Anyone who’s worked with polymer clay, or any medium, or even cooked for that matter will be familiar with the concept of leftovers or scrap. If you’re not, I applaud you, you’re amazing! I’m most definitely not one of those people, with clay or cooking, but the cooking is a different story. Today, let’s talk about clay.
When I first started using clay, my scrap clay lot was usually larger than all the fresh clay I had (this was before I started obsessively stocking up clay as though I was preparing for a clay draught). Eventually I started trying out some techniques that use scrap clay like Natasha beads and swirly lentils. And I discovered more techiques. And then some more. My scrap clay stash kept diminishing and the box became smaller and smaller. Now all my scrap fits in a baby food box!
With all my experimenting, I’ve found that certain techniques are more suited for certain “types” of scrap. What do I mean my types of scrap? Well here’s how I categorize scrap.
1. Distorted cane or cane end with fairly graphic design and good contrast
Make Natasha beads! I know many clay artists go through a phase where they accumulate tons of these and then stop altogether because they don’t know what to with them. I went through that phase too and I have many orphan beads sitting in my bead bucket. But they make wonderful pendants, and would make a matching focal piece with beads made from the same cane. The larger ones also make nice key chains. Take a look at the hand drills Ginger Davis Allman made with Natasha bead handles.
(Random fact: I collect key chains almost as obsessively as magnets. I have over a hundred key chains of all types and sizes, some of which are over fifteen years old.)
Also, a note on why I called out graphic design. If the cane pattern is too fine or busy, there’s a chance that the resulting bead won’t have the cleanest pattern. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t care for this type of result very much. You can see what I mean in the picture below, the lot on the left are all Natasha beads. The one on the left has a nice bold pattern highlighted by the contrast and is the best example of the technique according to me. The others are too busy or too blobby for my liking. To some extent you can control how fine grained the design gets by twisting the clay less (watch the tutorial to know what I mean). But I don’t bother, since there are so many more things to do with scrap clay!
Oh and Julie Picarello has a “lizard tail” technique in her book that’s a fun spin on a Natasha bead. The lot on the right were made with this technique. Here’s a lovely example of the technique by 2 Good Claymates.
Natasha beads on the left and lizard tail pendants on the right
Also, lentil beads!! Here’s a video where Cindy Leitz demonstrates how to make these. I’ve included a picture here of a slice from the original mandala cane and Natasha beads and lentils from the scrap, just to give an idea of what I started with. Any technique from this post didn’t work out? Swirl it!
Original cane slice with Natasha bead and lentils from cane scraps
2. Distorted cane or cane end with lots of colors
This can also make a cool Natasha bead, but try this stripes pattern sheet (alternate tutorial here). The sheet in turn can be used to make beads like this and this. Or you can manipulate the sheet to make a chevron pattern, bargello, or a fabric like pattern. Ooh or use a combing technique (the link suggests the Sculpey tool, but any comb works)! Or make two sheets with different colors alternate between strips from each like so. Here’s another tutorial that starts with a sheet and manipulates it to make a sheet of faux Peruvian fabric.
Beads with striped sheets
Okay this category seems to warrant a blog post by itself, but I found the pieces below when I was putting together torpedo bead samples for this post. The stripes sheet makes fabulous Ikat patterns! The same sheet that was used for the multicolor torpedo beads was used to make an Ikat block. And check out Cindy Leitz’s scrappy hearts tutorial. You can see the front and back of a heart I made in the picture with blue pieces.
Ikat pieces and torpedo beads made with scrappy stripes
The swanwalk cane is also a good candidate for any kind of cane scrap. You need a fair length of the cane for this though, the effect isn’t very interesting otherwise. I had a fair bit of trouble with this, and I’m still not happy with my results. The effect is gorgeous if done right! Here’s a fun assembled kaleidoscope project that covered wooden beads from Teresa Pandora Salgado.
Scrappy hearts, ikat and lentils from blue scraps; Swanwalk cane pieces
3. Flower cane ends or petal cane ends
I recently was in a mood to make a flower cane and generated a bunch of scrap. Now most flower cane will involve making a petal cane and then assembling a flower. Don’t discard the petal trimmings! If you can manage to get a few petal slices, assemble them together to form a flower, like Katie shows here. You can also assemble the flower as shown in this tutorial. Oh and those tiny cane ends with the center sucked in? They look so dimensional and pretty! Make them into earrings, or pendants.
Earrings and pendants made with flower cane ends and scraps
4. Imperfect cane slices
These can usually be used to fill in gaps in a patterned sheet or bead. But if you do have some left over, don’t wad them up and toss them in the junk pile. Stroppel it! Now I admit, I tried this only very recently, and now I’m wondering why I never did before.
