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December 2005


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Polymer Clay Polyzine
Copyright 2000-2005
Raleigh, NC
ISSN 1534-1038
All Rights Reserved.

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Noodly Stuff - Page Three
An Artist Interview
By Marty Woosley

A Tutorial

By Nancy Lotzer and Marty Woosley
Page 1        Page 2        Page 3        Nancy's Gallery

Beaded Filigree

Lotzer Beaded Filigree DishSupplies

  • Clay strands (see: Making Strands With A Garlic Press)
  • Object to cover
  • Stencil knife or X-Acto knife
  • Ball tip stylus or embossing tool.  A blunt craft needle can also be used.
  • Small holeless glass beads – I like 1mm beads but have used bigger and smaller beads with success.
  • Ultra low-tech beading equipment – a paper plate, strand of spaghetti, walnut-size ball of scrap clay, and a milk cap or butter bowl lid.
  • Flecto Varathane or other clay sealant

Filigree Elements

  • Spirals – Roll up a strand.
  • Ovals – Leave a short straight end and then wrap the strand around this end.
  • S-spirals – Roll a spiral on each end in opposite directions.
  • C-spirals – Roll a spiral on each end in the same direction.
  • Lines – Long or short.  Sweeping across your piece, around another element, etc.
  • Balls – Roll tiny balls of clay to poke into tight areas or lay them in a line along another element.
  • Cane slices or Cutouts – My strands are about the same as #1 setting on the Atlas so I use that thickness when cutting out shapes with cutters.
  • Letters or whatever – Go crazy!Open space – If you are leaving open spaces plan them so that they are a part of the overall design.  Otherwise they can look like “oops” gaps.

Tips for Forming Filigree Elements

Nancy Lotzer Image 21. When forming a spiral, cut the beginning end on a slant.  This makes the clay strand easier to roll up.

Lotzer Image 7
2. When forming a tight curve or corner, move the clay strand very slowly to encourage it to go the way you wish. Strands tend to break when forced too quickly.

Lotzer Image 13. If you need a longer strand of clay you can overlap two strands about 1/8”.  Pinch them together and the roll to smooth.

Lotzer Image 34. If you want to emphasis a color, put it in the center of the spiral.

Covering an Object With Filigree

1. I always start on the bottom or back of the object.  I get better at integrating the colors and elements as I work on the piece. This way the prettiest parts will be on the top or front. Because I can’t do straight or centered, I usually start with an off-enter spiral.  Then I’ll add another spiral or line.  Maybe an S-spiral will be next.  Your personal muse will need to tell you what comes next on your piece. 

2. Play with the elements to see what is pleasing to you.  If you don’t like something, peel it up and move it or remove it.

3. If I’m using letters, a cane slice, or a cutout, I always outline it with a clay strand first.  This helps the eye to separate it from the general filigree background.
Dimpling the Filigree

Confession time – I started adding the holeless beads to the filigree to cover up the “oops spots” such as gaps and joins that didn’t quite join.  Okay, now that I’ve ‘fessed up, you too can fix up your not-so-perfect filigree with pretty beads.

1. Make up a sample spiral from leftover strands to practice with before you start on your finished filigree.  Practice making shallow dimples just the diameter of your beads.  The dimples will hold the beads in place so that you can press them into the clay exactly where you want them.

Use Embossing Tool to Make Small Dimples2. Using the embossing tool make small dimples along the clay strands in a pleasing pattern.  I personally like to dimple along long lines, every 2nd row and the centers of every spiral.  If I have cutouts or letters I like to bead the outline row to help set off this element.  (Dimpling is my very favorite part.  I love the “snick, snick” sound that the clay makes – especially on metal!)

Lotzer Image 4
3. Fix “oops spots.” Put a dimple on a messy join.  Fill in a gap by mooshing the clay into place with the embossing tool.  Maybe a line is not quite straight – add a straight row of beads and no one will notice the crooked clay line.

4. You could stop now and have a very pretty piece of dimpled filigree, but be brave. Try the beading part. It’s not hard at all!
Adding the Beads

Spaghetti in Clay Handle1. Gather your ultra low-tech beading equipment. Place your dimpled filigree object on the paper plate. The plate will help keep the tiny beads corralled in one place. Pour some holeless beads into the cap or lid. Break off about 3” of raw spaghetti and stick one end into the ball of scrap clay to form a handle.

Nancy Lotzer Moistening Spaghetti2. Moisten the other end of the spaghetti. Note: I did not say to stick the spaghetti in your mouth. As a card-carrying Mother I would never suggest such a thing. However, you have probably guessed just how I moisten my spaghetti – but you can do it anyway you wish.

3. Touch the moist spaghetti to a bead to pick it up.

4. Place the bead in a dimple.

5. Push in the bead with a finger.  You may want to practice this on your sample piece from above.

6. Repeat steps 3 –5 a bazillion times until all of the dimples are filled.I don’t usually do all bazillion beads at one time. I’ll work on it over a few days depending on the size of a piece. I actually find this to be very meditative. Pick, place, push. Pick, place, push. Pick, place, push.

7. Remoisten the spaghetti as needed. When your spaghetti strand starts to leave pasta debris on the beads break off the end, reverse the strand, or use a new piece.

Lotzer Image 98. When all of the beads are picked, placed, and pushed, carefully press all over your piece to secure all of the beads.  Once again you can fix any “oops spots” by mooshing the clay to do your bidding.

Finishing Your Piece

Lotzer Deco Filigree1. Cure your work at the recommended temperature for your clay.

2. Apply at least two coats of sealant to help keep the beads in place and to make the finished piece shiny.

Other Fun Stuff Using Clay Strands

1. Clay Wire Work

If you have especially soft, flexible clay you can use the strands with a wire jig to make all kinds of cool stuff. I use a small wire jig from the hobby store with the small pegs. Designs are available in wire working books. If you want more sparkle, roll the strands in the tiniest holeless beads, about .5mm, before forming the design on the wire jig. A few ideas that you could try:
  • Jewelry elements
  • Small picture frames
  • Scrapbook or greeting card embellishments
  • Gift tags
  • Focal beads
  • Holiday ornaments
  • Zipper pull or shoelace decorations

2. Hair
Friends who make clay figures like to use strands for hair. 

3. Pattern Sheets
Lay leftover strands on scrap clay in a pleasing pattern.  You might want waves or loose spirals.  Do not overlap the strands so that your pattern sheet is not lumpy.  Cure the clay.  Use this sheet as to add texture or pattern to other clay projects.

4. Spiral Beads

Wrap clay strands around a metal rod such as a knitting needle.  Each strand can form a bead or you can cut them to size before curing.  Try wrapping the strand loosely for another look.

5. Noodly Bowl

Choose a metal or glass bowl as a form.  Loosely coil strands and place randomly over the bowl.  Continue until you like what you see.  Gently press the strands together.  After curing, carefully remove the bowl form.
Be sure to visit Nancy's Gallery for more examples of her lovely polymer clay art.