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
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!
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.
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.
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!