Adding an Even Background to Your Canes

I make a lot of canes to use in layered designs for beads, vases and so on. Most of those have backgrounds – often translucent in my case. On one hand, you want a good background because it keeps the delicately shaped elements of your design from deforming while you reduce the cane to a useful size. On the other hand you may not want too much background. Especially with translucent where you want the background to not show later. Experience will teach you which canes you can go lean with and which it isn’t worth the risk but here’s how I go about adding a background to a relatively simple cane: a rose cane.

adding background to a polymer clay cane

I say simple cane because even if you bork the background on this – or skip it altogether – the cane looks good and is still recognizable for what it is. I start by rolling a sheet of clay, about a 3 (third thickest on my pasta machine) and then wrap the cane with that.

adding backgrounds to a polymer clay cane

I make sure the first layer is on nicely by pushing it in the nooks with a tool and popping those dang air bubbles. Then I roll out a snake of clay for filling between my petals. I try to make the snake slightly wedge shaped, like the space between the petals. I lay a piece between each pair of petals and trim it. Then I smooth the wedges in with fingers and tools. This works best if the clay you just added is warm and relatively soft. Then I begin to reduce – I’m not a big fan of letting my canes rest unless they are absolute mush – the cane, trying to squeeze mostly along the areas with wedges to begin. This way I won’t flatten out the petals too much right off. Once the cane starts moving and warming up you can squeeze more around the whole diameter.

The edges still square off a little on my canes because I hate adding too much background clay. The techniques I use this type of cane for require the background to not show or to use sanding and layering to disguise it… less background is worth a little squaring of my petal edges. The flower itself is not distorted because I didn’t torq or twist the cane while reducing it and that can take practice. If you look back you see the original cane is about 2″ or 5cm across. This is about the limit of where I would use this little background material in reducing the cane. For larger designs or more complicated ones I might use more background or padding clay between the outside edge and where the design begins simply to give the clay more time to be evenly warmed in reducing.

The corollary to this is that if you make small canes you don’t need nearly as much background clay. And it’s true – many of my bead canes don’t use any at all.