This ended up being a long post so it’s in two parts. Read Part 2 here.
After my success with DIYing the wood floor, I figured I would find equal success teaching myself how to make polymer clay tiles for the dollhouse. And though I did manage to make said polymer clay tiles, it wasn’t exactly what I would call “successful.”
I’ll skip to the end and say two things. First, I will not be making my own dollhouse tile flooring. Second, I have nothing but respect for people who use polymer clay as their main medium for anything. Literally, anything.
Wanting My Own Thing
Part of the fun of building this dollhouse is that I can do whatever I want. Upside down chimney? Sure, why not? Spiral staircase instead of straight one? Have at it! That’s what makes this all fun. I can do whatever I want.
That said, there’s only so much I can do on my own. For example, while I could, theoretically, cut and shape my own dollhouse shingles, that seems like a lot of extra work. So, instead, I buy unfinished ones, stain them however I want, and work with those. Ditto on stuff like wallpaper (I’m not making my own), sinks (I guess I could build my own), and things like that.
So goes the same for tile floors. I want to do tile floors for the bathroom and entry hallway. My choice. But, as I looked around at the options, I didn’t like what I was seeing. There is a lot of mosaics like options — glass, broken ceramic shapes — but nothing screamed: “put me in your dollhouse bathroom!”
Of course, there is a huge market for dollhouse specific things, like ceramic tile floors. Some are real ceramic, some are not. Either way, they are what I want. Mostly. I didn’t like the colors, the patterns, or, frankly, the buying options.
Not satisfied with any of my options, I figured I could make the tiles on my own. Get some clay, shape it up, bake it in an oven. How hard could it be?
What Are the Polymer Clay Options?
As always, I started with a little bit of research. In the end, it seemed like polymer clay was the best route to go. I can get it plain (meaning, no color) or buy pre-colored slabs. If I like the color, I can stick with it. But if I don’t, apparently they are super easy to mix into new colors.
I know very little about mixing colors and hues and tones and all that jazz. So, I knew I’d be going with someone pre-colored. And, I knew that no matter what brand of polymer clay I went with, I’d end up with a lot of work ahead of me — specifically conditioning and shaping the clay (more on that in a minute).
After more research, I ended up going with this:
Yes. That says “souffle” on it.
According to all of the reviews I found, this clay, Sculpey Souffle, was the “easiest” to work with (side note. I’m not an affiliate person, so click away!). Supposedly it’s very flexible (as in, it’s easier to do stuff with it and to it after you bake it). It’s also supposed to be very durable (good for a dollhouse) and lightweight (also good for a dollhouse if you ask me). And it never dries out.
As you can also see from the picture, I got a multi-colored pack. Normally, I don’t think I would have gone with colors this bright, but that’s what was in stock, so there you have it. Below is the picture of the back of the box with the name of the colors. Read top to bottom, but the colors go left to right.
Conditioning Polymer Clay
During my research, I learned that, in general, polymer clay isn’t like Play-doh. Play-doh is delightfully soft when you pop it out of the pack. You can squish it, roll it, shape it, cut it, do whatever with it, with minimal effort. That’s what makes it perfect for little kids.
It also won’t dry out as long as you get the lid back on the container nice and tight. Fail to do that, and you’ll end up with dried out and crumbled clay. Can you restore the clay to its previous soft and spongy self? I don’t know, I’ve never tried.
Polymer clay, on the other hand, is everything that Play-doh is not. Sort of. I guess I’d say that polymer clay is similar to Play-doh in that (as you can see) it comes in bright colors. And, like Play-doh, it does a fine job of keeping its shape.
But that’s about it. Polymer clay is not remotely soft, spongy, or easily shaped right out of the package. That stuff is solid! And, unlike Play-doh, if your polymer clay dries out, you can “reactivate” it with some water (or there’s some stuff you can buy in the store). Of course, the souffle version supposedly doesn’t dry out. I don’t know. I didn’t test that assertion.
I don’t know the reason why polymer clay is so tough. I’m sure there’s a valid one, and if I had to guess, my money would be on “something to do with durability.”. Anyway, all my research said that before you do anything with polymer clay of any kind, you have to condition it. Here’s why:
As you can see, I went with “So 80’s.” This shade of pink is… not me, so it made sense to use it for this experiment. And, as you can also see, when you break off a piece of polymer clay from the large hunk o’clay, you get, well, a smaller chunk o’clay.
It’s about as chalky as it looks and not remotely easy to shape. You can try to form it into something, but it won’t work. You’ll end up with clay crumbles and not much else. Conditioning the polymer clay helps soften it, so you don’t get the crumbly chalky effect, making it possible for you to shape the clay into whatever you want.
In looking around the internet, I found some interesting methods for conditioning polymer clay. One method said to use a pasta maker. Feed the clay through, fold it over, feed it through again, and so on until the clay is pliable and easy to work with.
I don’t have a pasta maker, and even if I did, I wouldn’t use it for this!
Besides, you can condition polymer clay by hand. And this is such a small piece. I decide to do it by hand.
I will regret this decision.
Conditioning polymer clay by hand
So, the technique is pretty simple. Take the clay, squish it up in your hands until you can work with it. Then, test your conditioning efforts by rolling your clay into a worm shape, then bend it. If the clay breaks and looks chalky, keep conditioning. If the clay is soft and holds its shape when you bend it, you’re good to go.
Sounds simple enough, and I guess it is, but I completely underestimated how long it would take to condition the clay in my hands and how hard it would be.
I didn’t time it, so I don’t know exactly how long it took, but my hands were achy during and after this conditioning experiment. It was a lot of squeezing and pressing and squishing. Not fun.
And, the next day, my hands were sore. Like crazy sore. It reminds me of how much my hands hurt after cutting all the balsa wood strips for the DIY wood floor.
It wasn’t bad, really. Pain wise, it could have been a lot worse. I was just shocked at how long it took to condition the clay and how much physical effort it took. So, I now have nothing but respect for anyone who works with polymer clay as a regular medium. Seriously. Hat tip to you!
How to Make Polymer Clay Tiles
With my clay (finally) conditioned, it was time to make the polymer clay tiles.
But first, let’s back up a second.
One of the other things I learned while learning how to make polymer clay tiles is that you need to roll the clay out evenly. That means a rolling pin. While I could have used my kitchen rolling pin, again, no way. So, I also bought a polymer clay toolset. Well, two, actually.
The first picture is a bunch of tools that includes, you guessed it, a rolling pin, but also detailed tools in case I want to carve patterns in my polymer clay creations. No idea if I’ll ever use them, but it is what it is.
The second tool is the “cutting” tool. As you can see, the toolset includes a cutting tool. It’s a plastic knife. And while that probably would have worked just fine, I didn’t trust myself to cut along a perfectly straight line, even with my grid lines. So, instead, I got said cutting tool, which allows me to cut the entire tile side at once by pressing down. Easy peasy and a lot less stress!
What you can’t tell in this photo is that the “blade” for this is very thin and bendy. And though I prefer this to taking my chances working “freehand,” it was a bit unwieldy to use. It worked, but it definitely took a few tries before I felt comfortable with it.
Lastly, I covered my workspace with wax paper, per the instructions. The dye in some of these polymer clay tile slabs is pretty intense, in case you couldn’t tell. There’s the potential said dyes could stain or ruin your work surface. Wax paper has pretty much no stick, so it’s a good choice as a protective surface.
Side note, I was warned that said intense dyes could come off on my hands. If the So 80’s did stain my hands, it wasn’t very much, and it washed out after less than a day.