Let me tell you about my roommate Sara. Sara is the worst enabler ever. When I moved in and cautiously started to reveal my obsession with crafting Sara responded cooly “Oh, yeah. I like to make things out of clay.”
At this point you are probably scratching your head and wondering what part of this qualifies as “enabling.” Read on, she gets more vicious. One day Sara showed me a turtle she was making. It was cute. He was wearing a life-vest.
See what I mean? Vicious.
Then Sara started going to the craft store with me. While I perused the yarn Sara would lurk in another aisle picking out bright colored chunks of polymer clay and purchasing them. (Sara knows my weakness for pretty colors.) Still, I resisted. “I already have enough craft stuff,” I told her as I showed her my yarn. Then Sara launched her ultimate attack.
She left her clay on the coffee table.
So there I was, sitting on my couch minding my own business and what did I find in front of me? Cute little clumps of clay in a rainbow of colors and all these nifty tools you can shape them with. And oh look! It’s a whole book of things you can make out of clay.
It just so happens that I became hopelessly addicted to smooshing clay shortly after I found a renewed interest in stargazing and astronomy. I started scheming up ways to capture the constellations in a piece of jewelry and clay seemed like the perfect medium.
How to make a Night Sky Pendant
1. Pick out your favorite constellation. If you don’t have a favorite constellation, find a dark place on a clear night, and look up at the stars until you’ve found one. If you want to pick a constellation that others will recognize I suggest finding a star wheel or a stargazing book. My personal favorite is “The Stars” by H.A Rey, who is more famously recognized for being the author of Curios George, but his creative look at the constellations is a fantastic beginners guide to the sky. If you’re trying to get a kid hooked on stargazing, “Glow-in-the-Dark Constellations” by C.E. Thompson worked it’s magic on me in the fifth grade.
2. Gather your materials. I used polymer clay, such as Sculpey or Fimo, which you can find at most major craft stores. I usually mix different clays together to get the exact color and effect that I want. Be aware that different types of polymer clay may have slightly different baking instructions. I have mixed clays that had baking temperatures vary by 75 degrees, and so far I haven’t had any problems, but I would be cautious about mixing something that varied too much. For the stars you will need glass seed beads, the smaller the better. I used size 10/1 for these, but having a variety helps.
The only tools you will need are a toothpick to make the hole and a sewing needle or pin to help you place the beads. I’ve read that polymer clay can degrade the finish on tables so I would also suggest something to protect your work surface if you like your table the way it is. (Ok, I could not find a single toothpick when I made this tutorial so I broke two tines off a plastic fork. Just make sure it’s big enough!)
3. Make the pendant. You have to work polymer clay a little bit to make it soft enough to sculpt. When I mix colors I just break off little chunks of the colors I want to mix and squish, knead, and roll them until they are blended. You could also leave them only partially mixed for a cool marbled effect. Play with it and see what you like best.
Once you’ve got the clay soft and mixed right, roll it into a ball. You are going to slowly squish this ball into the pendant shape you want. This will take a little finagling to accomplish. I usually alternate between pressing it down with my fingers and rolling the edges along the table I’m working on. You could probably also roll it out like cookie dough and cut out the shape you wanted with an exacto knife, but that feels too much like mass production to me. You want your finished pendant to be about 5mm, (or a little under a quarter inch) thick.
Use the toothpick to puncture a hole for your string or chain to go through. This is the most difficult step for me. It will probably form a small bulge at the top of your pendant. To make this look even on both sides I usually work the toothpick in a little on one side and then switch to the opposite side and push it in the same amount, slowly tunneling in from both sides to make the hole. You can also leave the toothpick in the hole and reshape the clay around it to fix mistakes. If it turns out all wonky, just roll it up into a ball and try again. Take some advice from someone who learned the hard way, and make sure the hole is going to be big enough for whatever you are going to hang it on, it will make your life a lot easier.
4. Add your stars. I’ve decided to make the constellation Ophiuchus since he is the talk of the town, and I feel like he was unfairly cheated by the Babylonians who gave him the shaft when they excluded him from the Zodiac just because they had a thing for the number twelve.
Use the pin and very, very, very lightly mark out the position of the stars in your constellation onto the surface of the pendant. It’s important to do this as softly as you can because it’s difficult to rub out any mistakes without it showing up on the surface of the clay. Select your beads. If you have a variety of beads to choose from you can use larger beads for stars that have greater intensity and smaller beads for the less obvious stars. Stars also come in different colors so if you’re really into it you could reflect that in your choice of beads. Since I only had one size of bead, my constellation only shows the brightest stars of Ophiuchus.
I use the pin to gently push each bead into place on it’s side, then I’ll use my fingers to push the bead all the way into the clay so that only the very top is showing. Once all the beads are in place you may want to use the tip of the pin to scratch out the lines connecting the stars of your constellation. Be careful in doing this, you can always make a line deeper with a second pass, but you will not be happy trying to correct a deep line that turned out crooked.
5. Bake your pendant according to the directions on the package. I would suggest covering your pan with foil unless you aren’t planning to use it for food again. If you mixed clays with different baking instructions I would suggest baking it at the lower of the two temperatures and add a little bit more to the baking time. Watch it carefully while it’s in the oven so that it doesn’t scorch. It will still be soft (not to mention–uh, hot) when you first pull it out of the oven so let it cool completely before stringing it and showing it off. (You can bake several pendants at once assuming they all need to be baked at the same temperature.)
6. String it onto a cord and tie it with an adjustable knot. Hurray! You’re done!
If you are looking for something inspirational to listen to while making your pendant, I highly recommend Astronomy Cast’s podcast about the constellations. You might even learn more about Ophiuchus!