One of the first tools that I was hesitant to invest in for polymer clay was a pasta machine. I saw a lot of people recommending them on forums, but I wasn’t sure if it would be necessary for my working style since I don’t do much with flat sheets.
I noticed that a lot of people said that use a pasta machine was the easiest way to condition polymer clay, which made me wonder if I was missing out on not having one in the beginning. Although I eventually purchased my own, just know that it isn’t required for conditioning the clay.
Polymer clay can be conditioned by hand or with an acrylic hand roller. You do not need a pasta machine to properly condition the clay, regardless of the brand you are working with. The key to conditioning polymer clay without a pasta machine is to work in small batches, only combining the smaller pieces into one large ball at the end.
Some people may find that conditioning is hard on their hands, especially firmer brands, and will prefer using tools because of how much easier it makes the task.
Why do you have to condition polymer clay?
Polymer clay needs to be conditioned before you start sculpting and shaping it into a project. This just means that you are warming the clay up and softening it so that it becomes easier to work with.
When you’re finished, the clay will feel malleable and it will have an even consistency throughout the chunk.
Aside from making the clay easier to work with, conditioning also mixes all of the ingredients that make up the clay together. This will ensure that you have a durable end product.
Because the clay becomes more malleable during the process, you will also be able to roll it into thin sheets without tearing, as well as sculpt finer details into it without experiencing crumbling.
Can you condition polymer clay by hand?
Tools are not necessary for conditioning polymer clay, although they do make the process faster and effortless. Still, it can be done by hand just as successfully.
First of all, make sure the size of each piece you’ll be conditioning doesn’t exceed 2 ounces. It would be very time-consuming and painful for your hands to soften up bigger chunks than that.
When you take a block of clay out of the pack it’s usually very firm and stiff. Your hands will get tired easily if you try to start squeezing it right away. I usually break the block fo clay into smaller chunks to condition separating before incorporating them into a large ball together.
Alternatively, you can also warm the clay up a bit before you open the package. The cooler the clay is, the more time it will take for it to be conditioned.
One way to warm up the clay is to place the package in your pocket or even sit on the package for a few minutes. Your body temperature is enough to soften the clay to make it easier to work by hand. Make sure the clay is still in the package, or at least in a plastic bag, before placing it next to your clothing so that it doesn’t attract lint.
Be careful not to cure the clay instead of warming it up. Even partial curing will make it unable to be conditioned. Do not put it under direct sunlight or any other kind of ultraviolet light. Do not heat it up in the microwave or place it in the oven.
You can put it under a lamp or a warm water bottle, but make sure they’re not making it too hot. Use your body temperature as a guide – your material shouldn’t be a lot warmer than that.
After the clay has been warmed up for a while, unpack the block and start to roll it back and forth on your work surface. Press down as hard as you can while doing that. It’s easier to use the palm of your hand instead of your fingers.
When you see that the block’s edges soften up and it starts losing its rectangle shape, it’s time to take it in your hands. Squeeze it for a couple of minutes.
Roll it into a ball. Then roll the ball into a snake on your work surface. Take it in your hands again and recompress it back into a ball. Repeat this process as many times as needed.
I personally like to roll the smaller chunks of clay that I’ve separated off of the main block into snakes, twist them as many times as they can go before breaking, then roll them back into a ball. I do this repeatedly until the clay feels soft and workable.
How do you know when polymer clay is conditioned?
The amount of time it takes to condition your clay will vary depending on the brand, firmness, and the amount of clay that you are using. The temperature of the clay and your individual style of conditioning will also influence how long it takes. In general, it takes approximately between four and ten minutes for a 2 ounces piece.
You can check if the clay has been conditioned enough by rolling it into a snake and trying to twist it in the middle. If it doesn’t break or crack, it’s ready.
If your project involves mixing colors together, then you can also use that as an indicator of how well the clay is conditioned. The clay is conditioned when the two colors are fully blended into one, and there are no visible streaks or pieces of either of the base colors.
There’s no such thing as too much conditioning. However, there are some brands that get softer and softer the more you warm them up. If you think your clay has gotten too soft, then just leave it to cool down until it firms back up. Don’t worry; you won’t have to recondition it afterward.
In time you’ll get more experienced and you’ll be able to easily tell when and if the clay is conditioned. You just have to learn to recognize the texture changes as they happen.
How do you prevent bubbles when you’re conditioning polymer clay?
Finding a bubble in your already baked piece can be very discouraging. But it can be prevented if your clay is conditioned well.
A bubble appears because you’ve accidentally trapped some air inside of the clay. The softer your clay is, the more is it prone to bubbles.
Bubbles usually appear when using a pasta machine for conditioning. If that is the case, try repeatedly rolling the clay out on a thicker setting. Check both sides of the sheet every time you take it out.
If you notice that some air has been trapped inside your raw sheet, then tear it up with your hands and roll it into a ball. Press firmly as you’re doing that. This will squeeze out the extra air.
Press the surface as hard as you can if you’re using an acrylic roller to spread the ball out into a sheet instead of a pasta machine.
Lay it out flat again, fold it in half, then run it through the machine (or flatten it with your roller), with the folded side facing down. Repeat this at least ten times to make sure you’ve gotten rid of any bubbles.
Do not put a hard clay that hasn’t been pre-conditioned into a pasta machine. This will only cause it to shred.
If your clay doesn’t have many bubbles, you can also try bursting them with a knife or a needle and smoothing out the area with your fingers afterward.
If you are experiencing a lot of bubbles while you are conditioning the clay by hand, then the most likely reason for this is that you were rolling your clay with moist hands. When moisture gets into the polymer clay, it will forcibly escape during baking as the steam is released.
What happens if you don’t condition polymer clay before working with it?
Conditioning is a vital preparation step that shouldn’t be skipped. If you don’t do it at all, your clay won’t be elastic enough which will result in brittleness, plaquing, and cracking when it’s cured.
The finished pieces that are made with clay that hasn’t been conditioned properly will not be very durable.
Preparing the clay can be a frustrating task, especially if you’ve just come up with an amazing idea that you want to try out immediately. So consider investing time in conditioning some of your clay beforehand and saving it up for future use.