How to make a "Butterfly Wing" bead
Although this technique is brand new (as far as I know), it couldn't exist without a couple of great polymer clay pioneers, Judith Skinner for the "Skinner blend" and Mike Buesseler for the "Buesseler cut" football shaped beads. I really like the technique described below because it combines three of my favorite polymer clay things; 1) making complex beads, 2) using the pearlescent Premo clays and 3) canework (my main polyclay love).

  • a minimum of two colors of pearlescent premo polymer clay
  • a minimum of two colors of any brand of polymer clay
  • pasta machine
  • a fresh sharp tissue blade (no substitutes here - the blade needs to be long, very sharp, thin and very flexible)


You will need dozens of tiny little canes so make one BIG bullseye cane, preferably with at least two contrasting colors (i.e. a dark and a light color).

If you wish to learn how to construct and reduce a cane, click here. You want to only do a simple bullseye cane (the first few pictures).

After constructing your BIG cane, reduce until the diameter of your cane is about 3/8ths to 1/4 inch wide. That means is will be an extraordinarily long cane, so chop it up into segments to make the reduction process more manageable.


Use at least two colors and the pasta machine to make a Skinner blend sheet. This sheet was about 18-20 inches long and about 5 inches wide. The sheet is a "#3" thickness on an Atlas pasta machine setting.

You can use any number of colors you'd prefer, but the photograph shows a blend from a medium blue to gold.

3. I hope your bullseye cane was big enough! You'll need to cover the entire blended sheet with dozens of tiny little bullseye canes. They're spread out here so you can see the sheet underneath, but don't do as I did, do as I say and cover that blended sheet with so many canes you can no longer see the sheet.

Start at the gold end and carefully roll this puppy up. Reduce this complex cane to your discretion. You want to make sure you've compressed the cane enough so there are no gaps in the cane.

For those who want amounts, reduce the cane until its diameter is a little over 1 inch across.



"Rectangularize" the entire cane using fingers, brayers, etc. Make sure you produce nice sharp edges. The picture shows only one of four segments "rectangularized", but go ahead and do the entire cane.

Since you'll need the firmest possible cane for the next few steps, let cane rest. Since premo's in there somewhere, it can't hurt to stick the whole cane in the refrigerator for a few hours.

After your complex cane has rested, cut off a 2 inch segment.


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

Using both hands, grab each side of your fresh, sharp tissue blade. 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. (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.)

You now have one cutaway. This can be used to help make beautiful scrap beads, so don't crumple it up just yet or throw it away.


Make the second cut along the opposite side. Two cuts and two cutaways down, two and two to go!

Side note: These "Buesseler cuts" aren't easy to do right off the bat. They take practice, practice, practice.


See my unmanicured thumb!

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. Gingerly place the bead into its cradle. If you made nice sharp rectangular edges, 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 at all to it's cradle.


Blade arc look familiar? Using both hands, grab each side of your very sharp tissue blade. 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. (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.) Yes I know, but it bears repeating. ;-)

Yes, you will be cutting into your nice cradle when doing this, but it's OK and necessary.


Make the fourth (final) cut along the other side. Pick up your bead and carefully pull away the remains of the cradle. You now completed doing the "Buesseler cut" method for producing a football shaped bead. ;-)

The bead usually reminds people of a football. Mike says he's not fond of the term, but since it was the best way to describe the shape, the name stuck.


Final stage of bead prior to baking.

Bake your beads at 275 degrees F on a piece of thick paper for 30 minutes.


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 assymetrically cut bead, before doing low grit sanding.

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


Finish Sanding:

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.



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

Pin Vise: For those who aren't that lucky: 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 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.

You can buff your bead using an acrylic, soft cotton or muslin wheel or my favorite method - tumble buffing. Sanding and buffing really bring out the effects and showcase the depth of these beads. Also, the effect of sanding and buffing creates a more realistic appearance for faux work such as this.

Two butterfly wing pattern beads and one football shaped bead made from the scraps. I call them butterfly wing beads because so many wonderful polyclayers out there said that's what it reminded them of. Someone else said the patterns reminded them of a bird cage. Yet another person said they thought of peacocks. I plan to conduct psychological tests of everyone as time permits. ;-)

Have a great polymer clay day. ;-)


Last update to this page: 12 Jun 08. Send comments, questions or suggestions to Desiree McCrorey.