Polymer clay is a material you can sculpt. It is based on polymer polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material. It usually contains no clay minerals and is only called “clay” because its texture and properties resemble mineral clay. Polymer clay is sold in craft, art and hobby stores. It is used by artists, hobbyists and children.
All polymer clay brands include PVC and one or more liquid plastic. Pigments may be added to the base to create colors along with small amounts of kaolin or white china clay. Mica may also be added to make a metallic looking clay.
Bakelite, an early plastic used in practical and decorative items, was very popular with designers. It had an early polymer clay that was sold in kits. It was found to be flammable and was discontinued. Modern polymer clays are based on a plastic modeling compound.
In the early days of World War II, polymer clay was brought to the attention of a German doll maker named Kathe Kruse. She thought she could use it as a replacement for plastics. Her idea didn’t work so she passed the clay to her daughter Maureen who was also called Fifi. It was later sold to Eberhardt Faber and marketed with the name Fimo (Fifi’s Modeling Compound) in honor of Maureen.
In the early 1940’s Zenith Products Company was founded in Schiller Park, IL and began as a company that made coatings for fastener industries. These were waxes, hot melt compounds and electrical insulating varnishes. Sculpey which is a brand of polymer clay was originally designed to be used as a thermal transfer compound to conduct heat away from the cores of electrical transformers. It was not successful and was shelved.
One day a visitor was playing with the Sculpey and formed a small figure. It was baked in the lab oven and was used as a sculpting medium. This happened in the mid 1960’s. By 1967 the U.S. was manufacturing and selling this brand.
All brands of polymer clay are almost the same. I prefer Sculpey or Fimo. It is easy to use and bake. When you have formed your design you can bake or cure it in the oven at 265 or 275 for 15 minutes per 1/4 inch thickness. You can use molds found at craft stores. Any mold made of sillicone, rubber and sometimes metal can be used to make shapes. You can also cover candle holders or other things made from glass, metal, terra cotta, etc. You can make things like beads, frames, vessels, and almost anything.
You will need things like a rolling pin or pasta machine. A pasta machine makes it much easier to smooth the clay and prevent air bubbles. You will also need molding and cutting tools such as a kraft knife or tissue blade, needle or toothpick, etc. Most molding tools will work or even objects you find at home.
Some great videos and books to look for to help you learn this fun art are polymer clay videos or books by Donna Kato. She explains things very well. Even your child could probably understand her. She also has made her own clay called polykato.