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21st Century mosaic brooch

Use cured polymer clay to usher an ancient technique into the modern era.

From as far back as the fourth century B.C., people have been piecing together tiny tesserae (fragments) of marble, glass, and tile into colorful mosaics to decorate important buildings and landmarks. This modern, wearable mosaic isn’t made of any of those traditional materials; instead it’s made of cured, sliced, and carefully arranged polymer clay rods. This technique creates a pattern with crisp color delineation, as opposed to the softer edges found within a polymer clay cane. 

SUPPLIES

For Part One: Polymer clay mosaic

  • Polymer clay: colors for your design
  • Liquid polymer clay
  • Circle template: 1 1⁄8-in. (29 mm) diameter, 1 3⁄4-in. (44 mm) diameter
  • Circle cutter: 1 1⁄8-in. (29 mm) diameter
  • Clear, hard plastic sheet: 2 x 3 in. (51 x 76 mm); or polymer clay extruder
  • Toolbox: Polymer clay
  • Paintbrushes: flat tip
  • Sandpaper: wet/dry, various grits

For Part Two: Copper frame and pin back

  • Copper tubing:
    • 1⁄8-in. (3 mm) outside diameter (OD), 2 in. (51 mm)
    • 3⁄32 in. (2.4 mm) OD, 2 in. (51 mm)
  • Copper sheet: 20-gauge (0.8 mm), 2 1⁄2 x 5 in. (64 x 127 mm)
  • Stainless steel wire: 0.032 in. (0.8 mm), spring-tempered, 2 in. (51 mm); or sterling silver wire: 20-gauge (0.8 mm), round, hard, 2 in. (51 mm)
  • Toolbox: Riveting

 

INSTRUCTIONS

21st Century mosaic brooch Photo 1
PHOTO 1
21st Century mosaic brooch Photo 2
PHOTO 2
21st Century mosaic brooch Photo 3
PHOTO 3
21st Century mosaic brooch Photo 4
PHOTO 4
21st Century mosaic brooch Photo 5
PHOTO 5
21st Century mosaic brooch Photo 6
PHOTO 6
21st Century mosaic brooch Photo 7
PHOTO 7
21st Century mosaic brooch Photo 8
PHOTO 8
21st Century mosaic brooch Photo 9
PHOTO 9
PART ONE: POLYMER CLAY MOSAIC

1. Plan your mosaic.

Use a circle template to draw a 1 1⁄8-in. (29 mm)-diameter circle on paper. Draw your own design in the circle (PHOTO 1), or use copyright-free art for your image.
Select a palette of colors for your design. You may need to try several color combinations to find the best one.

2. Prepare polymer clay.

Condition each of your polymer clay colors. Blend colors by mixing two or more colors and running the blend through a pasta machine until the blend is one uniform color.

3. Make polymer clay rods.

 You can use a clear, hard plastic sheet to roll rods of clay to a uniform thickness. First, use your hands to make a snake that’s about 3⁄16 in. (5 mm) in diameter. Then lightly move the plastic sheet back and forth over the snake to reduce it (PHOTO 2). 

You can also use an extruder to make rods. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to load the clay, insert the disk cam, and extrude the clay (PHOTO 3). Make rods in various diameters for each of your clay colors. My rods are 2–4 mm in diameter.

4. Bake the rods.

Place the rods on a smooth ceramic tile. To remove any curvature, straighten the rods with your fingers. Make an aluminum-foil tent and place it over the rods (PHOTO 4). This will help prevent your rods from scorching.

Bake the rods in an oven according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Remove the assembly from the oven and allow the rods to air-cool.

5. Make a polymer clay base.

Condition approximately 1⁄2 oz. (14 g) of polymer clay. Run the clay through a pasta machine set to the thickest setting. Use a tissue blade to cut the clay in half. Stack the pieces to make a sheet that’s about 1⁄8 in. (3 mm) thick. Or, use an acrylic roller to roll the clay to 1⁄8 in. (3 mm) thick.

Use a 1 1⁄8-in. (29 mm)-diameter circle cutter to cut two disks from the clay sheet. Stack the disks, using a flat-tip paintbrush to apply a thin layer of liquid polymer clay between them. Press lightly to adhere them, forming a 1⁄4-in. (6.5 mm)-thick base.

6. Transfer your design to the clay base.

Use a needle tool to lightly pierce the pattern of your design into the clay (PHOTO 5). To transfer more complex designs, place your sketch on top of the base, piercing through the paper into your clay.

7. Cut the rods.

Use a craft knife or tissue blade to cut the rods into about 5⁄16-in. (8 mm) pieces.

8. Insert the rods into the clay base
.

Use a flat-tip paintbrush to apply a thin coat of liquid polymer clay to the surface of the clay base. Using your fingers or tweezers, push one end of the rods into (but not all the way through) the base (PHOTO 6). Use the pierced holes as a guide for arranging the colored rods according to your pattern.

NOTE: Do your best to keep the rods level to the base. Place the thicker rods first and then fill in with thinner rods. Don’t worry if some of the rods are seated slightly higher than others -— you’ll sand the surface level in a later step.

The base will spread out a bit as you complete the mosaic. After all the rods are in place, gently press the edges of the base to restore its round shape and to compact the rods. Then use the 1 1⁄8-in. (29 mm) circle cutter to true-up the circle, cut excess clay from the edges of the mosaic, and further compact the rods.

9. Bake the mosaic.

Place the mosaic on a ceramic tile, cover it with an aluminum tent, and bake it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Remove the mosaic from the oven and allow it to air-cool.

10. Add a polymer clay rim.

Choose a color of clay to encircle the mosaic, keeping in mind that this rim will be visible when you’ve finished the brooch. Condition the clay and run it through the pasta machine set to a medium-thin setting. Cut an approximately 3⁄8 x 6-in. (9.5 x 152 mm) strip from the sheet.

Apply a light coat of liquid polymer clay to the edge of the mosaic. Using light pressure, wrap the clay strip around the mosaic. Using a craft knife, trim the excess clay strip, and gently press the ends of the strip together. Use a tissue blade to trim any portion of clay strip that overhangs the back of the mosaic (PHOTO 7).

11. Make notches for the spacers.

Place the mosaic face-up on your work surface. Use a piece of 1⁄8-in. (3 mm)-outside-diameter (OD) tubing to impress three notches into the side of the strip (PHOTO 8), approximately coinciding with the lettered rivet points on Template A (which is shown on the PDF). 

One notch should be centered at the top of your pattern, and the other two notches should be equidistant from the bottom center of your pattern. The notches will align with the spacers and rivets, and will keep the mosaic from rotating when the brooch is assembled.

12. Bake the mosaic.

Place the mosaic back on the ceramic tile, cover it with an aluminum tent, and bake it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Remove the mosaic from the oven and allow it to air-cool.

13. Refine the mosaic.

Place 220-grit wet/dry sandpaper in a shallow dish of water. Sand the front of the mosaic (PHOTO 9), moving it in a figure 8 motion against the sandpaper until all the rods on the surface are smooth and level. Repeat to sand the back. Rinse the mosaic well to remove any debris from between the rods.

21st Century mosaic brooch FIGURE
BUILDING THE FRAME


 

You're now ready to build the copper frame for your mosaic!

You will use your copper sheet and tubing to construct a frame and pin back for your piece. For step-by-step instructions and photos, download the free PDF!

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