One of the reasons I love working with polymer clay is the opportunity it provides to create incredibly intricate color patterns using the millefiori technique. Because the colors are part of the clay itself, polymer clay artists can assemble color patterns as if they were using colored glass instead of colored clay. In fact, the millefiori technique originated as a 7th century glass technique and was transferred to the clay world relatively recently with the advent of dyed polymer clays.
As I mentioned three weeks ago, several of my millefiori canes have lasted for years. Because each individual slice of a cane is barely a millimeter thick, a foot-long cane can contribute to hundreds of items. However, two of my longest lasting canes are just about ready for retirement. This week, it was time to make a new leaf cane.
Here are step-by-step instructions for making a leaf cane. Even if you’re not a polymer clay or glass artist, I hope you enjoy walking with me through the process.
Click any of the instructional photos below to zoom in.
- Select the color combination you want to use for your leaf cane, based on the color palette of your project. I created this particular leaf cane to use with my “Earth Laughs in Flowers” Wall Plaque, which has a yellow and white marbleized background, so I wanted to incorporate tinges of yellow with the green of the leaves.
I chose to use a deep brown clay for the veins of the leaves, but black will also work and would create a much starker contrast with the body of the leaf.
Variation idea: Try making the leaf cane with reds and golds, rather than green and yellow, for a distinctly autumnal feel.
- Mix the leaf colors into a marbleized log, then pinch the log into a teardrop shape.
- Slice the log in half along the length of the log. Then, using diagonal cuts, divide each half into 4 or 5 sections (see photo below).
Tip: I like to divide the two halves unevenly, so the sections on each side of the leaf don’t line up exactly. You’ll notice that, for this cane, I cut one half into 5 sections and the other into 4. This provides a bit of naturalistic asymmetry to each leaf.
- Roll a sheet of clay from the vein color using a pasta machine. I like to use a very thin setting on my pasta machine so the veins are unobtrusive and delicate in the finished cane. Depending on the style of your project, a thicker setting, which would provide more definition of each leaf section, might be more appropriate.
- Cut rectangles of clay from the clay sheet to fit the space between each section and for the middle of the cane. Layer the leaf sections and the vein sheets.
- Wrap the cane with another rectangle of the vein clay.
Tip: I like to use an even thinner setting on my pasta machine for this final outer wrap. Using a thick sheet of clay makes a very bulky outer edge that can can almost to overpower the leaf colors. Again, your choice in this regard depends on the style of your project.
- Roll the cane to stretch it out, shrinking it down to your desired size.
Tip: Be careful as you roll the cane to keep the “top” of the leaf even from one end of the cane to the other, so the cane doesn’t twist within itself. This will help you shape the cane before slicing.
- Use an acrylic roller to return the cane to its original tear-drop shape, making sure the top of the leaf is even from one side to the other.
- Cut off the ends of the cane, which are undoubtedly messes of colors, to reveal your carefully assembled clay pattern within.
Tip: The ends of millefiori canes are always garbled messes, but don’t throw away that clay! Use the scrap clay from the ends of your canes to create small pendants and charms. By choosing compatible colors at the beginning of your cane project, you can achieve beautiful marbleized color swirls from the leftover scraps. For example, the clay portions of my Pink Swirl Necklace Set and my EarthTone Cross Necklace were shaped using scrap clay ends.
- Slice and use!
Tip: If you’re having trouble with the colors smearing or with the cane becoming misshapen as you slice, put the cane on wax paper and stick it in your freezer for 10-20 minutes before slicing. Polymer clay can become very warm and malleable – almost mushy – when over-conditioned, making the slicing process difficult. A brief stay in your freezer will cool the clay enough for you to slice the cane cleanly and easily.
If you end up making this leaf cane, send me photos of your projects! I’d love to see the finished items and share your creativity on my blog.