Earrings are among the easiest ways to catch the eye and spice up an outfit. Turns out, clay earrings are also one of the easiest—and most fun—accessories to make for yourself and others.
Getting Started With DIY Clay Earrings
Your clay earring ideas, whether elaborate or minimal, begin with love for the clay itself. Is anything as satisfying as a soft lump of pliable, sculptable clay? Yes: turning it into fabulous, wearable art.
Wondering what type of clay is best for making diy earrings? That depends on the look you’re going for and how delicate you want the finished product to be. Do clay earrings break easily? That depends on the type of clay you use.
Polymer Clay Earrings
One of the most popular materials for making clay earrings, polymer can definitely pack a punch. While it began as a product for heat conduction and an alternative to limited natural resources, the artistic movements of the 1960s brought it to the attention of crafters all over the world.
As a synthetic, non-toxic plastic clay, polymer is incredibly versatile and accessible. It molds easily into flat and three-dimensional shapes, making it perfect for both beginning sculptors and advanced jewelry makers. Once baked and cooled, homemade polymer earrings are durable, washable and lightweight.
In general, finished polymer pieces don’t need a protective coat, though some artists add delicate components (glitter or powder, for example) that benefit from a layer of varnish. Take time to experiment with coatings to find the right one for your designs; certain varnishes become sticky or deteriorate with time.
The most popular brands of polymer clay include FIMO, Sculpey, Cernit and Kato. Depending on your designs, one brand may work better than another. Try more than one to find out which is the best clay for earrings you make yourself.
Paper Clay Earrings
As the name suggests, clay can be mixed with cellulose fiber (plant matter fibers), typically paper.
Artists may opt for paper clay for a lighter finished product. It can also stretch a clay supply as you’re bulking it up with finely torn or shredded paper. Paper clay pieces typically air dry, though baking them at extremely low temperatures can speed up the drying process.
Paper clay is closely related to paper mache (papier-mȃché) in terms of ingredients. However, while paper mache uses strips of paper soaked in wet paste and affixed to a base, paper clay is sculpted and shaped more like other clays.
Paper clay earrings will not be as durable as polymer clay earrings, though adding the appropriate sealant can help your pieces hold up better against moisture and use.
Terracotta Clay Earrings
The word terracotta (sometimes terra cotta or terra-cotta) literally means “baked earth” in Italian. Technically, this could include any clay taken from the earth and fired. In practice, it usually refers to a porous clay with a reddish-brown color and fashioned into a pot or sculpture.
Terracotta clay earrings are just one kind of jewelry made from the affordable, eco-friendly material. It’s common to see elaborately shaped and painted necklaces designed for special occasions. For example, modern Indian bridal jewelry often incorporates terracotta clay beads and pendants.
Unlike polymer clay, terracotta needs to be baked in a kiln at very high temperatures, higher than the typical home oven can achieve. It will eventually dry in the open air, but air dried terracotta is too brittle for useful jewelry. You can have an unglazed, finished product with an initial firing (called “bisque” firing), and bake again after adding glazes and paints.
When you learn to make terracotta clay earrings and other jewelry, pay attention to the methods for attaching individual pieces and baking them together in a kiln. The jewelry tends to be more fragile than those made from polymer clay, and the last thing you want is to break something you spent a ton of time on.
Air Dry Clay Earrings
If you’re just getting started with clay earrings, air dry clay is ideal for practice and testing out designs. While it’s easy to find and use, it isn’t as durable as clays requiring bake time in an oven or kiln.
Unlike polymer and terracotta, air dry clay will cure without any heat. In fact, putting air dry clay in an oven or kiln will likely destroy whatever you’ve made. Simply leave it out and give it a few days to harden completely. After that you can paint it or add other embellishments.
The real downside to air dry clay earrings is that they aren’t durable and will probably crack with use. Further, while coatings can make them somewhat water-resistant, they’ll always be vulnerable to disintegration if they come into contact with heat or moisture.
How to Make Clay Earrings
Because creating polymer clay earrings is so accessible, you may want to begin there. However, a lot of the instructions here could also work for other kinds of clay earrings. These steps will work for trying a variety of polymer clay earring designs.
