Crafting my own jewelry, or trying

August 13th, 2009

Donna Kato

Donna Kato at home in her Colorado studio with some of her polymer clay creations.

If you want to tone up, just try working with polymer clay. I was in Donna Kato‘s weekend workshop at the Linekona Art Center, presented by the Hawaii Stitchery and Fibre Arts Guild. Kato is a nationally known artist, author and teacher, who works in the polymer clay medium, i.e. Fimo, Sculpy and her own branded Kato Polyclay, a collaboration with Van Aken International.

What I was doing there I don’t know. I’m not particularly good with my hands, having been put on earth to appreciate artists of all stripes, from fashion and jewelry designers to visual artists. I always liked working with clay, though, both handbuilding and on a pottery wheel, so I thought it might be fun to explore a variation of the medium. I was also told that it helps to master polymer clay skills before tackling silver clay.

pasta machine

Sending white sheets of polymer clay through the pasta machine left me with a desire to make my own pasta.

During my interview with Donna, she kept referring to her pasta machine as key to working with her clay, and once I started working with it, I could see why. There’s no other way to pound it into submission. You have to flex, knead and roll it to get it into a thin enough sheet to fit through the pasta machine, and my abs and arms felt pretty toned after two days of working the clay. It was pretty slow going because we had to do a lot of conditioning of the clay, to get it into a factory-fresh pliable consistency, before even dreaming of shaping it into jewelry and other pieces.



At top are pieces made by Donna that would comprise the pin at top left. The pieces started with toner transfers from Xeroxed clip art. Above, once the pieces were cured once, the impressions left by the toner created images that could be inked over. Ele Clere applies ink to her pieces with her fingertips. Coincidentally, the colors and patterns she chose matched what she was wearing!

It’s an interesting medium because you can use several techniques to get it to mimic such raw materials as ceramic ware, bone, stone, ebony, ivory, glass and more.

Borrowing the glasswork idea of creating canes to replicate patterns, we created striped canes that would embellish bangle bracelets we were making. Once you start working with the polymer clay, you start seeing so many possibilities, but it probably does require a workspace that allows you to set up a pasta machine and dedicated toaster oven for curing small pieces.

the clay

My bracelet’s border cane. Layering the various colors of clay was like making maki sushi.


Here’s the way the cane looks when sliced thin and molded to black and giraffe-colored bangles, sitting on my Fighting Eel dress.

It’s pretty embarrassing to compare my bangles to hers, but hey, it’s years of experience vs. a two-day amateur. We only had time to make one bangle on the second day, but I noticed a woman wearing glasses that had a giraffe pattern on the arms, and I liked the color combinations, so hastily created that bracelet. Only, I didn’t have enough yellow clay after I finished making an orange-and-red cane, so my second batch of orange turned out more salmon color, which didn’t have enough contrast to make the brown giraffe spots stand out.

polymer pendant

One of Donna Kato’s Art Nouveau pendants.

On my initial black bangle, I had a tribal pattern affixed in class but didn’t have time to let it bake. Once I got home, I decided I liked the plain, glossy black, which reminded me of the glosssy black-on-black work of the Martinez clan of New Mexico. So I removed the pattern and let it stand.

I love traveling in New Mexico and have quite a bit of the various pueblos’ pottery. I also love the red, shimmery mica clay there, and I guess those preferences and influences stay with a person, because the orange bracelet, with a touch of gold polymer clay, turned out to look a lot like the clay of Taos Pueblo.

music pins

Kato’s music pins, which we tried duplicating on Day One.

Only afterward, I noticed that the bangles were also perfect match for one of my Fighting Eel dresses, and the pattern on the black bangle would have matched the dress perfectly if I had left it in place. Oh well! I could add it back, but somehow, without the camaraderie of a class, it seems a much more daunting a task.

To find out more about the Hawaii Stitchery and Fibre Arts Guild, that doesn’t limit itself to fiber arts, write P.O. Box 235673 / Honolulu, HI 96822.

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5 Responses to “Crafting my own jewelry, or trying”

  1. Sarah Chinen:

    Great post Nadine! For a “newbie” you did very well! Thanks for the shout out about the Hawaii Stitchery and Fibre Arts Guild. Hope to see you at future meetings (always the 1st Wednesday evening of the month at 7:00 pm at Linekona Art Center). The arts are alive thanks to appreciative and curious people like you!

  2. Mandy R.:

    Aloha Nadine,
    Great blog article about our workshop! Thoroughly accurate description of the total experience. Yeah, I need a toaster oven that’s taller than the one we have, to finish my bracelet. Hope that actually happens, considering all the work that’s gone into it so far!
    Looking forward to more articles from you.
    Take care,

  3. Monica Lewis:

    Beautiful presentation on your blog, Nadine.

    I wore my “overcooked” clay mistake bangle to Outback Steakhouse last night.
    Waitresses, etc. noticed and asked me about it …very complimentary.

    My boyfriend upset over my choice of jewelry rather from a box of his real “gifts” to
    wear. But then eased up over the compliments from all the attention from the ladies.

    One girl asked me how I made it. I said, First, stick the clay under your
    armpit to warm it up.

    Secondly, keep your first mistake. It will probably be the best you will have
    ever created.

    Monica Lewis

  4. Nadine Kam:

    Haha, forgot about the warming up part! Tried everything from putting it in the pockets and waistband of my shorts to sitting on it like a hen and it was still tough, but I guess that speaks to the durability of the finished piece!

  5. MonicaLewis:

    Hi ,

    Me again. Met a woman visiting here in Honolulu doing Polymer Clay.
    I held up her arm but no clay fell out. I asked how she warmed it.

    She said she puts it in an airtight ziplock bag and leaves it in warm water.

    Interesting advice ! Happy Arting Everyone

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