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Red polymer-clay necklace

A gradated necklace is easy to create with some basic polymer-clay skills and a little organization


  • Polymer clay: 2 ounces each of red, white, and black
  • 11 inches (28cm) of black telephone wire or 11 black wire eyepins
  • Cyanoacrylate glue
  • .018 flexible beading wire
  • 18 4mm Bali-style silver spacer beads
  • 4 crimp beads or tubes
  • 1 inch (2.5cm) of French bullion wire
  • 2 6mm split rings
  • Clasp
  • Pasta machine dedicated to nonfood use
  • Tissue blade
  • Brass plunger cutters: 3⁄16, 5⁄16, 7⁄16, 5⁄8, and 3⁄4 inch (4.8mm, 7.9mm, 1.1cm, 1.6cm, and 1.9cm)
  • Thin plastic wrap
  • Waxed paper
  • Needle tool
  • Toaster oven or oven dedicated to nonfood use
  • Ceramic tile or disposable baking pan
  • 12-inch (30.5cm) thin brass coiling rod, 1mm diameter
  • Flush wire cutters
  • Roundnose and chainnose pliers


Red polymer clay necklace 1
Requiring only three colors of clay, this snappy necklace is a seamless transition of reds. Though easy to make, the trick is in creating the tints (red mixed with white) and shades (red mixed with black) and keeping them organized in an orderly fashion. Eighteen gradations of this hue are created to form the necklace’s eleven circular stacks. The stacks each contain three tints or shades of red in progressively larger sizes atop a black base. With the exception of the center stack, the remaining stacks are made in pairs. A stacking template, is included to make the process easier. The necklace presented is red, but any hue in a medium value—neither too light nor too dark—may be used.

How to cut out circles. To give each circle a nice smooth edge, spread a small sheet of plastic wrap over the clay before you cut your circles, below right. Not only does the plastic wrap act as a release, but on the smallest circles, the plastic wrap keeps the plunger from leaving a mark that the small final dot of black clay couldn’t cover. Also, the plastic wrap and the plunger cutters eliminate the need for a release agent, such as cornstarch.

Cut the unmixed pieces. Pull off a chunk of the red clay and run it through the pasta machine on a #4 setting about 20 times to condition it. This unmixed color will be color #12 on your template. Using your tissue blade, cut the red clay into a 1 x 1⁄2-inch (2.5 x 1.3cm) rectangle. Punch out two 5⁄16-inch (7.9mm) circles. Tear off a piece of waxed paper approximately 3 x 12 inches (7.6 x 30.5cm). Place these two circles of red on the waxed paper, one above and one below as noted in yellow in photo 1. This will be the baseline for your two rows (or pairs) of color circles.
Red polymer clay necklace 12
Stacking template

1. Mix the colors and cut the pieces. Since you are working with small amounts of subtly variegated clay in this project, it is most practical to hand-blend the tints and shades, cut out the shapes you need, then use the leftover color to mix the next batch of red. In photo 1, tints are identified with black tags and shades with white tags.

The tints (lighter colors): Condition your white clay. Add a pinch of conditioned white clay to the remainder of the conditioned red clay. Run the clay through the pasta machine at a #4 setting until the clay colors are thoroughly mixed—no streaks allowed. This is color #11 on your template, slightly lighter than color #12, your base color. Using the 7⁄16-inch (1.1cm) cutter, cut out two circles. Place them on the wax paper to the right of the darker circles.

Add another pinch of white clay to the remainder of the previous color. Blend it well, running it through the pasta machine on a #4 setting. This color, #10, should be a bit lighter than color #11. Cut two 5⁄8-inch (1.6cm) circles. Place the two circles to the right of the previously cut circles.

Continue this process as you make color blends #9 through #4, all of which are made by using the previous color as a foundation and adding increments of white. Use the 5⁄16-, 7⁄16-, and 5⁄8-inch plunge cutters in that order.

