Introduction: Millefiori Beads From Polymer Clay

Picture of Millefiori Beads From Polymer Clay

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!***

Step 1: Choose Your Clay and Colors

Picture of Choose Your Clay and Colors

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.

Step 2: Mix Your Colors

Picture of Mix Your Colors

If you buy premixed shades you can skip this step.

For this flower, I decided to do a simple dark to light gradient for both the center and the petals.  When mixing, keep in mind that a little bit of a dark color goes a long way in a light color.

The first two pictures below are after and before shots, followed by a bunch of pictures of me in the process of mixing the colors.  As I mentioned before, mixing the colors softens the clay up nicely, getting it ready for molding into the final product.

My method is to squish the two colors together, roll them into a tube, twist the tube, and then squish it into a ball.  I repeat this several times until they're well blended.

Step 3: Make the Center

Picture of Make the Center

I forgot to take process pictures of this step, but luckily it's the simplest part. 

Keep in mind that the center is only about 1/5 or 1/6 the total mass of clay, so don't make it too big unless you're planning on making a really big Millefiori tube!

I started with straight black at the center, fading out the the lightest shade of green on the outside.  Start by rolling the black into a tube.  Take the next darkest shade and flatten it into a sheet--some people use a pasta roller for this--and wrap it around the tube.  Repeat this for the other shades.  What you end up with is a tube that when cut looks kind of like a bulls eye.

Step 4: Make the Petal

Picture of Make the Petal

This part is made much like the center, except that you don't wrap the other colors all the way around.  I don't have a lot of process pictures for this, but you can see me doing it really really fast in the video!

Again, start by rolling your central color into a tube.  Flatten the next color into a sheet, but have it thicker in the middle and tapering towards the edges.  Wrap that about 3/4 of the way around the central tube.  Repeat with your other colors, and then wrap the whole thing about 7/8 of the way around with a thin, flat sheet of the background color. 

I like to add a little spike in the center, to make it look more like a flower.  Cut all the way through the petal from front to back and insert a wedge of a high contrast color (I used black).

Step 5: Put It All Together

Picture of Put It All Together

Now to finish things up! 

Roll the center piece out on your work surface until it's smooth, but don't roll it to far out.  You'll want to keep it as thick as possible.  Trim the ends off--they tend to get distorted.  Don't throw away the excess!  Keep all of your trimmings in one place, as they make a good background for your final product.

Roll out the petal until it's the same thickness as the center piece.  Trim the ends off of this as well.  Cut the petal into six equally long pieces.  Hopefully these will be close to the same length as the center piece.  Stack these six petals around the middle, as seen in the picture below and add a triangular wedge of the background color between each petal on the outside edge.

That's pretty much it!  Now just roll it down to whatever size you need, trim the ends off, and each slice will be the same flower.  Make whatever beads or decorations you need, and bake them in the oven according to the instructions on the packaging.

For beads, a lot of people say you should shove a toothpick through before baking so you'll have a hole for the string.  I prefer not to, as this distorts the beads and the hole is never as big as I need it to be.  I just leave them hole free, bake them, and then drill them out after they've cooled.  This method makes a mess, but it's worth it!

Step 6: Final Thoughts

Picture of Final Thoughts

So there it is, a pretty little flower for you to play around with.  There are many other techniques and patterns I could demonstrate, and if there is enough interest, I'd be happy to post more instructables along these lines!

Also, I'm always interested in seeing the results people get from following my instructable.  If you decide to make something like this, please post a picture in the comments section!  If you do, I'll send you a patch!

Please take the time to leave a comment and rate this 'ible!  I'd really like to know if I've left anything out, or if something needs clarifying, what you think of the flower, etc.  Also, let me know what you think of the video.  There are many things I will change next time I do one, but I'd like to know what you think.  This is the first time I've really played around with video editing.  Thanks for taking the time to read!

For examples of the many other patterns I've done over the years, take a look at the picture below.  I almost always save a slice from each tube I make.  


