Real Clay Beads.

Q: I have some wonderful red clay that I would like to know how to work into beads. I tried making some, and a lot of them broke while drying. I know someone who can fire them for me. If someone can point me in the right direction, I would be grateful.

A: It sounds to me like you were either working with the clay while it was too dry, or letting the beads dry too fast. After you make your beads, try covering loosely with plastic so they dry more slowly. Also, keep in mind that clay shrinks while it dries. Your beads have to be uniform sizes. In other words, you can't have one thick side, and one thin side. You could try adding water to the clay until you make a 'slip' - basically a runny liquid like thick cream - and then use one of the bead moulds available from people like 'Duncan' and 'Gare' to cast your beads. That's how I make mine. If you still want to hand-fashion clay beads, you can work water into your clay while you knead it (kneading clay is the same action as kneading bread - the idea is that you get all the molcules "lined up" which makes for a stronger clay body). You can spray it in, or just slop some in. When you knead your clay, you also help to eliminate air bubbles and reduce the chance of your stuff blowing up in the kiln. You can reclaim the clay from the beads that broke, by putting them in a container with enough water to cover them. The clay will soften and become workable again, distributing itself in the bottom of the container - there's no set time limit for this, because it depends on how much clay you have here. Pour or scoop off the excess water, and scoop out the reclaimed clay. At this stage, you can either leave it for a bit until it dries out a little, or speed up the process by distributing it over a plaster pallet (pour some plaster in the bottom of a cardboard box and let it dry, then rip off the box) which will leach off the excess moisture. If your clay feels approximately like your earlobe, that's the best texture for working with it - for throwing or for hand sculpting. If it's too dry, it'll crack. If it's too wet, it'll be a colossal mess! Also, the tip about drying your stuff slowly is valid too - a place with an even temperature is preferable. Make sure they are completely dry before you fire them - excess moisture trapped inside may also cause your stuff to blow up in the kiln.