Yikes it’s been long since my last post! I’ve had a fair number of visitors over the last couple of weeks so I haven’t been able to retreat into a complete claying haze over weekends. A lot of time also went into baking up some cakes for my visitors, so my oven wasn’t completely idle! I did manage to squeeze in some step by step pictures on how to cut lentil beads somewhere in between. This week I finally got around to finishing up some of the halves I made.
I talked about lentil beads in my last blog post where I went over different ways to use scrap clay. Lentil beads are super easy to make and HIGHLY addicting! That said, they can get wonky fairly easily. I’ve gotten better at swirling these with practice, but I’m still not good at churning out consistently sized and patterned beads. So if I wanted to make a pair of earrings, or a necklace, I never managed to make a set of two beads or four beads that go perfectly together.
Most of the time, this doesn’t bother me. I’ve never actually sat down with lentil beads as my final planned project. With bits n pieces of cheerful clay, I usually set about making one large lentil, and make it into a pendant for myself, or throw it into my bead bucket (where all beads go to die, or live in obscurity anyway). The upshot of all this was, when I set about collecting samples for the scrap article, I found about three lentils worth including, which was a very sad state of affairs for such a cool technique.
With this in mind, I started swirling lentil beads with any bits n pieces I came up with through the week. Scraps of Stroppel canes, retro cane, kaleidoscopes went onto lentils. But I really wanted to make some earrings out of these. It gets kind of boring after a while to just see piles of beads, plus I didn’t want to contribute more to my bead bucket. I tried making similar sized lentils with the same pattern, but somehow they didn’t seem to pair together. In some cases I didn’t even have enough of the same pattern to make two lentils.
As I was staring at the set of beads in front of me, I thought to myself, why not cut it and use two halves to make earrings? A fair bit of experimentation later, ta da!
All you need for this is some scrap clay, a sharp and stiff clay blade, some cornstarch and a cutter with a narrow V shape at one end (like the tip of a heart, paisley or leaf cutter). Having a set of circle cutters of different sizes is helpful as well.
Quick note on the photos: I’m still learning how to take good pictures and edit them properly. I usually take pictures of my finished beads and jewelry with a photo tent and a big bunch of lights, but that wasn’t very practical for these step by step pictures. I’ve taken the best pictures I can at my regular work area, so apologies in advance for the quality of the pictures! If the angles on some of them look odd, it’s because I’m balancing the camera in one hand and trying to illustrate the step with the other. I hope they’re still clear and easy to understand.
Make your lentil bead (see some tips below rolling lentils). And then leave it alone for a day! Seriously, carefully set it aside and don’t touch it. A day might be a bit of overkill, but set it aside for a couple of hours at the least. If you’re in a tearing hurry, you can pop the bead into the fridge or freezer for a few minutes. I’ve tried this with canes and I find it very annoying when the clay starts to “sweat” when it’s taken out, so I don’t usually do this. But do not try to cut a freshly rolled bead. The swirling process leaves the clay warm and squishy and cutting such a bead will leave you with highly distorted halves. Trust me!
Shape your scrap clay into a nice little rectangle block. You want this to approximately as wide as your bead and length to be around the diameter of your bead. Hopefully the picture below will illustrate what I mean. The height can be about a fourth of the bead’s height. It doesn’t have to be exact, just make sure it’s less that half the height. The bead should be supported by the base, not engulfed by it.
Scrap clay base
I’ve used calipers here to try and illustrate my point clearly. You don’t have to be so precise with your measurements! Just eyeball it.
Make a V shaped depression in the middle of your clay base for the lentil bead to sit in. I used this leaf cutter for this. You could also use a heart cutter or paisley cutter. You want a narrow V that’s similar to the edge of the lentil. So a square cutter wouldn’t work very well. You could potentially use a stiff tool of some sort and wiggle it about to form this depression. I tried this as well, and prefer the cutter approach, but work with what you have.
Make a V shaped indentation in the base
Dust the scrap clay with LOTS of cornstarch. This is very critical. As you slice through the bead, you’re going to be applying a fair bit of pressure on it that will cause your lovely lentil bead to press down into the muddy base. You could use a different release agent like water or Armorall, but keep in mind that water could rust your blade.
Place the lentil bead in the cornstarched V in your scrap base. Press slightly so that the bead is supported comfortably by the base.
Take a sharp stiff blade and position it over the crisp edge of the lentil bead and slice downwards. Try to slice down as straight as possible. It helps if you’re looking down on the bead so you can see if the blade follows the edge of the bead. You can take your time with this, with practice this will become easier. A little displacement is okay, but you don’t want to slice at an obscure angle. Slice all the way through the base as well. Once you have a little more practice, you can stop short of slicing all the way down and save your base. Redust with cornstarch and pop another bead on there. As long as the beads are fairly close in size, you can use the same base to slice a whole bunch of lentils!
Slicing the bead
Peel away the lentil halves from the base. If you’ve used enough cornstarch, this should happen easily. You can wipe away remaining cornstarch with a damp towel.
Now take a minute to admire your lentil halves! I love the symmetry here: see how the swirls are mirror images?
