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Metal Clay Weaving Tutorial

Margaret Schindel is a jewelry artist and internationally known expert on metal clay techniques. PMC certified in 2006 by Celie Fago.

Learn to make beautiful woven metal jewelry by weaving metal clay strips cut from thin, flexible sheet clay in this illustrated step-by-step tutorial.

Learn to make beautiful woven metal jewelry by weaving metal clay strips cut from thin, flexible sheet clay in this illustrated step-by-step tutorial.

Create Beautiful Woven Metal Jewelry With Flexible Metal Clay

Weaving adds a wonderful textural element to metal jewelry designs. Metal clay weaving is done most often with fine silver metal clay paper (PMC Sheet and Art Clay Silver Paper Type) that can be cut into strips and woven using traditional weaving techniques. You can also use a clay that remains flexible when dry, such as PMC Flex or Aussie Clay Silver, that has been rolled out into very thin sheets and trimmed into squares or rectangles. Since this clay doesn't adhere to itself readily, it might require more water and pressure or even a little slip to attach the strips where they overlap.

Always use water sparingly when you're working with fine silver metal clay paper. Too much moisture will make it dissolve, so use only a damp (not wet) brush to moisten areas to be attached and then press down firmly for a few seconds to ensure a secure bond.

If you prefer to use a metal other than silver, you can try substituting paper-thin sheets of one of the flexible clay formulas from Aussie Metal Clay or Hadar's Clay that remain flexible after drying and are designed to be used with the Silhouette electronic cutting machine. Just make sure to use firm pressure and a bit more water than you would with fine silver metal clay paper when joining the ends of the strips to the backing sheet.

Patience, Precision, and Practice

This technique requires some patience and precision to get the best results, but it is not difficult to master and is another way to add texture to your metal clay designs.

I highly recommend that you start by practicing this tutorial using plain paper in place of silver clay sheet and glue in place of water, which will help you get the hang of the weaving technique before you try it with costly silver clay.

Materials, Tools, Supplies and Equipment for Weaving Silver Metal Clay

Here is what you will need to weave metal clay.

Materials:

  • PMC+ Sheet, square or long, Art Clay Silver Paper Type, or PMC Flex silver clay or other suitable flexible-when-dry clay rolled paper thin.

Tools and Supplies:

  • Self-healing cutting mat
  • Sharp craft knife (e.g., X-ACTO)
  • Ruler
  • Adjustable-blade strip cutter or a stabilized tissue blade
  • Water (preferably distilled, but tap water will do)
  • Container for water
  • Small, round, natural bristle watercolor brush
  • Synthetic bristle "bright" brush (flat brush)
  • Clay cutters / shape cutters (optional)
  • Liver of sulfur patina supplies and a 6" length of steel binding wire or brass wire (optional)
  • Brass brush with soft, crimped brass wire bristles for burnishing the fired metal clay
  • 3M micron graded wet/dry polishing paper, pink (3 micron/4000 grit)

Equipment:

Kiln or butane kitchen torch for firing fine silver clay, or recommended firing set-up for other metal clay formulas.

Advantages of Using an Adjustable Blade Strip Cutter

While it is possible to cut the metal clay sheet into warp and weft strips with a stabilized tissue blade (or even a scalpel or sharp craft knife), I highly recommend using an adjustable blade strip cutter. The one I use is the Excel Dual Flex Cutter Set, which comes with the two blades it requires. You can adjust the distance between the blades to width you want your strips to be, so that all the strips you cut will be exactly the same width. This makes your woven metal pieces look much neater, more attractive and more professional. Just line up one blade along the outer edge of the metal clay sheet to cut your first strip, and then line it up with the previous cut line to cut the rest of your strips. It's small, convenient, easy to store, and replacement blades are readily available.

Rio Grande also sells a larger Adjustable-Blade Strip-Cutting Tool For Metal Clay for this purpose that has five adjustable blades.

Weaving Terminology

Since weaving any material involves interlacing two different sets of strips, horizontal and vertical, I'm going to borrow the textile weaving terms as shorthand for distinguishing between them.

Fabrics are made by weaving two sets of yarns or threads in an interlocking pattern:

  • The warp is a set of parallel yarns or threads that are stretched tightly across a loom to create a firm base for the fabric.
  • The weft is a separate yarn or thread that is worked at right angles to the warp. The weft is woven over and under the warp threads on one row, and then under and over the same threads on the next row. This alternating pattern interlocks the threads to create the woven fabric.
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In metal clay weaving, strips of clay take the place of the yarn or thread.

Metal clay weaving - warp and weft strips

Metal clay weaving - warp and weft strips

Preparing the Metal Clay Warp Sheet

To create your warp, place a sheet of metal clay paper or a prepared paper-thin sheet of flexible metal clay on a self-healing cutting mat and trim it to size. It should be a little wider and longer than you want your finished fine silver weaving (or "fabric") to be before firing, keeping in mind that it will shrink during firing.

Keep in mind that the lump metal clay you choose for the backing sheet, more than the size of the warp, will determine how much smaller the finished piece will be after firing. I've put together a metal clay shrinkage rate chart for the majority of metal clay brands and formulas.

Also decide how wide you want your woven strips to be, again allowing for shrinkage. Cutting them all the same width will result in an even weave. An uneven weave made with strips of varying widths can produce some interesting effects, but I recommend starting with an even weave until you've had some practice.

Measure and Mark the Stop Line and Optional Cutting Lines

  1. Using a soft pencil, measure and lightly mark a one-strip-wide "stop line" along one of the short edges of the metal clay sheet.
  2. If you will not be using an adjustable blade strip cutter, also lightly mark lengthwise cutting guidelines that begin at the "stop line" and continue to the end of the sheet.
Metal clay weaving - warp sheet with lightly penciled stop line and optional cutting guidelines.

Metal clay weaving - warp sheet with lightly penciled stop line and optional cutting guidelines.

Cut the Warp Strips

The fastest, easiest, and most accurate way to cut both the warp and weft strips is with an adjustable five-blade strip cutter or a much less expensive adjustable dual blade cutter (see the list of tools, above). These types of cutters allow you to set the spacing of the blades to a fixed width, so the strips are identical and the width is consistent from one end to the other. Line up the tips of the blades at the "stop" line and slide the cutter the entire length of the sheet, aligning the outer blade with the outer edge of the sheet. To cut additional strips, line up the outer blade with the last cut.

If you are using a ruler and a craft knife with a sharp cutting blade, slice your strips along the penciled guidelines using a ruler and a craft knife with a sharp cutting blade, beginning at the "stop" line. The strips must remain securely attached, like fringes (see illustration).

If you are using a stabilized tissue blade*, line up the cutting edge along one of the penciled guidelines, with one end of the blade against the "stop" line. Press down firmly at both ends of the blade. To make the cleanest cut, wiggle the stabilized edge while continuing to press down on it, then lift the blade straight up. Note: Do not use a blade that has not been stabilized for this purpose or you will not get perfectly straight cuts.