Making Polymer Clay Canes the Size of a Dinner Plate, Not My Style

Flower Cane

“I love how you make your canes small. That way if it doesn’t work out you don’t use up too much clay.” ~Catalina

I was going give this post a title that asks if size really matters… but then changed my mind in the end to avoid attracting the wrong audience, if you know what I mean ;-)

This post is about size though. You probably have noticed by now that I don’t demonstrate how to make polymer clay canes as large as dinner plates, as some other instructors do. In fact most of the canes I teach are pretty small, using a total of 1 pack of clay or less.

There are a few reasons for this. First of all, I can’t bear to use all my clay in one design, no matter how great it is. Who really needs a five year supply of a pink and green flowers any ways? Besides what if you make a mistake with the colors? What a shame to use up all your good clay on a color combination that doesn’t work!

Another thing is, over time you will get better at making canes. Although I do like the old cane in the photo, I know how to make it more evenly now, than I did when I made it. Which makes me glad that this cane doesn’t have that much left of it and I need not worry about it too much.

Variety is also a reason for making smaller canes. Let’s face it, a big part of the fun of making canes is making lots of different kinds of beads with them. If your original cane is an enormous 10 pound cane, you’re going to want to use up some of that $130 investment making beads with it… that is if you’re not in the business of selling canes… which if you are, then you can ignore this advice. Now 3 million beads all with the same pattern could get a  little dull, unless you are extremely creative with the use of it.

So my advice is when you’re a beginner at making polymer clay canes, start out by keeping them relatively small. Big enough to get the detail you are looking for, but small enough so the commitment is not too big.

A general rule of thumb for me is a cane about an inch across and an inch long. Up to two inches wide if it’s especially detailed and two inches long if you know you’re going to want a lot of it. But not bigger unless you have an order for a whole whack of the same bead or cane. Then in that case you are not a beginner.

And try to save sections of your cane at various stages of reducing. This will give you more options and variety from the same cane.

If you want to see some examples of the small polymer clay canes I teach in video tutorials check out these links:

So what’s your philosophy on this… Big canes or small canes? Does size matter?

Cindy Lietz SignaturePolymer Clay Tutor

  1. sarahwww, 17 October, 2009

    I agree with you Cindy! I have always made smaller canes, for exactly the reasons you state, as well as the fact that in the beginning I didn’t realize you could make them so much larger. LOL! It was actually a revelation to me that you could make them short and squat first and then thin them out. I thought they were made long and then rolled longer…made for some true design challenges back then!

  2. Anna Sabina, 17 October, 2009

    I appreciate in the spliced flower video you talked about how much clay you were using. This helped me because I see to use too much clay and then reduce it but have ended up with a lot of something I really did not like. So once again, thanks for putting things into perspective.

  3. Melinda, 17 October, 2009

    I really like the small canes. I’ve seen tutorials that use so much clay it’s insane which I have always scaled down out of pure necessity because I simply didn’t have that much clay or the will to have that much cane around.
    I also love having several canes around to mix and match, and sometimes combine to make new canes. I think I have about 50 canes right now but I am trying to use my old canes so I can make a new collection of canes. Your flower canes have really added to my cane collection. I love them…. infact, I have made 6 or 7 spliced flower canes and I’ve used them all up except for the one I make yesterday. I LOVE canes…. they are what really drew me to this media!

  4. Ken H., 17 October, 2009

    I wouldn’t even begin to know how to reduce a cane the size of a dinner plate. I’ve enjoyed the cane videos more than I thought I would, still haven’t tried them yet but I’ll go back to the vids after the holidays and try them.

    Cindy I have a question, can you use molds that are designed for use with resin casting, and how would it be done if it can?

  5. Cindy Graveline, 17 October, 2009

    I also make small canes, otherwise I get bored of using the same cane over and over… And I dont like to waste lots of clay if the cane doesnt turned out like I wanted…

  6. Cindy Lietz, 17 October, 2009

    Great feedback everyone!

    @Ken: Sure, just dust the surface of your clay before pushing it into the resin mold.

    Cindy Lietz
    Surrey, BC, Canada
    Where Are You From?

  7. Ken H., 17 October, 2009

    Thanks Cindy, I recently purchased a mold that makes two different sets of earrings and have been wanting to try them but wasn’t sure of what release would be needed.

    Ken Hamilton
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

  8. Martha Aleo, 17 October, 2009

    Making a habit of reducing canes that start out the size of a dinner plate can lead to carpal tunnel and other repetitive motion injuries. Our bodies are our most useful tool and we need to take care of ourselves.

