Studio Saturday: Shrink Plastic Jewelry for Grown-Ups

I say shrink plastic, you say…been there, done that? I’ll bet you haven’t seen shrink plastic turned into this: fun, whimsical, and sophisticated beads that will completely change your mind about what shrink plastic can be. This isn’t kid stuff—it’s shrink plastic for grown-ups.

When I was at the Craft and Hobby Association trade show last January I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw Julie Haymaker Thompson’s fantastic jewelry. I didn’t even know it was shrink plastic until she told me—and then I immediately asked her to write an article for Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. I love when artists see something with a fresh eye and turn it on its head. But there was something else.

Julie created an ingenious tool called a Shrinkets bead mold that forms shrink plastic into shaped beads. Those can be combined with other beads to form focals, dangles, and more. I was sold.

Julie’s article, Shrink Plastic Whimsy, appears in the September/October 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. You have to see the Wonderland’s Garden necklace she created—it’s magnificent. There’s even a downloadable template for the flower and leaf beads available in our Online Extras. I thought I’d finally give these beads a try, and I was not disappointed.

Using Julie’s templates I traced a few flower shapes onto shrink plastic, cut them out, and punched a center hole. I’m guessing most of you have worked with shrink plastic—watching the sheets shrink up is half the fun.

Tracing flower designs onto shrink plastic film
Using Julie’s flower shape templates, I traced designs onto shrink plastic film.

The beads were colored with colored pencil on the sanded side of the shrink film, and Julie has a great tip for this: Run a black colored pencil around the edge of the shape. This helps give the bead definition, and makes groupings of beads more cohesive. I discovered that baby wipes remove colored pencil,  just in case your pencil goes awry.

Creating a border on a shrink plastic flower
Creating a black border around the shrink plastic gives the beads definition.

Julie recommends using colored pencils for coloring the beads, but how to decorate them is completely up to you. Experiment, try different color combinations—whatever you like. I used Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils, and discovered that dots and lines work well to create fun patterns. Remember that the color concentrates when the beads shrink, and anything super detailed probably won’t show up.

Coloring shrink plastic with colored pencils
Create any patterns with colored pencils–when the beads shrink, the color deepens.

To shrink a bead, slide it onto the glide pin in the Shrinkets mold. Place the doming pin right at the top of the glide pin in case the plastic piece gets loose while you’re heating it.

Heating shrink plastic flower
Ready, set…heat!

With a heat tool, heat the shrink plastic. You’ll likely recall that shrink plastic goes through a whole thing when it’s heated, flailing about as it shrinks, then mellowing out at the end. It’s at that mellowing part, when it relaxes and is still warm, when you slide the doming pin onto the glide pin all the way down, forming the bead. If the bead is a little askew, you can re-heat the shrink plastic with the heat tool and re-form it.

Shaping a flower bead with the Shrinkets bead mold
When the bead has shrunk and flattened out, shape it with the Shrinkets bead mold.

The matte or the shiny side can face up–I mixed mine for a variety of finishes and looks.

Matte and shiny sides of shrink plastic beads
The matte and shiny sides of the shrink plastic offer different looks.

When you have the amount of shrink beads you need, begin to make your dangles. Feel free to go a little crazy, combining all sorts of beads, sequins, seed beads, bead caps, and whatever else you think will work, to make the lovely bead dangles. Simply slide the beads onto a head pin and create a wrapped loop at the top. Check the article for complete instructions on how to make the Wonderland’s Garden necklace; I decided to create a pendant, attaching three bead dangles to a large decorative metal ring. I also created two smaller dangles made of just small beads, plus a leaf. Templates for leaves are included in the download.

Dangles made with shrink plastic flower beads
Create any combination of beads, sequins, and bead caps for the shrink plastic flower beads.

I used jump rings to attach the dangles to the rings, and added a silk ribbon and a closure. I’ve gotten so many compliments on this piece, and no one yet has guessed that the beads are made with shrink plastic.

I’ve got ideas for tons of bead variations and uses for the dangles: monochromatic color schemes, bold patterns, using the dangles as page markers for handmade books. By changing the color palette of the Shrinkets beads and the components, you’ll completely change the look of your jewelry. Think black, white, and turquoise with bright silver, or cream and sepia with aged brass. Or, combine the Shrinkets beads with vintage findings and some beaded chain.

I hope you have a chance to discover—or rediscover—this fun material, working with it in a completely new way. I’m headed back to the studio to make more beads!

Do you know that every mixed-media technique can be incorporated into jewelry? Discover these fantastic books, videos, and more that will show you how to make unique jewelry you’ll be proud to wear.

September/October 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine
The complete instructions to make Julie Haymaker Thompson’s necklace are in the September/October 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.

Explore mixed-media jewelry making with these great resources!


Blog, Mixed-Media Jewelry, Mixed-Media Techniques

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