How to make "Casablanca" beads
  

This is the bead that started it all ->

One night, many years ago, sans brain, I made that little golden bead to the right. If you notice, the lower left side has white pearlescent bands. The upper right has, instead, red pearl bands.

Folks asked me how I did that. Since my brain wasn't involved, I had no knowledge. ;-)

But after a while, due to repeated questions about how and not being able to answer how bugged me. So I had to study that little bead to figure out how I did it so I could repeat the process. During that exploration, I honed in on a specific process that I really love.

I've named it Casablanca due to the colors of my first batch. They reminded me of the rich colors of northern Africa.

And there is one thing I absolutely love about polymer clay - the ability to do COLORS.

Making these beads requires making several Skinner blends, but they need to be skinny (narrower than what your pasta machine typically cranks out). There are two approaches:

  • reduce the width of a Skinner blend cane
  • start with a narrow pre-blended strip and keep it narrow. ;-)
 
Note: Although this technique is brand new (as far as I know), it couldn't exist without having had the chance to learn from a couple of great polymer clay pioneers, Judith Skinner for the "Skinner blend" and Mike Buesseler for the "Buesseler cut" football shaped beads.

  Supplies
  • clay colors: white, black, and 4-5 colors
  • motorized pasta machine
  • a fresh sharp tissue blade (no substitutes here - the blade needs to be very sharp, thin and flexible
  • a tool to reduce the width of your PMs 140mm (5 1/2") wide gap to about 40mm (1 3/4")
    • This is my preferred setup, but you may already have a way to do that

  Making Skinny Skinner Blends  
1.

Set up your pasta machine so the width of the clay that comes out is reduced from 5 1/2" wide to about 1 3/4 " wide. That's the way to start and maintain the width you want. This is my preferred method.

If you want to do the narrowing after the blending, you need to create a linear gradient cane, then flatten that and run it through your pasta machine.

Roll out 4-5 'carrot' shaped logs of different colors; about 6" long and about as thick as your little finger at the thickest end. I recommend at least one fairly dark color, one fairly light color, the other two to three colors kinda in between; for example red, orange and yellow.

To show the progression you will do: to the right are the 'carrots' at the bottom; a partially blended strip just above them and a fully blended strip at the top.

2.

Lay the 'carrots' next to each other, alternating their positions so if the first one is narrower at one end and wider at the other end, the one next to it should be the opposite.This overlapping will aid in the color blending.

Push the 'carrots' together so they stick to each other and the entire piece will fit into the 1.75" wide space in the pasta machine.

3.

Set the pasta machine dial on the widest gap setting (#1 on Atlas). Roll the 'carrots' through the pasta machine. Fold the strip in half, slightly pinch the folded edge to narrow it and feed the folded strip (folded edge first) into the pasta machine again.

Repeat the fold-pinch-feed steps until you have a smooth blend: about 20-30 reps.

4.

You've completed one skinny Skinner blend strip. Cut the strip so you have at least two 7 inch long strips. This will be considered your primary color blend because two of the four skinny Skinner blends will be this dominant blend.

 

5.

One suggestion would be to generally use the same darkest and lightest colors you used for the primary blend, but vary the in-between colors. For example:

the primary blend
(2 strips)

a 2nd blend
(1 strip)

a 3rd blend
(1 strip)

white

white

ecru

yellow

goldenrod

goldenrod

orange

gold

forest green

red

brown

dark blue

black

black

black


  Making the 'Casablanca' Strip
6. Stack the strips on top of each other so that all the darker edges are on one side; the lighter edges on the other side; make sure not to trap any air between the strips.
 
 

You may be able to see the four strips in this shot

7.

Set the pasta machine dial on the widest gap setting (#1 on Atlas). Pinch one end of the strip so you can easily feed it into the pasta machine.

Roll the stack of strips through. Then roll the strip through again on #3, then again on #5.

Cut your colorful Casablanca strip into 9"-10" long segments.

 


  Making 'Casablanca' Beads
8.

I find rolling up a strip to be easier if I place a little tiny rod of clay on the starting edge.

In this case, I like a color contrast, as shown in the photo.

Roll up each 9"-10" long strip.

9.

Reshape each roll from a cylinder into a rectangle but make sure the final width is still 1.75". I call this "rectangularizing". Make sure those corners are sharp; good crisp right angles.

Let all your little canes rest overnight or pop them into the refrigerator to firm up the clay.

10.

Are you ready to begin the "Buesseler cut" for your football bead? Let's go!

Position yourself so you can look straight down to see your cane. Using both hands, grab each side of your fresh, sharp tissue blade. (Do a double take on that blade to make sure you've got the sharp edge poised to cut into the clay and not your fingers.) Place your fingers on the sides and top of the blade, bend it until it makes a nice arc then push the blade straight down to cut along one side of the cane as shown in the picture. To reduce blade drag, rock your blade a little to get it going.

You now have one cutaway! Three to go.

11.

Rotate the piece 180 degrees, arc your tissue blade and make the second cut along the opposite side. Two cuts down, two to go!

Side note: These "Buesseler cuts" may not be easy to do correctly right off the bat. They take practice, practice, practice.

12.

This is a very important step. Take your nicest, fullest cutaway and rest it on it's back (flat side down). This cutaway is now a "cradle" for your football bead-to-be.

Rotate the bead so it fits into the cradle.

If you put nice sharp rectangular edges on your pre-cut cane, your cradle will not rock or wobble while you try to do the next couple of steps. Also, if your clay is cool and firm, the bead won't stick much to its cradle.

 

13.