  9. Silverleaf, 18 October, 2009

    I make small canes too. Often too small – I sometimes wish I’d made them a bit bigger because the finished cane is a bit small in diameter once I’ve made sure all the clay’s stuck together properly.

    I notice it especially when I make complex canes like kaleidoscope canes because I forget how much will be wasted due to distortion at the ends each time.

  10. Sue, 18 October, 2009

    I make my canes — which are usually geometric or abstract rather than botanical or biological! — “smallish” rather than “small”. I find that when they start out at least 4-5cm tall I can reduce them with very little distortion at the ends — in absolute terms as well as proportionally — compared to shorter starting points of 2-3cm in height. They’re usually close to 4cm in diameter when they start off too, so that’s quite a bit bigger than Cindy’s normal canes, although still a lot smaller than many others’.

  11. Cindy Lietz, 18 October, 2009

    Thank you everyone! All excellent points. I agree that you can start out too small as well as too big especially in the length.

    If you start too short and stubby there will be a lot of distortion in the overall cane by the time it is reduced, unless you are a genius reducer.

    As well like Martha Aleo said, the really large canes are way too hard on the hands. And we need our hands more than any other fancy tool we can buy!

    Cindy Lietz
    Surrey BC, Canada
    Where are you from?

  12. Helen Sperring (honeyclay), 20 October, 2009

    Cindy, that was such a great post to read. I must have said, AHAaaaa, at least five times. Everything was so logical. When I saw the dogwood cane I started conditioning my clay, not realizing anything about size. Well, I conditioned three bars of each color. It took so long and after that I was too tired to do the cane. It really pays to read these blogs. I think they’re so informative. Well, anyhow, I did the dogwood cane and I love it. Thanks, Cindy. I did make one mistake. I forgot to cut a piece off before reducing. I wanted to make earrings and a charm to match. That doesn’t matter, though, because I have plenty of conditioned clay!!!!!!!!!! I have to say it again, I’m sooooo glad I’m a member here. LOVE IT LOVE IT, LOVE IT. Thanks Cindy, Honey

  13. Cindy Lietz, 20 October, 2009

    I am so glad you are a member here too. Thanks for letting everyone know your thoughts about the value of reading the blog posts. I put a lot of time and energy into creating them for you guys.

  14. Kelly, 21 October, 2009

    Oh I so agree Cindy!! I make my canes small as well… I hate seeing the whole pack of clay go ‘bye-bye’ in just one session. I also feel I have more control over reducing when the whole cane isn’t as large as my head. I get so frustrated when petals start to swirl and lose shape… I’m sure tons of folks will say they have better control with larger canes but for me smaller is the way to go!!

  15. Shannon, 26 October, 2009

    This is one of the things that most turned me off caning, it uses so much clay and then you have hundreds of items covered in the same design!

    I love cane work by other artists, especially those translucent ones, they turn out gorgeous once baked! And leaves, I am always partial to large leaf canes.

  16. Cindy Lietz, 29 October, 2009

    @Kelly: Me too! It can be hard enough keeping the canes straight when putting them together so twisting them when they get reduced is even worse. Small cane are much easier to deal with in both respects.

    @Shannon: I agree! I hate to be stuck with everything looking the same. Large leaf canes are awesome. They are probably the most versatile cane design you can have! Will have to make a note to add some more tutes on those. Maybe we’ll lure you back into cane making? :-)

  17. Kathy Basil, 12 August, 2019

    I have a moderately burning question after watching a TON of tutorials, And that is, how much clay do you use when they don’t include it in the tut? I tried to follow one and wasted soo much I was ready to quit!– which i did for the day.. LOL Even if I want to try something of my own, is there a “rule of thumb”? Or should I just write down how much I use and how it turned out so I can start getting an idea? Thank you!

  18. Cindy Lietz, 12 August, 2019

    Hi Kathy, I don’t know if you’re talking about my tutorials or someone elses, but most of my tutorials (at least all of the newer ones) tell you the amount that you’re going to need for each tutorial. Other than that, just keep canes and projects on the small size, until you figure out what you’re doing.

    Don’t forget that clay is not wasted until it is baked. If you make a cane and it is terrible, ball it up and use that new color and try again until you get it right. You may have a lot of muddy colored canes for awhile (let’s just call them Earth toned) until your skills build. Writing things down and seeing how it turns out is an excellent idea.

    Think of learning about polymer clay in the same way you learned in school. You went to Kindergarten first then you progressed through until Highschool and further if you did that. If you quit in Elementary School then you wouldn’t know what you do now. Keep going. You’ll get it!

  19. Kathy Basil, 13 August, 2019

    Thank you, Cindy!

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