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Millefiori Beads from Polymer Clay

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Millefiori is Italian for "Thousand Flowers."  Originally a technique used for making decorative glass works, a similar process can be used to make designs in polymer clays, such as Fimo and Sculpey.  These materials are perfect for beads, earrings and other jewelry, as well as for adorning pretty much any object that can be put through the oven at 265 degrees.

Using the Millefiori technique, a long tube of polymer clay is created.  Each slice of this tube is a copy of the original design.  In keeping with the Thousand Flowers translation, I will show you how to make one of the most basic Millefiori designs, a flower pattern. 



***UPDATE 5/4/10:  If you make this project, post some pictures in the comments below.  I'll send you a patch!***


 
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Step 1: Choose your clay and colors

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I like Fimo Classic.  A lot of people like Sculpey (which is much easier to find at brick and mortar stores, and usually cheaper) or Fimo Soft, as these clays are much easier to work with in the short term.  Fimo classic really has to be worked a lot with your hands to get it to a malleable state.  However, I find that the softer clays, especially Sculpey, smear when you cut them--even after being refrigerated.  Also, the more vibrant colors have a tendancy to rub off onto your hands and contaminate the paler shades.  This is still a problem with Fimo Classic, but much less so.  I also think the colors are better overall with Fimo, even Fimo Soft, but that's just a subjective opinion.

A good craft store will have a lot of different shades to choose from.  I prefer to buy primary shades and lots of black and white and mix my own.  That provides a smoother color gradient and greater control over the end result.  Also, it's way cheaper that way, and mixing the colors gets the clay worked to a usable consistency. 

For this flower, I've chosen a green center with blue petals on a white background.  It's a good idea to pick a high-contrast background or it will be hard to see the boundaries of the petals.
kc8hps4 months ago
Dont know if you will see this. We should talk, in a science nerd/artist. It looks like we enjoy similar hobbies. To_late2snooze @ the big Y dot com
Bryan. My name here is kc8hps
depotdevoid (author)  kc8hps4 months ago
Thanks Bryan, looks like you've got some pretty cool projects posted here as well!
Ian
JoLoveN4 months ago
Do u have any other patterns for making other designs? I just ordered some clay from amazon & gunna buy a bunch of used from sum1 in town selling on craigslist. Can't wait! I haven't got to do much clay work since I was in high school. Except play dough with my daughter. But now she's old enough to do this, so I'm learning so I can teach her. I'm so excited! But if u have a link to where to get diff patterns, that'll work too. Thanks! I'll post pics when I do make sum!!
depotdevoid (author)  JoLoveN4 months ago
I mostly got my early ideas from looking at other peoples' beads, and then later on started making up my own. I'm planning on doing another instructable or several about polymer clay patterns, if you follow me you'll get an update when I post.

I'd love to see what you come up with!
Browsed for an hour till I found your link. This is very clear and is a great starting point for us. Easy and attractive. Have you seen the nail canes? Very interesting and novel use. Thanks for sharing.
depotdevoid (author)  Lisa2stewart2 years ago
Thanks! I have seen pictures of the nail canes, it's a pretty cool way to use polymer clay.

If you make something, please post a picture here for us to see!
kathynv2 years ago
Very cool 'ible. I liked the video, which is unusual for me. Thanks for the fast forward and the cameo appearances by your daughter. We just moved and I am still waiting for my craft things to arrive, but when they do, I'll try your technique and will hopefully remember to post a photo. Thanks once again.
depotdevoid (author)  kathynv2 years ago
Thanks Kathy, glad you liked it! I'd really like to see that picture if you remember!
Just finished them not to long ago and they turned out pretty awesome
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depotdevoid (author)  tubanator-2.02 years ago
Nice, those look great! I'll send you a patch, thanks for sharing!
Mrballeng3 years ago
I've always wondered how this was done. Thanks for taking the time to put this together.
depotdevoid (author)  Mrballeng3 years ago
Glad you liked it! I've been meaning to follow this up with some other techniques, but haven't gotten around to them. Keep an eye peeled though, I may finish one of them someday . . .
KreaKatri3 years ago
HI, really great 'ible, a bit long, but easy to understand :)
I will definetly try this sometime, when I find the clay, and the time.

The only thing I'm not sure about is: How do you know how much to make of each color, so you don't end up having way to much of one color/shade and not enough of another?
Do you just do it by eyemeasure?

But again, really great 'ible and great beads :D
depotdevoid (author)  KreaKatri3 years ago
Thanks KJS, and if you do make something from this, please post a picture!

Regarding mixture for color and shade, it's really a matter of trial and error. The important thing to remember is that dark colors will affect the outcome a LOT more than light colors. If you're unsure about yourself, just start with a small amount and add little bits of each color until you have the desired shade.

Make sure to subscribe to me, I've got a couple more polymer clay 'ibles in the works!
Thanks for the fast answer and the tips :)
I'll be sure to post pics if and when I get to trying this out!
lidzy3 years ago
I was always fascinated by this technique, and wondered how it was done; guess i'll be buying my polyclay beads ready-made..this is great, but a lot of steps..thanks for showing me just what polyclay beadmakers go through! I have a bit more appreciation now...
depotdevoid (author)  lidzy3 years ago
Thanks for the kind comments lidzy. There are a lot of steps, but it's really not that hard, you ought to give it a try!
 Awesome instructable... I will definitely try this. Is there any one clay that is better than another for making canes? I am really new to this and mine don't seem to be turning out the way I would like. 
Thanks in advance ^_^
depotdevoid (author)  Purple-tiger4 years ago
Thanks, glad you liked it!

I'm a big fan of fimo, though I've heard good things about Premo and Promat as well.  I really think sculpey is no good for canes, it smears really bad when you cut it.

