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How Millefiori Works


The Joys of Polymer Millefiori
Polymer clay is readily available at craft stores and can be used to create colorful patterns -- making it possible for people to attempt their own millefiori at home.
Polymer clay is readily available at craft stores and can be used to create colorful patterns -- making it possible for people to attempt their own millefiori at home.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

While some purists may see the process as cheating a bit, others see using polymer clay to make millefiori objects -- usually beads -- as a medium in which more people can experience and understand the art form. This is because the materials are simple, easy to come by and less time-consuming to use than glass.

Any home artist can purchase commercial clay and the materials needed to make polymer millefiori at most craft stores. In fact, the canes of clay come already put together or as separate pieces.

To put together the bull's-eye cane, for example, the artist wraps a thin strip of polymer around a thicker piece in a contrasting color [source: Ralph]. Then the artist rolls the material along the work surface to lengthen and thin it out. He or she creates rectangular and square pieces by gently pinching and stretching the clay to elongate and thin it out.

The polymer artist can also lay sheets of clay in alternating contrasting colors on top of each other to create a striped pattern, or use long rectangles of clay to make a checkerboard pattern. As with glass, the combinations are limited only by imagination.

The clay pieces, once sliced, are placed on a ceramic or metal baking tray and baked in a regular household oven. It is important to remember that undercooked clay will be fragile. Over-baked clay is a disaster: It can discolor, burn and give off noxious fumes [source: Ralph]. Most commercial clay indicates its baking temperature on its packaging. That said, a good rule of thumb is to bake the clay in a pre-heated oven between 265 and 275 degrees Fahrenheit (129.4 to 135 degrees Celsius) for 30 minutes.

The clay is then sanded and can be varnished, but it isn't necessary for most pieces.

Glass artists still use millefiori today. Ventian artist Davide Salvadore is known for combining millefiori with another, almost identical technique called Murrini in his pieces which are sold around the world [source: Kennard]. Another notable fiori sighting was in artist Joshua Simpson's "Mega Planet," a 100-pound (45.4-kilogram) paperweight resembling the Earth.

Regardless of the material and who's manipulating it, millefiori continues to be popular with artists of all types, centuries after its invention. If your interest in millefiori has bloomed, take a look at the links on the next page to learn more about it and other related topics.