; it’s not easy to explain with words; I hope that made sense!)

  11. Excellent advice Ginger. I am guilty of not lining up my sheets correctly from time to time and I think it is just laziness or I’m in too big of a hurry. I have learned to slow down and my blends are getting better!

  12. Thanks Ginger! I’ve been making skinner blends for years a I still learned some things here. Your help is always appreciated!

  13. If I’d known you were doing this article, I could have contributed my vast collection of over 4,000 Skinner-Blend-Gone-Bads for educational purposes. You’re absolutely right, it is EASY to get a bad Skinner blend, and a little more complicated to do it right, so thanks for clearing that up for all of us! As usual when I get an email from Blue Bottle Tree, I automatically turn my printer on and warm it up, because I know your article will be crucial in completing my Polymer Clay Tips file! Thanks again!!!!

  14. Thanks Ginger! These are great tips and after all these years doing clay, These are new tips for me! I love your blog and read it often.

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