Good luck, and post some pictures of your work, I'd like to see!

Lettucehead4 years ago
 I love working with polymer clay i will try this! Thanks! :)
depotdevoid (author)  Lettucehead4 years ago
No prob lettucehead!  Post some pictures of the results!
J@50n4 years ago
im in the process of blending right now :)
depotdevoid (author)  J@50n4 years ago
Sweet!  Post some pictures if you can!
 first 2 - "bead" mine got kind of dis functioned.
last 2 - "Beads" put in a strip and rolled out to make a book mark.
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depotdevoid (author)  J@50n4 years ago
That's totally awesome man, it absolutely makes my day when someone posts pictures of their version of my project!

Is this your first time doing this?  You did a great job!
 do you have any tips?
depotdevoid (author)  J@50n4 years ago
Not really, those look way better than my first go at polymer clay.  The bead looks a little squished, if you refrigerate before cutting (and make sure you've got a sharp fresh blade) that doesn't happen as much.
 yes. i saw this, went to Michaels (craft store) bought $30.00 of polymer clay and got to work... i have also made an incense burner using this method but with swirls not flowers.
Joesgrrrl4 years ago
These look fantastic, as always! What did you do w/ them??
depotdevoid (author)  Joesgrrrl4 years ago
Oh they're sitting in a box.  I'll probably drill holes in them and give them to India eventually.  I really wish there was a market for this sort of thing, I'd love to get back into selling them.
Oh there is a market,  me, I will buy from you instantly. I have tried making clay beads but it just comes out wrong besides I really don't have the time anymore. I prefer designing jewelry to making beads, I see it as taking too much of my time which could be spent making necklaces, accessories, etc.

Lovely tut and thanks for sharing
depotdevoid (author)  beadydani4 years ago
Really?  How would you go about selling these?  I used to do fairs and outdoor events, and the occasional consignment deal with a business, but I don't have time for the fairs anymore and none of the businesses I've tried are interested.  Do you have any recommendations?  Also, if you did want some, drop me a PM and we can work out details.

Oh, and thanks for the complement, I'm always happy to share.  I'm thinking about putting some more of these millefiori tutorials up, so stay tuned!
Try Etsy, Ebay, MISI and other 'craft' online shops, just do an online search. The sky is your limit.
depotdevoid (author)  beadydani4 years ago
Thanks beadydani, I will.  I've not heard of Etsy and MISI before, but I'll see about giving it a shot!
Seeing the pic of your old one's sure brought back memories. I was always impressed at the amount of detail you got in them.
ddenis994 years ago
thanks man! great 'ible  - i'll be wanting to try this for a guitar fret board inlay.. I'll need to roll it down pretty small though, about a quarter inch.
depotdevoid (author)  ddenis994 years ago
Sounds like an awesome idea ddenis, I'd love to see some pictures of the finished work!
This was an awesome video/ tutorial combo thank you for putting it together and sharing.  I know nothing about Polymer Clay and would love to get the benefit of your experience.  From the video it looks like you've been sculpting with it for a long time.  How do you chose a design and then  figure out what shapes you are going to make an how they'll fit together?
depotdevoid (author)  loveblackwolf4 years ago
Thanks, I'm glad you liked it!

Choosing a design is just a matter of seeing something I like and then deciding I want to do it . . . it depends on how ambitious I'm feeling, really.  I'm sure with enough clay I could do pretty much any pattern, but obviously some would be more difficult than others.

As to the how, that varies from pattern to pattern.  I'm thinking of doing more instructables along these lines, so stay tuned.  Is there any particular pattern you'd like to see me make?
I've always been curious how people do mushroom shapes with inlaid characters, or flower designs.
blacjack14 years ago
oh man this is awesome, will make great christmas tree decorations, also isnt this how they make patterned rock candy?
depotdevoid (author)  blacjack14 years ago
Thanks blackjack!  If you scroll down through the comments, kissiltur schooled me about rock candy already--I had no idea what that was.  He's even got a link to a place where they make it.
cokecola4 years ago
Why didn't you just make a skinner blend for the green and blue in this cane?
depotdevoid (author)  cokecola4 years ago
What do you mean?   Oh wait, let me ask google . . .

Oh, hey, that's cool!  I don't have a past roller though, and I don't make enough of this stuff any more to justify the expense.  Maybe I can do without?  Next time I'll try this skinner blend and see if I can do it without the roller.

If anyone's interested, here's a link to what a skinner blend is: http://www.polymerclaycentral.com/poleigh/skinner.html
kissiltur4 years ago
This is a great technique that is used for making seaside rock in Britain too.

How do you avoid distortions when cutting the finished cylinder? Is it just a matter of having a sharp enough blade?
depotdevoid (author)  kissiltur4 years ago
You'll always end up with some distortion.  I like to use a very sharp blade and then smoosh it back into shape.  Some people refrigerate before cutting, but I find that makes the clay a little flaky. 

What do you mean about the seaside rock?
It's a hard candy iften sold at British seaside resorts, archetypally at Blackpool but when I were a lad you found it everywhere you went.

Here's a page showing how the letters are made, and the process is very reminiscent of the millefiori technique:

http://www.attractionsblackpool.co.uk/Blackpool_Rock.htm
depotdevoid (author)  kissiltur4 years ago
Hey, neat!  I wish I could afford enough clay to make rolls as big as the ones those guys are staring with.  I could put painting or a full color portrait of someone in the bead.
If you cut it with a blade, when its still very fresh from the oven, that gives the cleanest cut with no distortion or flaking
depotdevoid (author)  craig34 years ago
Oh, that's interesting . . . I've noticed how flexible the clay is right out of the oven, but I never tried cutting at that point.  I'll have to give it a shot next time, thanks craig!
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