1. Gather Supplies
With time, you’ll figure out which clays and tools best suit your designs. Tweak this list as needed for your specific projects:
- Polymer clay in a range of colors and finishes
- Rolling pin or untapered drinking glass
- Jump rings, hooks and studs in preferred colors and sizes (hardware options for sensitive skin are available)
- Sculpting tools like knives, cookie cutters, scrapers, etc.
- Large sewing needle (to make holes for jewelry hardware)
- Jewelry pliers
- Super glue
- Wax paper
- Small dish of water
- Baking sheet and oven
Some artists create templates with card stock for original designs or as an alternative to cookie cutters.
You can always add other materials to baked earrings:
- Tassels (be sure to include a hole for attaching them)
2. Plan Your Designs
It’s totally alright to make earring shapes without a finished product in mind and just see where the process takes you.
That said, many clay artists find it more effective to plan their earring designs in advance, especially when trying advanced polymer techniques. Your plans don’t need to be highly detailed; a basic sketch will do fine.
3. Mix Colors and Create Effects
Before you work with the clay itself, clean your work surface so you don’t end up with bits of debris in your clay. You might even put down a sheet of wax paper for a clean, non-stick surface.
As long as you have red, blue, yellow, black and white polymer clay, you can make just about any color you want. For solid colors, it’s simply a process of smooshing the different colors together and, with your hands, alternating between rolling them out into a “snake” and folding that snake onto itself and rolling it into a new snake. Keep doing that until the colors are fully blended together.
Once you have your hunks of preferred colors, roll them into quarter-inch thick pieces, ensuring even thickness and smooth surfaces (rub a little water onto flaws to smooth them out).
A couple other fun techniques are marble and terrazzo:
To make marble: Lay two to four different color snakes next to each other and smoosh together into one multi-colored snake. Continue rolling them together and folding them back onto themselves until you see a nice marble pattern.
The idea is to mix the colors through each other but still see each distinct color. Roll the mixture into a ball and then out into a piece about one quarter-inch thick.
To make terrazzo: Similar to a confetti pattern, terrazzo is chips of color scattered over a solid color.
Roll out a solid color to about one half-inch thick. Press tiny bits of clay in a range of colors all around the solid color. Roll the mixture out to about one quarter-inch thick so the colored bits of clay are well embedded into the solid color.
4. Cut Out Shapes
Using your rolled out clay mixtures and sketched earring plans, you can begin to cut out shapes. Depending on how precise you want the shapes, and whether or not you need multiple pairs of the same design, you can freehand or use templates or cookie cutters.
For earrings comprising more than one shape or those using fish hooks for a dangle effect, remember to place a hole for hardware. A large sewing needle works, but you could also use anything with a small circle edge. Place the holes close enough to the edges that the hardware rings will fit and be able to move a bit (see picture below).
Look for rough or uneven edges and tidy them up with sculpting tools and your fingers. Remember, a small amount of water makes it easy to smooth out mistakes. Remember too that handmade clay earrings aren’t expected to appear “perfect;” those tiny differences are part of the charm.
5. Bake Earring Pieces
Carefully place finished pieces on a baking sheet without any oil or other greasing agent. Make sure the shapes lay flat and look exactly as you want them.
If your clay packaging includes baking directions, follow them. Polymer clay earrings do not need high heat, so you’ll probably preheat your oven to about 275 degrees Fahrenheit. How long you bake them is determined by clay thickness, probably about 15 minutes for every quarter-inch.
Ideally, the baked clay earrings will be a little bit flexible when they come out of the oven. If they’re overdone, however, they might break with handling.
Baked earring shapes are ready for your chosen embellishments, such as glaze, paint, tassels and more.
6. Add Earring Hardware
The primary pieces of hardware for clay earrings are:
- Jump rings to attach individual pieces together
- Studs or posts with an earring back
- Fish hooks to let the earrings dangle
Using two different jewelry pliers, gently open jump rings just enough to hook them into the small holes in the clay pieces. When the two pieces are attached, carefully close the ring with the pliers.
Fish hooks have smaller rings, but are applied the same way you did the jump rings.
Studs may be super glued onto the back of your earrings. Think carefully about stud placement and how it will change where the earring sits on your ear.
Clay It Again
Making earrings with clay is a satisfying experience and different every time you try. With affordable materials and endless design options, clay earrings are delightful for beginners and advanced jewelry makers alike.