Since you only need one circle of each color for the center stack, you can blend smaller amounts for colors #3, #2, and #1.

As you work, step back and examine your colors. Do they seem to be gradating nicely? You may need to remix a color if the transition appears to be too severe. Since a “pinch” is not an exact measurement, let your eyes be your guide.

The shades (darker colors): Pull off a chunk of the red clay (color #12) and condition it as before. Condition a chunk of black clay in the same way. Blend colors #13 through #18 as you did for the lighter colors, adding a smaller pinch of black to create the red shades than you did of white clay to make the tints. Set each color progressively to the left of color #12.

Red polymer clay necklace 6
Step 2
2. Assemble the stacks. Starting from the left, stack the circles as shown in the template. Center each circle carefully, pressing gently, and place the stacks back in order on the waxed paper as each is complete.
Red polymer clay necklace 7
Step 3
3. Add the black clay accents. Condition a chunk of black clay through the pasta machine on a #4 setting. Use the 3⁄4-inch (1.9cm) cutter to make 11 black clay circles. Center each color stack on a black circle.

Roll out a small piece of black clay on the #5 setting. Use the 3⁄16-inch (4.8mm) cutter to make six black clay circles. Cut each in half with your tissue blade. Roll 11 of the halves into tiny balls. Press one in the center of each stack. (The twelfth is waste.)

Make a hole. Use your needle tool to make a shallow hole in one side of each stack on the black layer, being careful not to distort the clay. You will install the black hanging wires or eyepins in this hole, and it should be about 1⁄8 inch (3.2mm) deep.

Bake. Bake the stacks following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Red polymer clay necklace 8
Step 4
Red polymer clay necklace 9
Step 5

4-5. Make the black tube beads. Cut a 1⁄2 x 1⁄2-inch (1.3 x 1.3cm) square of black clay and roll it into a 1-inch (2.5cm) cylinder. Make a hole lengthwise through the cylinder with your needle tool. Slide the cylinder on a long brass coiling rod. With the bottoms of your fingers and palms of your hand, roll and stretch this clay out evenly on the rod, forming a cylinder of black clay 9–10 inches (22.9–25.4cm) long and about 3⁄8-inch (9.5mm) wide. Bake the rod following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Slide the black tube off the rod while it’s still warm and cut it into 1⁄4-inch (6.4mm) pieces. For a 16-inch (40.6cm) necklace, you’ll need about 36 tubes and 18 Bali-style silver spacers.

Red polymer clay necklace 10
Step 6

6. Make the hanging loops for the stacks. Cut 11 1-inch (2.5cm) pieces of black telephone wire. Using your roundnose and chainnose pliers, turn a plain loop at one end of each piece of telephone wire. Skip this step if using black wire premade eyepins.

Using your flush cutters, trim the ends of the hanging loops or eyepins to fit the depth of the holes in your cooled stacks. Glue each loop or eyepin in the hole using cyanoacrylate gel glue. Keep the eyes perpendicular to the stack as shown in photo 6.

Red polymer clay necklace 11
Step 7

7. Assemble the necklace. Cut a piece of beading wire 6 inches (15.2cm) longer than the desired finished length of your necklace. Center the lightest stack (colors #1–3) on the wire. String a tube, a spacer, and a tube on each side of the center stack, then string the next stack (colors #4–6) on each end. Continue in this manner, using progressively darker stacks as you work toward each end. Once all of the stacks are strung, repeat the tube-spacer-tube pattern on each end until the necklace is about 1–2 inches (2.5–5.1cm) shorter than the desired length, depending on the length of your clasp. On each end, string two crimp beads, a 1⁄2-inch (1.3cm) piece of silver French bullion wire, and a split ring. Go back through the crimp beads and a few adjacent tubes and spacers. Check the fit and add or remove tube and spacer beads as needed, restringing the crimps, bullion wire, and split rings. Crimp all four crimp beads with chainnose pliers or a crimping tool. Trim the excess wire. Attach the ends of the clasp sections to the split rings.

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