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Safety first
Stating the obvious, polymer clay is a modelling material, do not eat it, suck it or eat foods whilst working with the medium. Always follow the instructions on the packet. Never bake Polymer clay at a higher temperature than that recommended. Not only does clay baked at too high a temperature give off harmful fumes it also burns the clay, ruining the item.
 
A joint of ham inadvertently baked at 180 degrees Centigrade as opposed to 130 degrees. The clay melted and burnt and the item was ruined.

If you do burn the clay by mistake, turn off the oven, open the windows and doors and leave the room until the fumes have dispersed completely. If you feel unwell having been exposed to fumes, seek medical attention.

Whilst Polymer clay is non toxic it is only sensible that tools used with polymer clay should not then be used with foods, and you should always wash your hands when you have finished working.

What tools to use
You do not need a lot of equipment when working with polymer clay, a few tools, a domestic oven, some enthusiasm and nimble fingers are all that’s required. The tools in the photograph are the ones that I find most useful, but a lot of makers get by with a just a rolling pin, craft knife and cocktail sticks (toothpicks). A ceramic tile makes an ideal work surface, and the items can then be baked in-situ on the tile. A ruler helps to ensure that you are working accurately to scale.



I personally find a curved blade in my craft knife more versatile than a straight blade. A tissue blade (essentially a 4 or 6 inch long razor blade) is very effective when working with polymer clay; its useful for cutting thin slices from canes and for cutting segments, for example, from cakes . However take great care when working with tissue blades, they are VERY sharp, and should be treated with considerable respect. Never on any account allow them to be used by children. A short, backed, razor blade may be a safer option, but again sharp blades and children are not a safe mix.

A wooden rolling pin tends to mark the clay, so use either a glass (or straight sided, glass, bottle) or acrylic rolling pin. I constantly use fine pointed tweezers, not only to hold things in place, but to texture surfaces and as a modelling tool. A pin tool can be purchased or made by baking a pin into a handle of polymer clay. The two cable needles are useful modelling tools, as is the Hockey stick tool used in Pergamano and the ball (embossing) tool. The burnishing tool to the left of the craft knife is useful for modelling and also when mixing liquid clay into solid clay.

A small piece of foam makes an excellent texturing tool, as does a piece of kitchen scourer should you require a coarser effect. Netting and sandpaper are also useful for texturing the surface of the clay.
Cake icing supply shops are a good source of suitable tools and cutters. Suitable tools and everything associated with polymer clay, including a variety of different brands, can be purchased from the Polymer Clay Pit and Polymer Clay Express (see links).
 

The colour range when making miniatures
My personal choice of colours when making miniature food would be: white, translucent, light beige (Champagne in the Fimo range), dark yellow (Golden yellow in the Fimo range), red, deep red (Bordeaux red in the Fimo range), orange, leaf green, green, and brown (previously Terracotta in the Fimo range, now chocolate). My secondary list would contain yellow, carmine red, black, and “Milk and plain chocolate colour” (Raw Umber and Raw Sienna from the Premo™ range). I also use Fimo porcelain sold for Doll making, but this is sold in large 350 gram blocks and you need to make a lot of food to justify it. Porcelain is perfect for making crockery and wedding cakes and recently I have been using it as a substitute for Fimo Translucent as it has become very soft.

You do not need to purchase all these colours. I make a large variety of foods and have cause to use a large colour palate. You have to consider what it is you plan to make before you purchase any clay, do not waste your money buying green if you have no intention of making vegetables.


Conditioning clay
Polymer clay needs to be conditioned before modelling. All this means is that it needs to be worked slightly to make it malleable. Rolling and folding the clay in your hands or on a tile will achieve this pliable state. You can test when the clay is conditioned satisfactorily by rolling it into a cylinder and folding it back on itself; if the clay cracks you need to work it more.

The clay on the left requires more conditioning.

If you are working with large amounts of clay it can be conditioned by passing it repeatedly though a polymer clay dedicated pasta machine, or by giving it a quick blast in a food processor, (which should not then be used for food use).

Repeated baking
It is safe for polymer clay to be baked repeatedly, just check the temperature is not exceeded. This property is useful when making such items as cabbages. Having modelled the “heart” of a cabbage it can be baked, and once cool the additional leaves can be added onto the baked “heart” (using a tiny bit of liquid polymer clay as glue) without the risk of distorting the modelled “heart”.

Support pieces during the baking process
Whilst in the heat of the oven during the curing process all the clays will “soften” slightly. Sometimes it is necessary to support an item, for example the arm on a doll, in position using a piece of card or foil during baking. Once baked and cooled the clay will hold its shape.

