DIY Craft: How to Make a Pretty Polymer Clay Shawl Pin and Stick
Shawl pins are popular among knitters and are used to hold a shawl in place or decorate a knitted sweater. These pins are made from a variety of materials and come in many styles. But you may be surprised at how easy it is to make your own out of polymer clay from your local craft store!
The internet is full of tutorials on how to make fancy clay designs, but a lot of these require expensive tools like pasta makers and a lot of detail work. My design is easy and accessible for the polymer clay beginner! The only tools needed are some items you already have around the house. This project is quick and perfect for making a pin to go with your favorite shawl or sweater.
Choosing and Working with Polymer Clay
There are a number of brands of polymer clay and most are available at your local craft store. I've only worked with a couple (Sculpey and Fimo). The only advice I can offer is to pick all your clay from one brand. The different brands of clay are not meant to be mixed or used together.
I used Sculpey for my pin. I like Sculpey because it is soft, easy to work with, and comes in many colors. You can also blend the colors together to change the color or make new ones. Just like with paint, if you add blue clay to red clay and knead them together, you can create purple clay.
Ginger Davis Allman has some simple but important tips on her blog about working with polymer clay. These are very helpful if you've never worked with the clay before.
Gather Some "Tools" from Around the House
Craft stores sell tools specifically for working with polymer clay, but you don't really need anything fancy. Here's my list of suggested items to use as tools:
- poster board or a coated piece of cardboard to use as a work surface, like the board that comes in a man's shirt when you buy it
- a plastic knife
- a pointy tool, like a wooden skewer or knitting needle (the clay shouldn't damage your needle if you clean it after using it)
- a thick dowel to use as a rolling pin
- various lids from different size jars or other items to use as tracing templates or like cookie cutters
IMPORTANT: Do not use any items from your kitchen. You should not use your tools for food preparation after using them with your clay.
First Step - Making the Circle
The first step is to choose your colors. I used plum, purple, a little bit of blue, and translucent clay. Using your knife, cut off a thin slice of clay off the long edge of your block. (if you are using the translucent, cut a thicker piece of this color. It tends to disappear if used in thin amounts). Sandwich your colors together in the order you want them to appear.
Cut your sandwich in half the short way and put your two pieces together in a thicker sandwich. I placed mine together so that the plum was on the outside edge on both sides of my sandwich (see middle photo above). Squeeze your sandwich together with your fingers around the outside edges, blending together the colors around the edge.
Then cut your resulting roll in half, like you were slicing bread. Try any cut it in equal pieces, but it doesn't have to be very neat or clean. Put your two open halves together in a mirror image, like a butterfly. Squeeze the two pieces together so they stick in the middle.
Now use your roller (dowel) to smooth out the surface of your clay pancake. Roll it until your clay is uniformly about 1/4 inch thick. Use your fingers to shape the outside edge roughly into whatever shape you want your finally pin to be (round, oval, square, etc).
Now, to mix up the colors more on the surface of your pin (this is optional), cut your pancake into vertical strips.
Mix up these pieces by putting the left hand piece on the right, turning some pieces upside down, maybe turning some over, so that the lines of color through your clay surface are jostled. Squish around the edges of your clay so this new arrangement of colors sticks together.
Roll over your clay to make a smooth surface and form the final shape of your pin. Make sure the lines of your pieces disappear - you may need to blend them some with your fingers. You should make sure your clay piece is at least 3 inches in each direction for your finished pin. Your clay should be no thicker than 1/4 inch. To stretch your clay, roll from the center out to the edges in all directions, like you were rolling a pie crust.
Shaping Your Finished Pin
Once your top surface is smooth and looking the way you want, you can use your fingers to shape your pin, or trace around an object. Jar lids can be used both as a template for tracing or like a cookie cutter by pressing into the clay. For other shapes, try tracing a small food container or cosmetic case (eyeshadow, blush) to get an oval or more rectangular shape to your pin. Smooth your outside edges with your finger or a small tool for a finished look.
Then use a smaller object to trace and make a hole in the center of your pin. Keep the center piece that you have cut out, you will use this for your stick. When cutting out the center, make sure your hole is at least 2 inches in one direction, and the walls of your "donut" are about 1/2 inch wide. If the walls/edge of your pin are too narrow, it may crack.
After cutting out the center of your pin, this is a good time to stretch your pin (gently) if you want to make it a little bit bigger in size. Then smooth all your surfaces, including the inside edges of the center with your finger or a tool. Take some time to make sure your pin is smooth and neat. Unfortunately, the baking process tends to bring out any imperfections. Then gently set aside your pin to start working on your stick.
If All Fails, Don't Despair!
If at any point, you don't like how your pieces look - don't worry. Take your unbaked pin, break it apart, and roll it into a long coil. Shape your coil into any form you want (circle, oval, teardrop, square, etc). Join the ends and smooth the seam very carefully. Make a stick and bake them. Now you've made a simple pin you can wear with pride!
Making the Stick for Your Pin
To begin the stick for your pin, take a small piece of extra clay and roll it into a log that is about 2 inches long. This stick does not need to be even or pretty.
Take the clay piece you cut out of the center of your pin, and cut it into little pieces (see middle photo above). Place these little pieces along the length of your clay stick, both on the front and back. You can save one piece of your pin center to use as a decoration on the top of your stick (optional).
Roll your stick so your little pieces merge onto your starting log in a marbleized color pattern. Roll your stick with your fingers, moving up and down the length. Apply more pressure at one end so it becomes pointy.
Your finished stick should be about 5 1/2 inches to 6 inches in length and no more than 1/4 inch thick at its widest point. Once my stick was shaped, I put my finger on the top wide part to hold it in place, and rolled the rest of the stick a bit to twist the colors (optional). Then you can decorate the top of your stick with a ball made from your left over clay. I made a slanted surface to the top of my stick and pressed a small ball of translucent clay into it as a finishing touch.
Baking Your Clay and Wearing Your Pin
Bake both clay pieces according to the manufacture's instructions. I like to use my toaster oven and place my pieces on my oven tray, covered in aluminum foil. After baking, let the pieces cool completely before touching or wearing them.
This shawl pin should only be worn with knitted items that have a loose enough texture to accept the thickness of the stick. Do not force the stick through your fabric. You will damage your material and you might break your pin :)
Questions & Answers
© 2013 Donna Herron