Make sure the black clay is very thin so that the cane slices are highlighted nicely. In other words, don’t do what I’ve done here! I still kind of like the pattern, so I thought I’ll include the picture here. Here’s how it looks when done right. You don’t have a make a cane. Piecing together random slices can still look pretty great.
Remember how I said anything can make great lentil beads? See my swirled Stroppel earrings and pendant here! This was made from some imperfect slices I got when I was covering up the bangle. The earrings were made from a single lentil bead that was cut in half using a fun trick I stumbled across when making samples for this post. I’ll write about that in another post.
Stroppel bangle and lentils
5. Remaining part of any sheet
If the sheet is a blend of some sort, you can use Cindy Leitz’s method of combining the scraps to make a smaller whole sheet. The oval beads below were made from trimmed bits off a multicolored blend, you can see how I lost some of the yellow in there, but these have a nice painterly effect I think. Such scraps would make great stripes as well. But here’s another cool thing you can do with a patterned sheet. Grab a bunch of itty bitty cutters and cut out as many little shapes as you can. Then you can assemble these into some great post earrings by just smushing the cutouts together in any formation you like! I’d made a big bunch of these actually, but they turned out to be pretty popular, so I’ve given away the others I made. I apologize for the bad picture, I haven’t come up with a good solution to prop up these earrings to photograph them together.
Post earrings made from pattern sheet cutouts
You don’t have to go the post earrings route. Slightly larger pieces make pretty dangles. The smaller ones can be used for nice mosaic beads or flat pendant pieces. This mosaic pendant uses tiny glass tiles, but you could absolutely use prebaked clay tiles.
6. Trimmings from a striped stack or block
Okay that striped block might be getting manipulated for the most fabulous mokume gane or bargello of some sort, but you know what, the trimmings make pretty great beads too. Here are some fun simple striped beads. The mica clay ones were made from the most wispy scraps you can imagine. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of what they looked like when I started, but believe me, no one would have believed the little tendrils of clay came together to make these gorgeous beads. I just laid the bits n pieces out on a sheet of scrap clay and ran it through the pasta machine through thinner and thinner settings till the sheet was smooth. As long as you keep rolling in the direction of the stripes, there won’t be any distortion.
Beads made from scraps of striped blocks
7. Left over mica clay
Ooh this is a fun one that I just tried. If you have a wad of mostly mica clay with different colors all together, grate it. You heard me, take a (dedicated) grater and chop ’em up. Then gently gather the grated clay and form a sheet with it. I don’t recommend many passes through the pasta machine, you don’t want the mica particles all aligned. The variation produces a lovely shaded effect. Here’s some of mine from mica shift experiment leftovers. Trust me, the pictures do not do the effect justice (though I tried with creepy close up where my fingers look huge). Each little bit of color has such depth to it! These were custom colors that I mixed up too, so it’s extra special! Well to me anyway!
You just can’t go wrong with mica clay, it looks fabulous no matter what you do it. After two lots of grating scraps, I got bored and smushed all my leftovers together. I really liked the effect, so I made the orange pink piece on left simply by rolling out the lot and cutting out a piece. I tried mica shift on the green scrap and that came out pretty well too! The mica pattern doesn’t stand out as much as it would with a solid color, but it’s a fun variation. When I got bored of that as well I just blended all the clay to form some pretty colors. I rolled that into a thin snake, coiled that randomly, formed it into a log and cut off slices. I love the 3D effect this makes!
Remaining mica shift rolled out and with Mica shift (left); leftover blended clay manipulated for a 3D effect
8.Chunks of solid colored clay
If you can rescue even a bit of your original clay, it’s definitely a good idea to try that and add it back to the main clay stash. It may not seem like a lot, but eventually these scraps add up to a fair bit of clay. It’s a good idea to periodically go over your work surface and “reshelve” any spare bits of clay you find. These rescued solid scraps are also great for some project down the road that requires a “pinch” of some color, like this chrysanthemum cane. You won’t have to break open a fresh block of clay for that.
A popular recommendation for this kind of scrap is to try mixing custom colors. Now I like to have a reasonable amount of clay when I try this and use precise amounts of clay that I can record and replicate later if I fall in love with a color. But it is fun to come up with new custom shades. Katers Acres has a good example of using scraps to mix custom colors. Another illustration here. I did smush up some leftover mica clay and make the lovely pale pink and bronzish color you see in the picture on the bead on the left.
