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Mokume Gane Tree Topper Tutorial


In Early December, 2004, I posted a question regarding creating a tree topper to the various Polymer Clay Lists.  (Surprisingly, Glass Attic had loads of information about making ornaments, but no information about making a tree topper!)  I asked for links to tutorials and "inspirational pictures".  Well, I received input from a few polymer clayers, but was not referred to any links.  Thus, I decided to create a tutorial as I worked on my own tree topper, in part, to help fill this void.


Materials:

  • Approximately 4 oz. (2 Packages) Translucent clay (I used Premo)

  • 1 block of Mokume Gane

  • Manila File Folder or Card Stock

  • Double-sided tape, "regular" tape, or Glue and Paper Clip or Clamp

  • Star Cutters (various sizes) and/or Paper Template

  • Mica Powder or Glitter (Optional)

  • Pasta Machine (Optional)

  • Roller

  • Tissue Blade and Exacto Knife (or craft knife)

  • Scissors

  • Bottle

  • Oven to fire piece; white paper, manila folder or polyester batting to fire piece on

Procedure:

Cut corner off file folder Cut a corner off of a manila file folder.  (Or, fold card stock in half, and cut off the corner.)  Make cut in an arced shape.
Roll into cone Roll manila file or card stock into a cone shape.  Secure with double-sided tape.  (Or secure with glue.  Clamp or paper clip to hold in place until glue has dried.  Or secure with whatever type of tape you have handy.)  Trim bottom of cone so that cone is desired height and will stand up on table.  (Height of cone should be approximately the same height as you want your finished topper to be.  Additionally, cone should be approximately the same height as your large star cutter or paper template.)  Leave a small hole at the top of the cone if you want to poke a small light through the top later on.
Roll sheet at #1 Condition 1 - 1.5 packages of translucent clay.  (The exact amount of clay you will need depends on the size of your cone.)  Roll out using a roller or pasta machine.  If using a pasta machine, roll out at the thickest setting.
Add mica powder OPTIONAL: Sprinkle some mica powder (in the color of your choice) or some heat-safe glitter on your clay sheet.  Fold in half and roll/run through your pasta machine several times until it is blended into your translucent sheet.  (I used Silver mica powder.)
cover cone form with clay Cover your cone with the sheet of clay, trimming sheet as necessary.  Clean out top hole, if necessary, with the tip of your exacto knife.
Make cut outs on cone OPTIONAL: Use small star cutters (in various sizes) to cut star shapes in your cone.  Remove star cut-outs and set aside for use in another project.  (The cut outs will allow light to shine through your cone.  If you want, you may also poke tree lights through the cut-outs.)  I used both a mini-star cutter and Kemper star cutters in various sizes.
Cover sheet with Mokume Gane Condition the rest of your translucent clay.  Roll out to approximately third-largest setting on pasta machine.  (Or use roller to roll sheet a little thinner than you did for the cone.)  Cut pieces of mokume gane from the block and apply to sheet of clay.  Roll onto clay sheet with roller, then put through pasta machine at #1, then #2, then #3.  This sheet should be large enough to place your star template or large star cutter on, as you will be using this sheet to make your stars for your topper.  You will need one of these sheets for each star.  (You may make two sheets, or one sheet large enough that you can cut two stars.)
Place template on sheet Place star template on mokume gane sheet and cut around it.  Or, if you have a cutter in the right size, cut out star with cutter. 

(Since I do not own a star cutter this large, I searched through the clip art on my computer for a star.  I sized this star to my desired height (approximately 6 inches), using my graphics program.  I then printed out the star and cut around it to form my template.)
Star cut out Remove extra clay from around your cut out.  Carefully remove your star from your cutting surface.  (I use a clay-dedicated offset spatula for this step.)
Cut out 2nd star Using the remainder of your first mokume gane sheet, or using a second mokume gane sheet, cut out a second star.  Save the scraps from the sheet.
Place first star on cone Flip your first star over.  Carefully place your cone on the star.  Put your fingers inside the cone to press the cone on to the star.  Carefully remove cone and star from your work surface.  (Again, I used my offset spatula.)
Attach 2nd star to cone Lay your second star, face down, on your work surface.  Attach the second star to the cone, as you did with the first star.  Be sure to line up the points of the two stars, as closely as possible.
Trim bottom of clay cone Using your blade or exacto knife, cut away the portion of the clay cone from between the two bottom points of the star.  Trim any jagged edges, and gently smooth with your finger.  Flip over and repeat on other side.
Cut scraps to fill in holes Cut small pieces off your mokume gane sheet scraps.  Use these pieces to fill in any spots on the cone that may show.  (I filled in around the sides of the top points of the star at the top of the cone.)
Use scrapt to reinforce protruding star points Reinforce the back of any protruding star points with scraps of your mokume gane sheet to give your star extra strength.  Smooth any placed you added scraps with your fingers to blend.
Set cone on top of bottle.  Reshape where necessary. At this point, place your cone on top of a bottle.  (I put my cone on top of a small glue bottle.)  Reshape the star with your fingers, where necessary.  Also, blend and smooth star with your fingers, where necessary.  Let star sit on bottle overnight, to allow raw clay to better fuse together.  Before firing, check star.  Blend any spots that need it.  Reshape if necessary. If any cracks,  holes, or "bare spots" are apparent, use small pieces from your mokume gane block to cover/fill in.  (I use the handle of my exacto knife to roll any small pieces to roll small pieces of mokume gane on to the star.)  When star is shaped/covered to your liking, take off of the bottle, lay star/cone on its side on a piece of white paper, a manila file folder, or polyester batting, and fire according to the manufacturers directions.

For maximum translucence, place piece in a cool oven, begin timing when the oven reaches temperature, and allow piece to completely cool down in oven.  Alternatively, you may dunk the hot item in an ice water bath when you remove it from the oven after firing.  (Be aware that the "ice water dunk" method may warp your star.)

Since I use Premo clay and an air-convection oven with an auto-shut off timer, I placed my piece in a cool oven, set the timer for 35 minutes, and took it out about 2 hours later.
Remove cardboard cone and place on tree When piece has cooled, carefully remove manila cone from center.  Place tree topper on top of your tree.
Christmas Tree with Star Topper Here's a shot of my Christmas Tree, with my brand-new, hand-made Mokume Gane Star tree topper adorning its top.  (Note that this tree has been decorated with hand-made, polymer clay ornaments, including translucent mokume gane stars and hearts.)
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, and that it will inspire you to create your own polymer clay tree topper.  If you prefer, you may make this tree toper with opaque and/or metallic colors.  You may use other shapes if you do not care for stars.  Any left over scraps from your mokume gane sheets can be used to make fan pulls.  If you need instructions on how to make a mokume gane block, please see my Ocean Mokume Gane Tutorial.

Click on any thumbnail to open the picture, full-sized, in it's own window.  Use your browser's "back button" to return to this tutorial page.

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