SamanthaB159 (author)2016-12-15

I always wondered how these were made, going to give it a try. Thanks!

depotdevoid (author)SamanthaB1592016-12-15

Thanks! I'd love to see the results when you're done!

Darcie71 (author)2016-10-07

I made one and was gonna post picture, but I don't see that option anywhere on my iPad keyboard:(

depotdevoid (author)Darcie712016-10-07

Ah crud, I'd really like to see that! Can you send it to me on Facebook?

MichellH (author)2016-04-30

I've never used clay before but this is so beautiful I might give it a try! :D

JoLoveN (author)2014-02-26

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!!

Exarche (author)JoLoveN2016-01-13

l make this stuff too and have found that doing a search for images of pixel art will give you lots of good ideas.

depotdevoid (author)JoLoveN2014-03-02

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!

mandisteele (author)2014-09-03

hi, I wanted to let you know that I tried pulling up your video on youtube but there's something wrong with it and will not play. I clicked on other videos to make sure it wasn't my connection or device and I was able to play all other videos.

depotdevoid (author)mandisteele2014-09-03

Huh, weird! Seems to be working now though (on my end at least) so you might give it another try.

kc8hps (author)2014-03-01

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)kc8hps2014-03-02

Thanks Bryan, looks like you've got some pretty cool projects posted here as well!

Lisa2stewart (author)2012-06-26

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)Lisa2stewart2012-06-27

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!

kathynv (author)2012-03-31

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)kathynv2012-03-31

Thanks Kathy, glad you liked it! I'd really like to see that picture if you remember!

tubanator-2.0 (author)2012-03-18

Just finished them not to long ago and they turned out pretty awesome

Nice, those look great! I'll send you a patch, thanks for sharing!

Mrballeng (author)2011-05-09

I've always wondered how this was done. Thanks for taking the time to put this together.

depotdevoid (author)Mrballeng2011-05-10

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 . . .

KreaKatri (author)2011-02-08

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)KreaKatri2011-02-08

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!

KreaKatri (author)depotdevoid2011-02-09

Thanks for the fast answer and the tips :)
I'll be sure to post pics if and when I get to trying this out!

lidzy (author)2010-08-26

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)lidzy2010-08-26

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!

Purple-tiger (author)2010-04-13

 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-tiger2010-04-13

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!

Lettucehead (author)2010-03-15

 I love working with polymer clay i will try this! Thanks! :)

depotdevoid (author)Lettucehead2010-03-15

No prob lettucehead!  Post some pictures of the results!

J@50n (author)2010-02-21

im in the process of blending right now :)

depotdevoid (author)J@50n2010-02-21

Sweet!  Post some pictures if you can!

J@50n (author)depotdevoid2010-02-22

 first 2 - "bead" mine got kind of dis functioned.
last 2 - "Beads" put in a strip and rolled out to make a book mark.

depotdevoid (author)J@50n2010-02-22

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!

J@50n (author)depotdevoid2010-02-22

 do you have any tips?

depotdevoid (author)J@50n2010-03-01

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.

J@50n (author)depotdevoid2010-02-22

 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.

Joesgrrrl (author)2009-12-31

These look fantastic, as always! What did you do w/ them??

depotdevoid (author)Joesgrrrl2009-12-31

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.

beadydani (author)depotdevoid2010-01-02

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)beadydani2010-01-02

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!

beadydani (author)depotdevoid2010-01-07

Try Etsy, Ebay, MISI and other 'craft' online shops, just do an online search. The sky is your limit.

depotdevoid (author)beadydani2010-01-07

Thanks beadydani, I will.  I've not heard of Etsy and MISI before, but I'll see about giving it a shot!

Joesgrrrl (author)depotdevoid2009-12-31

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.

ddenis99 (author)2009-12-14

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)ddenis992009-12-14

Sounds like an awesome idea ddenis, I'd love to see some pictures of the finished work!

loveblackwolf (author)2009-12-08

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?

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.

blacjack1 (author)2009-12-08

oh man this is awesome, will make great christmas tree decorations, also isnt this how they make patterned rock candy?

depotdevoid (author)blacjack12009-12-08

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.

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