Mosaic Pendants


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The Thunderbird necklaces from my previous post have now evolved into these mosaic pendants.

Polymer clay mosaic pendants by Cate van Alphen

Initially these started because I decided to squish all the off-cut scraps from making the Thunderbirds into some fresh raw clay to make new sheets to use for mosaics. I had yellow and orange on my table at the time so that’s what I made. Because I didn’t know how the baked scraps combined with new clay would hold together when cutting into tesserae I decided to make some simple geometric shapes. I also added some deco beads for shine and to give a contrasting texture.

So, yes, I do have a favourite child here – the yellow and orange one appears in every photo! It’s the last one I made and I like the Art Deco look. I also used some bigger off-cut chunks (from carved beads) with fewer deco beads hidden in the spaces.

Pendant closeup.

The edges of the tessera are pretty rough. I could probably improve this by warming the clay before cutting, or sanding the edges, but I quite like them like this. I think it adds character. Anyhow it’s very fulfilling when all the little pieces come together and seem to fit.

Meet the Thunderbirds


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When the schools closed in March and I suddenly became a full time teacher, we continued the topic that my daughter had started at school which was Native Americans. Unsurprisingly my thoughts turned to their jewellery, in particular my grandmother’s Thunderbird necklace that she bought in New Mexico in 1946.

Polymer clay Thunderbird necklace by Cate van Alphen

The family legend is that she met man selling necklaces for tourists but she wanted the one he was wearing as it was far superior. He said he couldn’t possibly sell it to her because it was his Thunderbird and without it he wouldn’t be protected. However she was determined and insisted on buying the one he was wearing rather than any of the others. After some persuasion he reluctantly agreed on condition that she go with him back to his house so he could put on a new Thunderbird so that he could safely take off the one he was wearing. Based on this article, this may have been a colourful story for a silly tourist. Nevertheless she treasured it and proudly wore the necklace when she dressed to impress and it has left me with a lasting impression of the Thunderbird as a powerful symbol of protection.

Polymer clay Thunderbird pendant by Cate van Alphen

Which takes us back to the start of the Coronavirus lockdown, when everyone was stunned, scared and separated. I needed a project to get me out of bed in the morning and we all needed something to make us feel safer. I decided to create a Necklace Club for the ladies in my family and send each of them a handmade necklace as a physical link between us. I chose to make polymer clay Thunderbirds in memory of my grandmother and because I wanted something with a strong visual style to unite the individual necklaces.

Polymer clay Thunderbird necklace by Cate van Alphen

Before she died, my grandmother decided to send her necklace home to a museum in New Mexico so I don’t have any photographs of it. I relied on my memories of it and a google search of images which reminded me of what I remembered. There was such a variety that every pendant ended up a little bit different.

Once I had all the pendants made, my sister in South Africa did a remote calibration on them to give them each an intention of healing and protection for the wearers. Hopefully this will also cover the postal journey that some of them are still making to South Africa!

I ended up making 12 pendants and strung the necklaces according to the preferences of the individuals receiving them. Some are chokers, some are part beaded on adjustable satin cords and some are fully beaded and long enough to slip over the head.

As a bonus reference to the crazy time in which I made these, I thought this handful of faux heishi beads looked like tiny loo rolls which made me laugh. For some reason toilet rolls were a big thing here in the UK. These are my first batch and are are a bit rough but I figured out some techniques to make them better. Hopefully I’ll get a tip tutorial done about that soon.

May you and your family circles stay safe and well.

Where did 2019 go?


So, it has been over a year and a half since my last blog post! 😮 What happened? The short answer is that I have been tidying. If you want the long and gory answer keep reading, otherwise I hope you come back soon when I something pretty to look at again. The next photo is NOT PRETTY.

The mess on my desk at one point.

Shortly after my last post (December 2018) we got builders in to waterproof the basement floor. This meant shifting two rooms of storage into our dining room (which overflowed into other rooms of the house), while they lifted the flags and laid plastic underneath. They finished on the 21st December at which point we had to paint, move everything back, and clean up the dust in time for a big family Christmas. It was incredibly stressful and left a lot of displaced stuff behind in the rest of the house.

WIP – re-purposing my Fimo Classic colour swatches.

To cope with the stress, I began a project carving designs into my colour swatches from the now discontinued Fimo Classic (this project is not finished yet). While doing this I realised what a (positive) tranquillising effect this had on me. So I decided I wasn’t allowed to do it anymore until I had tidied up.

Armed with Marie Kondo’s books I began to unpick 40 years of bad habits and 20 years of stuff. This has been, and continues to be, extremely difficult. One problem was that I couldn’t pack stuff away because there were boxes of junk and piles of stuff in front of cupboards so I couldn’t even open the doors. I was also having issues with gallstones flaring and causing sickness and pain (especially when I was stressed) disabling me for days at a time. In addition I decided to leave my art room till last as a way to help keep me motivated. My thinking was that it would be a reward to be able to play again, and if I let myself relax I would loose motivation to tidy up because the mess would be less unbearable. And I was supposed to finish in a month (January).

