Friday, September 6, 2013

Sharing something to make

From time to time, I have a chance to share something that may (or may not) be of use to polymer clay people and other artisans.  Today, I have a little something that I have been using for years and it might be helpful to some of you.  I used to make these out of darning needles, but have found a less expensive method.  Once you read through all my 'blah-gging' you can make the tool.  I use them all the time.  Needle tools are very useful in teaching polymer clay, and a good supply of them can be a costly expense. 

I often have classes in schools or camps where children are involved, and although the item I will be featuring is probably not for GENERAL child use, it has been safely used by children when they are supervised, and can even be made by them, thus encouraging them to come up with ways to be creative and inventive.  (As if some of them need encouragement, lol!)

When I was a girl of maybe five or so, I wasn't allowed to play with my mom's scissors, because they were for cloth and dressmaking only, not for cutting paper.  So I found a way to trim pieces of paper to sizes that I could use.  Later in life, I found that concept utilized in a commercially manufactured machine...yet I had "invented" it for my own personal use over forty years earlier. 

With that being said, over the course of my acquaintance with polymer clay, I have fixed and made many 'useful commodities' known only to me and a few close friends.  Polymer clay works wonderfully for me and maybe it will be useful for you too. 

Of course, I have many purchased tools and gizmos that I use in my clay playing, but some of my favourites are the 'el cheapos' that I either find amongst my goodies or make from scratch.  This tool is one of those.

Here is the finished tool:
It is a simple needle tool or awl, that can be used for making holes in leather, for poking holes in signatures in bookmaking, for boring holes in polymer clay beads before curing, and as a decorating tool for creating scratches, impressions, and carvings in unbaked polymer.  I venture to say that with a blunt tip, it could also be used by folk art painters to add those little dots that are oh so necessary for embellishing paintings.

To make the tool, you will need
a thin wire clothes hanger, the kind you get from the dry cleaners
some heavy duty wire cutters
needle nose or other small pliers
a bench grinder with a grinding wheel
safety glasses
thin gauge wire (I used 20 gauge)
floral tape or masking tape (6 - 10 inches)
polymer clay, some scrap and a small amount of your favourite color
clay cane slices (optional)

Here are the steps:
Using the heavy duty wire cutters, cut the clothes hanger into approximately four inch pieces.  You can make many (about 10 or more) tools from one hanger.
Once you have cut your wires, the fun begins.  Wearing safety goggles, burnish one end of each stiff wire by sharpening it along the grinding stone of your bench grinder.  It's fun because when the sparks fly, you'd think you've invented sparklers!  You need to angle the wire a bit to get a nice point, and it's important to twirl the wire a bit to get an even point on the end of the wire.  If you are making several, (which I do) they will be done in minutes. 
Even if the wires are a bit 'crooked' they can still be used, because much of the wire will be incorporated into the handle of the 'awl' or needle tool.
Cut approximately 8 inches of 20 gauge wire and wrap it about six times around the non-sharpened end of the wire.  Make a short loop, and then rewind the remaining wire over the other wire.
Starting on the wrapped business, tightly wrap some floral tape all the length of the loop and the wire, securing it to the wire.  If you don't have floral tape, masking tape works just as well.
Once the thin wire is completely encased in either masking or floral tape, it is time to start covering the tape with some polymer clay.  First I use a small amount (about a 3/4 inch size sphere) of scrap clay, well conditioned, and rolled to a fairly thin sheet.  I cover the taped up part securely and form it into a smooth handle.  It doesn't have any curly end to it, just a cigar shape with a slightly pointed end.  Then I roll a thin sheet of a coloured clay, which can be embellished with a few cane slices. Trim this to approximately 2 inches by 3 inches, or large enough to cover all the scrap clay. Place the decorated side of this sheet face down on the work surface.  Cover the scrap clay with the decorated clay and seal the edges.  If desired, you can elongate the end to a fine point and roll it up like a spiral as I have done.  I added my name stamp to the side of the holder, flattening it just a bit.
Bake the tool in a pre-set oven (270 degrees Fahrenheit) for approximately thirty minutes.  Allow it to cool and you are ready to roll...beads or whatever.