2-Welcome to Polymer Clay|
3-Choosing & Mixing Clay
4-Conditioning Polymer Clay
5-Using a Pasta Machine
6-Using a Food Processor
7-Forming Clay Pieces
8-Firing Polymer Clay
10-Storing Polymer Clay
12-Using Stone Clays
13-Using Translucent Clays
14-Molding & Sculpting
15-Creating Surface Effects
16-Making Polymer Clay Jewelry
17-Safety & Cleanup
19-More Information Sources
Caneworking is a technique that was originally used in glassworking for making complex designs. A cane is a log or cylinder of clay that has a design running through it, so each slice of the cane - the cross-section - contains the design. You can make a large design that's easy to handle, and then reduce the size of the cane by rolling until the design becomes tiny and delicate; because of the ductility of the clay, the design stays intact no matter how small you make it.
To make a cane, you combine sheets and long snakes of clay in a pattern that will be revealed when you slice the cane. You can use any combination of colors and patterns; you can even use small canes as part of your design, combining them into larger canes.
Here's a simple cane to try, with one light and one dark color that go together:
Other simple cane designs include the spiral, which is made by laying a sheet of one color on top of another sheet of a different color and rolling them up like a jellyroll. Try using spiral and bulls-eye canes in combination, with different color choices.
Slicing the cane requires the sharpest blade you have available - otherwise the cane's shape is distorted by the dragging of the blade, and the clay itself may smear. The blade also must be tall enough to cut through the thickest cane you want to make.
A tissue blade is usually considered the best choice, but may be difficult to find. You can also use a wallpaper scraper blade, which is essentially a long single-edged razor blade and can be found at a hardware store. Razor blades are usually too small to slice canes cleanly - the metal at the top of the blade will hit the cane as you slice, unless the cane is very thin.
You can avoid having the blade distort the clay by slicing with a slight back-and-forth motion, letting the cane roll freely on the work surface; this distributes the pressure of the blade over the cane's surface instead of putting it all on one spot. Another technique is to hold the ends of the cane, give them a little tug, then stick each end down on your work surface and slice that way.
Soft clays distort and smear more than firm clays. If you are having problems slicing, you may want to either let your clay rest overnight before slicing, or chill it in the refrigerator for an hour or so.
Reducing a round cane is simple: roll it between your palm and the work surface, pressing gently to make it smaller. Make sure to distribute the pressure evenly along the cane so that no part of it gets smaller than another part.
If your cane is too thick to roll, start the reduction by surrounding it in the middle with your hands and pressing very gently, making an hourglass shape. Then gradually move out to the ends, until the cane is even again. Continue doing this until the cane is the size you want, or until it's thin enough to roll on your work surface.
There are a number of methods for reducing a square or triangular cane. One is to use a brayer or rolling pin on each side successively - roll a bit, then rotate and roll on the next side, and so on until you reach the size you want. Another is to hold onto one end of the cane and tug gently, sliding your fingers along the cane's length with the other hand. With this method also, you should alternate sides and alternate the end you're tugging. Turn the cane over frequently so you are reducing all its sides evenly, and make sure you're not crushing the corners.
All cane reduction needs to be done carefully and gradually. Trying to reduce the cane too fast will distort the design. It also helps to let the cane rest for a few hours before you start to reduce it; this ensures that all the layers of the cane are at the same temperature.
All reduced canes end up with strange-looking ends, with some parts of the design extruded. It's an unavoidable consequence of reducing the cane, and completely normal.
You can minimize the amount of yecchiness by reducing your cane gradually, by starting in the middle and working out toward each end, and by letting your cane sit for a while before starting to reduce (so all the clay layers are the same temperature). Some clayworkers press a small disk onto each end of the cane before they start reducing.
You can use the ends as scrap clay, or marble them together to make beads that coordinate with your cane's colors.
You can make canes in any shape, but there's no easy way to reduce a cane whose cross-section is not a geometric shape such as a circle or square. Trying to reduce such a cane usually distorts the design badly. If you're putting together an irregular cane, you can:
When reducing an irregular cane, it's especially important to go slowly and reduce the cane a little bit at a time.
Clay can vary in its softness or stiffness, depending on the brand of clay, the color, how old the clay is, and the temperature. If some of the elements of your cane are made of stiff clay and some elements are made of softer clay, the softer elements will tend to spread out more when you reduce the cane, causing distortion in the design. So generally, you should make your canes of clays that are all equally soft, if possible.
In some situations, thought, this "squishing effect" may be what you want. For example, if your cane consists of a complex design surrounded by a background color of clay, you may want to choose a soft clay for the background, so it will readily work itself into any gaps during cane reduction.
Many clayworkers toss all leftover clay into a single container and knead it together into a neutral gray color. This "mud" can be used for anything that doesn't show in a finished piece: to make base beads (or other objects) on which colored clay is layered, or to make molds from.
You can also marble the leftover clay from a project to make marbled beads in the same colors as your cane.
A ruined cane can also yield interesting effects if you twist it a few times, slice it lengthwise, then roll the slices flat. The cross-section often has attractive abstract patterns. Before deciding to toss a ruined piece into the mud-clay container, experiment with it - you may find it's not a failure after all.