…ok, maybe before my birthday in February. Definitely before the start of the kids’ summer holidays. At least before they went back to school in September. I mean before Christmas…

After more than a year I was stuck with a mess I couldn’t tidy up because there was too much mess. Stressed because of the mess, sick because of the stress, and hindered from tidying up because I was sick. Still waiting for a date for gallbladder surgery, I went to a herbalist and an energy therapist for assistance and by the end of February 2020 I had decided I owed it to myself to tidy up my art room regardless of whether I had finished the rest of the house or not. I was feeling optimistic. I even imagined writing a blog with a triumphant before and after picture. This is not that blog. Because… in March… Lockdown started.

I did not respond well…

And yet, I have been making things and planning things that I want to make. I haven’t needed the surgery which was supposed to have been in April but was cancelled.

Today the kids went back to school, so I decided to get back in the saddle and write this blog entry in all it’s embarrassing glory. I am still tidying the house and not entirely coping, but I am trying to be kind to myself. I remind myself that slow progress is still progress.

I have learned that giving myself time to create and play is not optional but a requirement for my mental and physical health.

Mannequin upgrade


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I’ve always struggled to photograph my necklaces showing their scale on a human. I’ve had a mannequin for a while, but I’ve never really known what to dress her in, and it didn’t seem right leaving her naked. Therefore I decided to give her the same treatment as my necklace display and cover her with paper patchwork.

mannequin comparison

As you can see I built in some paper mache clothing. I wasn’t worried that she’d look naked once covered in paper, but I thought it would be useful to have a neckline for judging a necklace’s length.

Indigo bead necklace

I monoprinted the paper using my gelli plate before tearing it into pieces which I glued on. I wanted to make something that was interesting but subtle enough to act as a background.

Green shard necklace

I haven’t quite decided if the patchwork is too distracting. Here is another necklace made with my polymer clay beads for you to consider. What do you think?

Pink triangle necklace

Halloween Pumpkins


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I’m not a massive fan of Halloween (I don’t like the idea of teaching kids to ask for sweeties), but my children are. Last year my daughter insisted on keeping a small squash on her windowsill until it decayed. This year, after months of nagging, I decided to make something more permanent from polymer clay.

polymer clay pumpkin lanterns

They are hollow led tea light holders with jack-o-lantern faces. I used sketches by the children as inspiration. I tried to keep the lively wobbles from the drawings but I did need to make the edges a bit more simple.

jack-o-lantern sketches

These are mixed media. I started with a layer of gum tape paper mache, foil armatures to build up the bulges on the pumpkin, plaster bandages to give a rigid surface and finally an outer layer of polymer clay.

paper mache interior

These took about three days to make, with drying times, and figuring out how to make the lids. Maybe by next Halloween I’ll have made a tutorial to share with you.

glow in the dark face

Just to make them extra cheesy, I used glow-in-the-dark polymer clay to outline the features.

Mokume gane video


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Here’s a video showing the technique I use to create a sheet of polymer clay mokume gane using a variety of stamps. I’m working on another video showing some things you can make with your finished sheet. I’m due to get a new phone tomorrow so the quality of the video footage should improve soon (although I still have a few demos that I have already filmed which are waiting for editing).

Here are some earrings I made using the sheet so you can see it all nicely sanded and finished. I have another video with a tip for sanding when there is wire embedded in your polymer clay.

Polymer clay earrings

Polymer clay earrings by Cate van Alphen

New Necklaces


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I have just listed a couple of new necklaces in my online shop. The first is one of my favourites. I made the beads back in 2016 (I made the necklace too, but I realise I didn’t post it online).

glaucous bead necklace

Glaucous bead necklace by Cate van Alphen

The other is a restringing of a bead I made ages ago. I think the simpler setting on a cable choker helps focus on the vibrant colours.

Fuchsia and Lime


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I’ve been working on some fuchsia and lime polymer clay earrings. Here’s a selection of them (they do have partners, but I couldn’t fit them all in the photo):

pink and green earrings

My favourite pair is these green ones with a new shape bead that I like to think of as snails. I’m tempted to keep them, but I don’t wear much green. Maybe I’ll make another pair in a different colour.

Green polymer clay beads

I’ve also made a couple of bracelets.two bracelets

Right beads, wrong place


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I made a necklace. I like the beads, and I like the necklace but sadly I have a horrible suspicion that I’m going to dismantle it.

Pink beads

asymmetric pink necklace

It’s an asymmetric necklace with a mix of different shaped beads in different sizes. It works well on the beading board, the problem is when it’s on a body…

Pink necklace

… the square shaped beads lie horizontally instead of face on. See that pesky bead at the bottom? What do you think, is this a feature or a fail?

I like the big square beads, but I now realise the hole needs to be offset if they are to hang correctly at the bottom of a necklace. I should have remembered this from my big lentil necklace. The weight of the necklace is all wrong if I rotate it so that the square beads are on the side instead.

pink bead bracelet

It works quite well as a multi-strand bracelet provided that you don’t move your hand at all. I’m trying to decide if I should take the necklace apart and use the beads to make four stacking bracelets instead.