This Is the Hobby to Start If You’re a Perfectionist
Before last year, I never had a hobby. Competitive soccer, singing, and Greek dancing were all commitments growing up, not simply fun activities. In college, I attempted to branch out by auditioning for improv and comedy troupes to no avail. Over time, I became so terrified of failure that I stopped pursuing anything that interested me and only stuck to what I knew — that is, until the pandemic set in, and left me with a lot of free time to fill.
I didn’t know what to do with myself outside of applying for jobs and freelancing, which oftentimes brought me more stress than joy. At the time, I was so focused on what’s next that I forgot to live in the moment. It wasn’t until I saw someone I know post jewelry she made using polymer clay on Instagram that I found inspiration to try something new. I bought one of her sets of earrings for my 23rd birthday and thought, “I’d really like to make some, too.”
If you’re anything like me, then you’re probably looking for a hobby that can help you to unwind and tap into your creativity without the concern of being bad at it. Enter polymer clay, a non-toxic, bakeable modeling clay you can easily manipulate to create colorful and singular pieces of jewelry, figurines, charms, and more. To start baking the jewelry of your dreams, you’ll need polymer clay, as well as a number of tools you likely already own:
- An X-Acto knife
- An acrylic rolling pin
- A cutting board
- A baking tray
- Aluminum foil
- A toothpick
- A pair of pliers
- A jewelry kit containing jump rings and earring backs
Cookie cutters can be a nice addition, but they’re not necessary if you want to try your hand at more free-form shapes. If you’re missing any tools, you should be able to find them at your local crafts store. I initially spent around $50 on an X-acto knife, set of pliers, jump rings, earring hooks, and clay — and have since spent more on jump rings and hooks, along with polymer clay. My favorite brand is Sculpey, which is a favorite amongst polymer clay users because it’s affordable and durable.
The low-cost investment offered me a high-quality reward: Time to quiet my mind and reconnect with my inner child. When I started experimenting with polymer clay, I’d cut slivers from three packs of clay with an X-Acto knife before rubbing each piece of clay between my hands into a long cylinder so I could wrap it around other colors. I’d rub the intertwined clay between my hands again, stretching it and smoothing it out with a rolling pin until I achieved the color and consistency I desired. At first, I’d get so frustrated over not achieving the exact color I imagined, but eventually, the tactile stimulation soothed my anxious mind.
Before I invested in cookie cutters, I’d roll the mixed clay into a ball and then flatten it into a circle or oval using the palm of my hand. If I wanted to create a unique shape, I’d use my knife to carve the clay into my desired design. I’ve particularly enjoyed crafting two-tiered earrings, and I always ensure the first tier is a smaller size to enhance the features of the second tier.
To connect the two tiers later, I’ll poke holes in the top and bottom parts of the first tier using the end of a toothpick. I’ll also poke a hole on the top of the second tier, so I can connect the first and second-tier after baking using a jump ring. This ensures that I’ll have a spot to thread my earring pieces without breaking the design.
Next, I’ll transfer the handmade designs onto a baking tray lined with aluminum foil and then set the oven to 275 degrees, as per Sculpey’s instructions. (The directions for baking may vary based on the brand of clay you purchase and your clay’s thickness, so check the package before heating the oven up.) Once the oven is ready, I’ll stick the clay in the oven to bake for about 15 minutes — if the pieces I made are on the larger side, I’ll typically leave them in for a few extra minutes. Then, I’ll take the tray out of the oven and allow the clay to cool for 30 minutes to an hour before I connect all of the necessary pieces using pliers, jump rings, and earring hooks.
One of the best parts about creating polymer clay jewelry is learning to give in to the process. The technique I use to mix and marble the clay challenges my urge for perfection because every part of a clay slab is unique in its own way. In turn, no earring in a pair is alike, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Now, I proudly create a bevy of earrings and necklaces in all shapes, sizes, and colors that feature what others may deem mistakes or imperfections. To me, the bumps and asymmetrical patterns are representative of the hard work I put in, as well as the effort and time I spent creating pieces that could never be replicated, no matter how hard anyone tried.
Making polymer clay earrings has allowed me to let go of my expectations and learn how to be kinder to myself. Nowadays, I’m spending less time obsessing over what others may consider imperfections and spending more time doing what actually makes me happy. Unsurprisingly, this mentality has inspired me to craft more earrings than I can store — as a result, I’ve also been reconnecting with people I haven’t spoken to in years and sending pieces I made their way. It was a gift I didn’t need a lot of money or a lot of time to achieve. As it turns out, all I needed to do was try.