Custom colors that were made by mixing scraps
9. Clay scraps that form color groups
If you have a bits of clay that are too small to be bundled back with the original color but can be separated into reasonable color buckets like red, green etc, there are some tutorials that use this. There’s a free magic swirls cane tutorial from Deb Hart on CraftArtEdu. That technique is based on Donna Kato’s starry nights cane (tutorial can be seen in her book) that also uses chopped clay (see a sample here). Now I hadn’t tried this for ages, thinking it needs too much clay. After writing the first draft of this post, I mixed up some different shades for a retro cane and had some left over color. I didn’t want to reshelve the new colors or store them separately, so gave the swirls cane a try. I made a pretty decent sized cane with between 2oz to 3oz of clay in total (including black!). So do give this a try, even if you have only a little clay. The effect is lovely and dimensional looking.
Magic swirls cane pieces
There’s also a lovely kaleidoscope cane that can be made with this type of scrap. Another variation is to use chopped clay instead of solid colors to form a complex kaleidoscope cane. If you’re a bit wary of making larger complex canes, this is a great way to try one without breaking open shiny new packets of clay. The chopped clay creates a fabric like effect that adds dimension to the cane.
9. Random blob of clay that looked terrible at first, but looks kinda cool after a pass through the pasta machine
That’s a big name for a category, but it happens to me all the time! A fairly homogenous bit of clay that looks hopeless for all the techniques I’ve mentioned so far kinda looks cool when you pass it through the pasta machine. What can you do with it? You can use it as is as a base for bezel of some sort, or a fairy door.
If you feel it’s too plain by itself, stamp, texture, color, or ink it! Treat it as a blank canvas and go to town with all those texture tools you’ve been dying to use.
Ok you did all that and have a cool looking distressed sheet, now what? Cut out shapes for jewelry, make buttons and other scrapbook embellishments (this is a new favorite of mine, more on why I suddenly need these in a later post). Or, if the sheet is fairly thin, you could make sturdy jewelry display cards that are works of art themselves! See the samples below. The one on the left even stands up by itself.
Earring cards from scrap clay
10. Scrap of scraps etc
Ok so you worked through the list here and now all you have left are Natasha bead trimmings, striped sheet leftovers and sheets that are so full of holes you can barely roll it into a wad. Don’t give up yet! This feather cane can still be made! A variation of the feather cane uses old canes. The feathers I made below used a swanwalk cane gone wrong. This scrap Mokume Gane can take some muddy clay, though make sure you pick a contrasting color for the top layer. If there are some decent colors in the scrap, it’d be great in a Sutton slice project. I used the leftover scraps from the Ikat pattern I showed above over white clay and got this lot.
Pieces using Sutton slice technique and some feather cane earrings
Too muddy for that? You can still make distressed sheets for various uses. Once that clay is covered with mica powders, paints, foils and what not, no one will ever see the original color. Or try this cool faceted bead technique, especially useful for hard crumbly clay. Mixed it all to a uniform brown color? Dress up a vase with the sheet!
This kind of stuff can be used for bead cores. Bangle blanks use up tons of clay, so that’s another good candidate. Why not try a texture plate or two? If you’ve been looking into making some tools of your own, you’d use quite a chunk of clay in some cases. I made some piercing tools with toothpicks to get consistent holes in buttons (I got the idea from Ginger’s article here). I eventually covered these up with some Sculpey III cane slices I wanted to get rid of, but body of the tools were formed with scrap. Same goes for the needle tool as well as little stand I made for holding my bead pins. This is also a good way to get rid of weaker clays like Sculpey III or Bake Shop.
Assorted tools formed with scrap clay
Tutorials that use scrap clay
Now most of the techniques I talked about so far are popular techniques that are frequently discussed and I’ve tried to point to free tutorials or guides for each. But there are a couple of tutorials that I’ve bought that use scrap clay. An excellent one is the rustic beads and components tutorial from The Blue Bottle Tree. I reviewed this in detail, but it’s definitely worth a mention here. The treatments will completely cover up any muddy icky colors, so this is a great candidate for the scrap of scraps category.
Another fun tutorial that uses solid clay bits or color group scraps is the controlled marbling tutorial from Lynda Moseley. Here’s a picture of earrings made from scraps, I think I like these more that the planned pieces!
Randee Ketzel’s Crazy Heart tutorial is another favorite for scrap. I have this tutorial, and made this lovely set of beads, but I wanted to try the technique with metallic clay, so used fresh clay out of the box. But it’s still an excellent tutorial to try!
Necklace made using the Crazy Hearts tutorial
All the things I’ve covered here are popular, well known techniques for using scrap. But I hope it’s helpful to see it listed in one place. I had ever so much fun trying out some of these for the first time. Please note the categorization is entirely based on my point of view. Different people will use the same methods in their own way and make lovely things. With experimentation, I’ve found this to work the best for me. Feel free to mix and match and do some trial runs. If it doesn’t turn out well, I’m sure you can find a way to use that clay!