I like working with clay because it's a fairly easy way to make solid and durable DIY projects, and this year for Christmas I decided to add some festive words to my tree in the form of a garland.
It's up to you of course what words you want to make, but I opted for the classic Merry Xmas :)
I also decided to make my own 'texture plate' from cereal box card, but that is an optional step.
I hope you enjoy this tutorial!
Step 1: What You Will Need
- Piece of paper
- Metal ruler
- Cutting mat
- Polymer clay; I used Fimo Professional in white. I imagine air dry clay would work just the same if you wanted to use that instead.
- Oven & something to bake the clay on (which you can also use as a non-stick work surface ideally); I used a ceramic tile. Obviously you don't need these if you use air dry clay.
- Acrylic roller (or pasta machine you may already have for this use), a straight cutting blade, an x-acto knife, and lollipop sticks (optional but recommended); for shaping and cutting the clay.
- Twine or string
- Cocktail sticks, a wooden skewer or beading pins; something to put holes into clay that is a slightly bigger diameter than the twine/string you are going to use.
- Super glue
- Wet-and-dry sand paper; for a fine finish you can use 3 grits of sandpaper between 400 and 1200, or, you can be lazier like me and use just one grit such as 800.
- Something to add texture to your clay (optional); I chose to use make my own texture plate rather than buying one. To do this, I used: cereal box card, hole punches, a scrap piece of wood, a hammer and some glue.
- Varnish or other finish (optional); I didn't use a finish on the clay but a varnish, gloss, or even spray paint finish can be applied if you wish.
Step 2: Make a Texture Plate
You can buy texture plates quite cheaply to emboss all sorts of designs onto your clay, but I decided to make my own 'falling snow' inspired design instead.
I used a regular hole punch and some hollow metal hole punches to cut little circles of different sizes out of cereal box card. For the hollow punches, I just used a hammer to hit them down onto the card, (which I had resting on a scrap piece of wood).
Once I had enough circles, I arranged them on a small rectangle of card and glued them into place (PVA will do for this). Then I left that to dry.
Step 3: Cut Out the Letter Templates
Use a ruler and pencil to draw a few straight, parallel lines across a piece of paper. The space between the lines will be the height of the letters. You will want this space to be at least 3 cm (mine were more like 5 cm).
Then sketch out the letters you will need for your garland in between these lines. You only need one of each letter, as you can use each of these letter templates more than once.
Cut the letter shapes using a craft knife on a cutting mat.
Step 4: Condition the Clay
The first step it so condition the clay to turn it from a hard clay that cracks when it's folded or shaped, to a softer malleable clay that is easy to work with.
Just use your cutting blade to cut a chunk of clay off the main block and put it on the ceramic tile (or other non-stick work surface). If you have a zip-loc bag handy then you can put the clay in there, seal it in, then either sit on it for a while to put it into fairly warm (not hot) water for a while to warm it up.
Then use your acrylic roller to flatten the clay, then fold it and roll it out again, then fold and roll and keep repeating that until it starts becoming softer. Then you can use your hands to roll it into a sausage shape, then fold into a ball shape, then repeat this process over and over. You'll know when it's conditioned because the clay won't crack at the edges when it's folded/shaped.
At that point, roll the clay into a flat, smooth & even layer on the tile. I rest my acrylic roller on a stack of 2 lollipop sticks either side of the clay to get an even thickness.
Please see the video above for tips if you need help with this step.
Step 5: Cut Out & Emboss the Clay Letters
Once the clay is rolled out, place as many of the paper letter templates as you can fit on top of the clay.
Then use your cutting blade & X-acto knife to carefully cut around the templates to cut out the clay letters. Don't press down too hard when you do this, as you don't want to damage the tile.
Remove the excess clay and re-use this for the remaining letters. You want to repeat the process until you have cut all of the letters you need out of the clay.
If you have a texture plate, now you need to place it on top of each letter and use the acrylic roller and your hand to press it down evenly onto the clay. This will emboss the design into each letter.
Then they are ready to bake in the oven, following the instructions on the packet.
Step 6: Make the Twine Holders
You have 2 options here; either add 2 holes into the top of each letter, that are big enough for the twine to weave in and out of OR add little cylindrical 'twine holders' onto the back of the letters.
I personally chose to make little cylinders, and I did this by first rolling a small piece of clay into a narrow sausage shape. Then I cut this sausage into small pieces, rolled each one in my fingers to make it narrow enough, then stuck a cocktail stick through the centre.
These pieces need to be small enough to attach to the back of the letters without being seen, and you need either 2 short pieces or 1 longer piece per letter, depending on the design. For instance, 'E', 'A' and 'S' only need one cylinder, whilst 'M' and 'X' need 2 cylinders.
Note: The cocktail sticks, skewers or beading pins you use to make the holes in these cylinders need to make holes slightly bigger than the twine that is going to go through them in the finished garland.
You can then bake these little pieces on the tile. Don't worry that one side will be a bit flat - that's what we want to happen :)
Step 7: Sand & Glue on the Twine Holders
Once the letters and twine holders have all been baked and then left to cool completely, we need to neaten up the edges with sandpaper.
I just used 800 grit wet-and-dry sandpaper in a bowl of water to sand the edges of all the letters straight and smooth . . . this shouldn't take more than 10 seconds per edge.
For the twine holders, you need to find the flat side (where it rested on the tile during baking) and make this flat area a bit bigger and wider by rubbing the side onto the sandpaper. This needs to be a large enough flat area to allow it to be securely glued to the back of the letters.
Once everything has been sanded, rinsed and left to dry, you then need to superglue the twine holders onto the backs of the letters, along the top. See photos above.
The holes in these cylinders should all line up and be positioned horizontally on the letters.
Leave to dry.
Step 8: String the Garland Together
Cut a length of twine that will be long enough for where you want to hang these letters, then feed it through the twine holders.
Simply attach each end of the twine securely to the ceiling, a mantelpiece, or to Christmas tree branches, and admire your handiwork!
If you want to keep the letters spaced out rather than bunched together, you could perhaps use knots in the twine to do this, or even glue beads onto the twine to prevent the letters moving along the twine.
Step 9: Finished!
And that's it; you've now completed your festive clay garland!
Thanks for reading :)