Two lentil halves
This step is an optional one, to refine the shapes of the lentil halves a bit. If the halves look a little worse for wear with blade cuts and nicks, place them on your work surface, cover them with a deli sheet or cling wrap and rub over the surface GENTLY with your finger just to smooth the surface a little. You can use dust your finger with cornstarch and do this as well, but I prefer the deli sheet approach, I feel I have a little more control.
Smooth out with deli wrap
Another thing that might need a little refining is the shape. If you started with a perfectly round lentil bead, the action of pressing the blade through it will most likely squish it to a more oval shape. This is still perfectly fine, but if you’re picky about the round shape, you can manipulate the halves.
If the shape is fairly distorted and significantly oval, start by gently tugging at the sides of the oval to make into a rounder shape. Sometimes this will be enough. If you find that this isn’t enough, or that it made the shape worse, don’t fret! There’s one more little trick you can do with the help of your circle cutters.
A clean glass surface or tile works best for this. I use the We-R Memory Keepers gridded glass mat as a work surface, which I highly recommend. So I do this step directly on there. You could use a tile or any piece of glass. Place one lentil half with the flat side down and press it onto the surface to make sure it’s stuck firmly (if you do this directly after the deli sheet smoothing step the bead halves will already be firmly stuck!). Now pick a circle cutter that’s slightly larger than your bead. Place the cutter “over” the bead i.e. the bead will be inside the cutter. Because the cutter is a little larger, there should be a tiny bit of space between the bead edge and the cutter.
Now start moving the cutter in small circular motions. The curved inner surface will press against the edge of the bead and make it round. To keep the bead as large as possible, use small motions and slight pressure. Since the cutter is open, you should be able to see the bead becoming neat and round. You can apply a tiny bit more pressure on the shorter side of the oval to force it to a round shape. This will NOT work unless the bead is stuck down nicely! Since I have a grid below my work mat, I can keep an eye on the size of the halves to make sure I keep them fairly equal.
Another thing that could happen is that the bead isn’t cut evenly: one half is taller than the other. You can see that happened to me in this case. To even it out, I rolled out a sheet of clay on my pasta machine at the thickest setting (don’t do this! It’s better to start at a medium setting and add another layer later). I placed my shorter half bead on the sheet, pressed it down a bit to adhere the bead to the sheet and used a cutter slightly smaller than my bead to cut out a new bead. I did the same with the other half so that they’d match. You lose a bit of the pattern around the edges with this, but the beads will be neat. You need to use a cutter with both beads because trimming around the shorter bead with a craft knife will create a crisp edge on one bead and a tapered edge on the other.
Uneven beads before and after padding
At this point, you’re ready to bake! You can pierce them carefully at this stage if you like. I prefer using screw eyes for such beads, so I don’t usually do this.
You can bake these halves and use them in any way you like. You can embed them into bezels or use them as is to make into jewelry.
I like to add a sheet of textured clay to cover up the backs of the lentil halves. If the slicing is neat, I just roll out a thin sheet of clay, texture it on one side, place the lentil bead down on the smooth side, trim around them and bake again. In some cases, the center of the bead could be a little sunken in at the back because the blade was wiggled about a bit during slicing. You could sand the back of the beads to remedy this. What I like to do is condition a bit of scrap clay really well and press it into the back of bead. I press my blade flush against the bead and shave off excess clay. Since the bead is baked already, it can take good amount of pressure. This will smooth out the surface of the bead, and a backing can be added at this point.
Evening out the back of the lentil halves
Here are a big bunch of lentil halves I made! Oh, if you end up with completely uneven halves, don’t fret! You can still use them as two separate pendants or beads. You can stack them to make one large focal or pendant, as I did with the black and silver lentil (this slicing went awry when I tried using my new Lucy mini slicer instead of a good old stiff blade. That didn’t work quite as well as I expected!).
Oh, you don’t have to stick to round. You can reshape the beads to be square, like I’ve done with the multicolor beads. Or even teardrop shaped as seen here. You could add crystals to jazz the beads up more. I love how they add a little bling to the metallic lentil halves here!
Square lentil halves and metallic lentil earrings
Also, I prefer my lentil beads to have a smoother face, so I always press down once I’m done swirling. But this slicing technique would work on more bicone shaped beads just fine, as you can see.
Bicone lentil halves
Random tips for nice swirly lentils
When I made samples for this post, I learnt a couple of new things about swirling the perfect lentil. This is more of a note to myself for future reference, but I thought it might help someone out there who’s having trouble.
– If you’re applying strips of clay of cane slices, smooth it out with a knitting needle or some equivalent tool. If there are little cracks between the patterned bits, these will widen as you press down and swirl. You can’t fix it without ruining the nice lentil shape.
– If you want to do lots of swirling, start with thick patterned slices applied to the middle of the bead. The basic concept of a swirled lentil is that the clay on the sides of the bead will stretch and swirl into the center as you rotate it. So if you keep swirling and swirling, the patterned clay will eventually run out and you’ll start seeing the base clay. You can see that happened with some of the finished pieces above. I used some faux Lapiz Lazuli scrap as the base, and the blue is quite visible through the colored pattern. I kinda liked the effect, so left it as is, but it wasn’t what I was going for!
– If you use a base color that you want to be covered completely, larger rotations will bring patterned clay to the center more quickly that smaller rotations.
I hope this was useful! If you try this, or have any questions do let me know in the comments below.