Introduction: Millefiori Beads From Polymer Clay

About: depotdevoid is short for The Depot Devoid of Thought, the place where you go when you lose…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.