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Spirit of the Southwest beads

Create earthy and rustic clay beads
Re-create the red clay landscapes and abundant turquoise of Santa Fe in easy, lightweight polymer clay beads. Metal leaf and pigment bring an old-world feel to contemporary materials.


eight beads: four large, four small

  • Premo polymer clay
    • 2 oz. (56g) each black and turquoise
    • 1 oz. (28g) each white and translucent
  • 5 x 5-in. (13 x 13cm) sheet gold, silver, copper, or variegated metal leaf
  • Piñata Ink, Havana brown (Polymer Clay Express,
  • Piñata Claro Extender (optional)
  • neutral shoe polish
  • bamboo skewer or needle tool
  • glass, marble, or Plexiglas work surface
  • oven or toaster oven, dedicated to use with polymer clay
  • parchment paper
  • pasta machine, dedicated to use with polymer clay
  • small paintbrush
  • soft cloth
  • spray bottle
  • texture sheet or texture tools
  • tissue blade
  • wet/dry sandpaper, 1500-grit


1. Condition 2 oz. (56g) of black polymer clay. Using a pasta machine on it’s thickest setting, roll the clay into a sheet.

2. Gently place a sheet of metal leaf on top of the black clay (PHOTO A) and smooth out any air bubbles with your fingers.

3. Condition 1 oz. (28g) of translucent clay. Using the pasta machine on its thickest setting, roll the clay into a sheet. Gradually adjusting the machine to thinner settings, continue rolling until the clay is quite thin but still workable. My final pass was the seventh setting. If you find your sheet rippling, run it through sandwiched between two sheets of parchment paper.


4. Place the translucent clay onto the leafed black clay (PHOTO B). Roll the leafed black-and-translucent sheet through the pasta machine on the thickest setting. Roll a few more times, changing to the next-thinnest setting to remove any air bubbles. Trim away the jagged edges, and set aside.

5. Condition 2 oz. (56g) of turquoise clay and 1 oz. (28g) of white clay. Run them through the pasta machine together several times until they are well blended.

6. Roll the turquoise-and-white mixture into a log approximately 6 in. (15cm) long. Use a tissue blade to cut off a 1-in. (2.5cm) piece (PHOTO C). Roll the piece into a ball between your palms.
7. Cut a 1⁄4–1⁄2-in. (6–13mm) strip of the leafed black clay, and wrap it around the turquoise ball (PHOTO D). Overlap the ends if you like, or leave a bit of turquoise bead showing between them. Roll the ball between your palms until the strip is flat and fused to the turquoise ball (PHOTO E).

8. Make a hole in the bead with a needle tool or bamboo skewer (PHOTO F).

9. Spray a texture sheet with water, and gently press it into the turquoise areas of the bead randomly (PHOTO G).

10. Repeat steps 6–9 to make three more large beads. To make the small beads, repeat four more times, but only cut 1⁄2 in. (1.3cm) from the log in step 6. If desired, make different textures and designs by varying the placement of the leafed black strips and using different texture tools.

11. To prevent the beads from flattening out as they bake, make a paper fan with parchment paper and place the beads within the folds before baking. Bake the beads for 45 minutes at 265°F (129°C), or according to the manufacturer’s instructions.


12. When the beads are cool, use a small paintbrush to paint the turquoise portions of the beads with Piñata Ink (PHOTO H). Let them dry.

13. Lightly sand a little of the ink off with 1500-grit sandpaper. If the color is not quite what you want, apply a thinned solution of ink (thinned with Piñata Claro Extender) to the bead and immediately blot the excess. Sand again if desired.



14. Apply a tiny amount of neutral shoe polish, and buff with a soft cloth (PHOTO I).

Editor's Note
As you run a sandwiched metal leaf sheet through your pasta machine, the metal leaf develops more crazing and the top layer becomes more transparent, as shown above. To make these samples, we covered the leafed black clay with translucent clay that had been rolled out on the fifth setting. We then re-rolled the entire sheet on the thickest setting (left), the second-thickest setting (middle), and the third-thickest setting (right). If you like a lot of crazing but also want the look of a deep translucent layer, start with a thicker sheet of translucent clay.
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