Working and baking clay on a tile
I use a tile as a work surface and frequently bake the model in-situ on the tile. The surface of the clay that is against the tile will take on a gloss appearance. In most instances this does not matter, but if you do not wish this to happen bake the item on a piece of card. If you are using a fan assisted oven place the tile in a shallow container, for example a roasting tin, as light items may be blown off the tile.
Do not leave unbaked clay on paper or card as the oils will leach into the paper.

Assembling the final items
So you have made all the pieces to go into your scene, what do you do next? Personally I use PVA glue when I assemble my final settings. It has the advantage over superglue that the pieces can be prised apart if you change your mind.

Cutting unbaked clay and avoiding distortion
When you have modelled a cake (for example) and you wish to cut a slice, the blade, however sharp it is, can distort the clay downwards. Placing the unbaked cake in the fridge for an hour will firm the clay and reduce the amount of downward distortion when you cut a slice. If you bake the cake then cut away the slice whilst the clay is still warm from the oven, there will be no distortion but the cut surface will have a slightly matt appearance. If you paint the cut surface with a thin smear of Sculpey Diluent™and bake the piece again the “mattness” will disappear. It is a matter of personal preference as to which method you use.

The two segments on the left were cut whilst warm and show some distortion. The two slices on the right were cut once baked and have a matt appearance. The pair in the middle were cut after being chilled and before baking and show little distortion and no discolouration.

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Liquid Polymer clay
There are two brands of liquid Polymer clay currently readily available in the UK; Translucent Liquid Sculpey™ (TLS) and Liquid Fimo™ (other brands are available in the USA but I have not had experience with them and cannot comment upon them). All brands of liquid clay can be used as a “glue” to hold unbaked clay to baked clay, once baked the bond will be solid and permanent.

They liquid clays need to be coloured, otherwise they are translucent when baked. Colour the liquid clays by adding tiny amounts of oil paint, a tiny pin head of paint is sufficient to colour a teaspoon of clay. Do not be tempted to use a lot of oil paint to colour the clay, as it will cause the surface to bubble when it is baked.
 

Too much oil paint was added to the liquid clay.

I use cheap oil paints except for red where I use a slightly better quality paint as I found the cheap red from my “Pound Shop” set of oil paints baked more orange than red.

Liquid Fimo™ is more translucent and makes excellent jellies, imitation stained glass and coloured drinks. You can even use it to make perfect champagne; just stir the uncoloured Liquid Fimo™ with a cocktail stick, add it to a glass, bake it and you have champagne with the bubbles in situ. Liquid Fimo™ can be used to create very realistic jellies; mix up whatever colour you wish and bake the liquid clay in one of the decorative kitchen jelly moulds that are readily available by mail order. Whilst still warm the jelly can be realised from the mould. If you want a tricolour jelly each colour must be baked before the addition of the next layer.

Three jellies made from Liquid Fimo.

Transparent Liquid Sculpey™ is more opaque and viscous. It can be coloured to imitate tea, custard, sauces, mousses, cake icing and I mix it with pre-baked grated clay to make a variety of foods that require texture or a distinct colour mix.

Colouring clay with Artists Acrylic Pastels
Artists’ Acrylic Pastels are used to enhance the colour on the outside surfaces of bread, cakes, pastry, fruit, vegetables, poultry and meats and they are an indispensable part of my toolbox. Pastels are readily available from any artists’ supply shop and produce a fine powder that, when applied to the uncooked polymer clay, gives a subtlety of colour that looks very natural. The action of cooking makes the colour permanent.

The loaf of bread has been coloured with pastel powder.

Rub the pastel sticks across a piece of paper and use a paintbrush or micro-brush to apply the resulting powder to the clay. When using pastels take care not to contaminate your clothes, work surface or anything else you are working on with the powder.

I mostly use various shades of browns, greens, and sandy yellows through to light orange.


Book recommendations
When modelling it is best to model from life, but this is not always practical. There are two books (that I know of) that contain pictures of foods and ingredients, and these are indispensable reference sources. The books are “The book of ingredients” by Philip Dowell and Adrian Bailey ISBN 0-7181-3043-X and “Ingredients” by Loukie Werle and Jill Cox ISBN 1-86343-354-6 unfortunately both these books are out of print but are available through Amazon’s second hand book sellers section. “Cooking Ingredients” ISBN 1 84309 714 1 by Christine Ingham also contains pictures of foodstuffs (although not quite so many as the other two books) and is available through Amazon.

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