Arc the tissue blade and do your third cut. Yes, you will be cutting into your nice cradle when doing this, but it's necessary.

One more cut and you're done.

Rotate your piece 180 degrees and make the fourth (final) cut along the other side. Pick up your bead and carefully peel away the remains of the cradle. You've now completed doing the "Buesseler cut" method for producing a football shaped bead.

Smooth the sharp edges by gently pressing them with your fingers.

 

You may have noticed that what's great about this type of cut is it exposes the hidden color patterns in a very unique way. So even though each strip may only be as thick as a fat hair strand, it will look much bigger using this cut.

 

Primary Casablanca beads.

I mentioned loving colors, right? I love this Casablanca technique because it 's all about integrating color gradients and maximizing how they can play off another.

 

14.

From all your work, you may end up with all this; 3-4 primary Casablanca beads (the football shaped ones) and lots of scraps.

Those scraps; cutaways, trimming from uneven strip ends, etc. are all precious. You worked too hard to not take advantage of all the color gradients sitting in those scraps.

Use them to make secondary beads.

15.

Now see the primary beads and a few swirly lentils made from the scraps.

Place dimples where you plan to make the holes prior to baking so hole drilling will be easier to start. I don't recommend trying to completely ream these raw beads. Their shapes distort easily.

Place your beads on a surface that will allow your beads to retain their curved shape. Some prefer polyester batting.

I use a pie plate filled with diatomaceous earth. I cover the powder with tissue sheets and place my beads on top.

Bake your beads at 275 degrees F for 60 minutes. Allow to cool before sanding, drilling and finishing.


  Finishing 'Casablanca' Beads
16.

Optional: Reshape by Hand Sanding

If your cuts didn't quite create a symmetrically balanced bead, sanding with coarse grit sandpaper gives you the opportunity to correct and finalize the shape of your bead, redefining the bead's central axis, which is where the hole could go. In this case, you may find it best to wait until after a vigorous sanding to see where the central axis will be, then drill. Reshaping requires grinding level grits (CAMI 100, 200, 300).

Put some warm water and a little liquid bubble bath in a big shallow bowl. Soak your wet/dry sand paper and wet your bead. Start with the lowest grit and begin sanding. Dip the bead and sandpaper in the water frequently to clear the sanded debris from the paper and the bead. If you're systematic about sanding, you'll be able to tell which of the four side(s) you've done and which side(s) still need grinding down.


Slightly asymmetrically cut bead, before doing low grit sanding.


After low grit sanding - a good line to drill along.


17.

Finish Sanding with a Rock Tumbler

Once you're satisfied with the shape either because you did a good job when making those tricky cuts or because of hand sanding/grinding, it's time for finish sanding. I used to warn folks that sanding was this long, arduous process that required dedication and patience.

Now, you don't need any of that stuff. All you need is a rock tumbler and small smooth river rocks. That setup works like a charm.


18.

Drilling

Drill Jig: I prefer to drill along the length of the bead instead of across it. If you are lucky enough to have a drill press, this kind of drill press setup will work best.

Pin Vise: (For those who aren't that lucky): If you didn't dimple the bead prior to baking, use something like an Xacto blade to start a pilot hole. This helps prevent the drill bit from wandering. If it wanders, it might scratch your lovely sanded bead. After making the pilot hole, start with the smallest drill bit in your pin vise. Pull the drill bit out every once in a while and remove the loose clay, then continue drilling.

If your bead is shorter than the length of the drill bit, drill until you can feel the drill about to break through, but don't let it. Pull the bit out and drill in from the opposite side at the exact spot where you felt the drill bit push.

If your bead is longer than the length of the drill bit (get a longer drill bit ;-) or drill a little over halfway down the length of the bead, then tackle from the other end and hope the two "tunnels" will meet in the middle. I won't lie, this does take a bit of practice, so try the two tunnel method on some scrap beads first.


19.
Buffing Basics
You can get a very nice satin shine by tumble buffing. Following that, if you want a high shine, you can quickly buff your bead using an acrylic, soft cotton or muslin buffing wheel with a high speed rotary machine.

20.

Casablanca Bead batch. Such colors. Aren't they scrumptious? :D

   

Click to learn how to make swirly lentil beads.

 

  'Casablanca' Bead Analysis
 
 

You can have dramatic color play by using strongly different skinner blend strips or do soft subtle color transitions by minimizing the differences between the color strips. There are countless variations. You could be busy for quite some time.

  1. Using gradient strips where one strip is a lighter version of the others and making a slightly thicker Casablanca strip will produce strong thick lines.
  2. Using strips that are very subtle versions of the same color gradient will produce a soft color gradient from top to bottom.
  3. Using color gradients that have contrasting colors and making a thinner Casablanca strip (PM setting #6 or #7) will create finer lines but ones that will still strongly play off each other.
  4. Keeping all the colors in the same temperature (cool colors), in this bead.
  5. Just one strip in the stack that decides to heat things up a bit on its lighter edge keeps the lower half cool, but cranks up the volume on the upper half.
  6. Going crazy with color variations
  7. Now this one is for the masochistic bead maker. Remember the side view of the stack in step 6? Well, cut your Casablanca strip into little pieces:
    click to see a visual explanation
    then rotate each piece so you can see each strip in the stack. Press them together to form one sheet. Wrap that sheet around a base bead. I dare ya to try this! :)

Have a great polymer clay day. ;-)

Desiree

PS. Thanks to Liz Richards for proof reading this page.


Last update to this page: 27 Jan 09. Send comments, questions or suggestions to Desiree McCrorey.