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Polymer Clay Mummy Beads - Intermediate Polymer Clay Extruder Project

These beads are from my first published tutorial, printed in Jewelry Crafts magazine back in 2001. Sadly, Jewelry Crafts ceased publication some years ago. Many clayers will remember it fondly as a great friend to the polymer clay arts!

This project weaves strips of clay together, inspired by the look of ancient Egyptian mummies. Because the beads are created in long strips, you can use the "woven" clay in different ways. Cut small sections to form straight tube beads as I have done, curve them into elbow beads or maybe create larger curved sections  as unusual bangle components.

Don't feel obliged to make these beads two-tone. I've just done it that way to better show the process. They look equally fab made from single colours, or even marbled strings of clay.

You won't need many tools or supplies to do this project, in fact you'll find most of what you need in the EJR Beads online store.

Finally, please forgive the poor photos and diagrams in this tutorial. The images are all very old now - were I shooting the photos all afresh, they would be much better. But I hope you get the idea none the less and enjoy adapting the project to your own tastes.

polymer clay extruder mummy beads


You will need:



Step 1

These beads are constructed in long sections using a clay-covered bamboo skewer as a base.

Form a scrap clay ribbon about 1 mm thick. I quickly roll a long log, 1/2 cm wide, and run it through the pasta machine on the 1 mm setting.

Dust all but the top and bottom 4 cm of the skewer with cornstarch. We only want the ends of the clay tube to stick to the wood, not the middle section.

Attach the clay ribbon near the top of the skewer (just above the dusted area) and spiral it down around the skewer, making sure the clay overlaps itself slightly all the way. Fix the end of the ribbon near the bottom of the skewer, just as you did the top.


  Step 2

The clay base now needs to be smoothed out a little by rolling along the work surface.

Don't worry about getting it perfectly smooth. Its more important to use a slow, light touch so you don't stretch the clay. We don't want it going saggy around the skewer!

Your skewer should now be covered in tube of clay, with some wood poking out either end  allowing you to hold it easily. Pinch the clay at each end to ensure it is firmly attached to the wood. Ideally, the rest of the tube should be snug, but still moveable around the skewer.

You could try using the Makin's Open Core adaptors to form the tube base - they weren't around when I first wrote this project! 

Step 3

Now, we want to mark some guidelines on the clay for wrapping the first bandages. The more accurate you get these first wraps, the better the final beads will look.

Lay the clay tube against a metal ruler. Using a marker pen, make a mark on the clay every 2 cm, marking at 0, 2, 4, 6 etc, all the way along the clay.

On the opposite side of the clay tube, measuring from the same point, mark dots every 1, 3, 5, 7 cm etc. I've done silly photoshop dots on the photo to show you the basic idea of where your dots will be. But your dots will be properly measured out and - more importantly - actually be on the clay itself!  


Step 4

You can now make the polymer clay bandages. Extrude long 2mm diameter strings of your chosen colours. Carefully run them through the pasta machine to flatten to around 1 mm thick.

Spiral the first clay bandage around the tube, pushing carefully to ensure it adheres to the clay base. Follow the marker dots, making sure the bandage sits just ABOVE the marker each time. Don't cover your markers, we'll need them visible for the next wrap.

Spiral a differently coloured bandage around in the opposite direction. Make sure this bandage only crosses over the first exactly where the marker dots are.


Step 5

So, you probably know where this is going now? Just wrap the bandages in alternate directions until the clay tube is covered, right?

Well, sorta. You could wrap away with wild abandon, but the beads won't look very even. They will "grow" at the crossover points.

So before wrapping the third bandage, we need to form a little ditch or gulley in the previous one at each up-coming crossover point for it to sit in. This gives a more flush appearance to the final bead as the layers start to build up.

Hold one end of the skewer in your non-dominant hand. Support the other end on a blob of clay to keep everything off the table. We don't want to squish the underside of the project as we are making these gullies.


Step 5 - Funky Diagram

I make the gullies by just pushing the clay down a little with the edge of a spatula tool.

This is only done where the up-coming bandage will cross over the previous one (the area marked by dots in my amazing diagram)

In the previous photo, you can probably see where I've already made the first gulley and am working on the next.

This process is quite fiddly. You need to be able to support the project mid-air AND be able to push down in small areas with precision. Take your time and don't push the clay too hard or too quickly.

Be sure to make a gully at each of the cross-over points before commencing the next bandage wrap.


Step 6

Pretty obvious what you have to do here. Just spiral the next bandage down in the opposite direction to the last, making sure it nestles into the gullies you made for it.

Try to keep this bandage neatly butted against the first bandage you wrapped.

(If you look on the right hand side of this photo, you might be able to see where I've started making the gullies in this third bandage in readiness for the fourth wrap.)



Step 6 - Funky Diagram

So here is where we are at now in diagram form.

The third bandage (which, you have probably noticed is the same colour and wrapped in the same direction as the first bandage) has been spiralled around the clay tube.

You probably don't need this diagram, or even the next one either. But I had the diagrams here all ready to use and you know how grumpy technical drawings can get if you ignore them.

Step 7

Make the gullies in bandage number 3 and then wrap the fourth bandage (which will be the same colour and wrapped in the same direction as bandage number 2 of course)

Keep wrapping and making gullies until all the base clay is covered and you run out of space.

Once complete, support the tube on blobs of clay and cool it in the fridge for half an hour. Once cool, carefully cut the clay into tube beads on the skewer and slide them off for baking. Cutting the clay unbaked allows you to add further clay embellishments like bead caps etc. It also allows you to curve the tube if you wish, for elbow bead or bangle components etc. Or even brayer the bead to make it square - there are many possibilities for your Mummy Beads!

Alternatively you can slice the tube after baking whilst the clay is still warm from the oven. If baking on the skewer, be sure the clay is very loose and moveable around it. You might also want to trim away the fixed ends at this point so you can more easily remove the tube after baking. Do not allow the warm beads to cool in place on the skewer as you might find they stick!




Step 8

You can click the above picture to enlarge it and see all the steps to this project so far.

After baking, when the beads have cooled, you can antique them to bring out the pattern if you wish. Paint over the beads with some dark brown ink or acrylic paint. Once the ink / paint is completely dry, wet sand the clay surface to remove the staining from all but the crevices of the bead. You can then buff, wax or varnish the beads if you wish.

 (If using acrylic paints, they will be touch dry quickly but do require around 24 hours to dry completely. If you try to wet sand before the paint has fully cured, you will just rehydrate it and it will wash away.)

 Don't forget - if you make any beads or jewellery using these techniques, I would love to feature a photo of them in the Customer's Gallery!

Text & Images Emma Ralph 2001 - 2011. May not be printed, distributed or reproduced electronically or otherwise without the author's written permission.

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