Friday, February 26, 2016

Bamboo & Polymer ~ An Intriguing Combination

I've just recently returned from Laurel, Maryland, where I had the pleasure of attending the Cabin Fever Clay Festival for 2016.  I really like this conference.  Nothing to do all day but play with clay, learn from outstanding teachers, and enjoy the company of other like-minded folks.  I can't complain. This year, I took a couple of workshops from people I had not worked with before, doing things I've never tried.  It's always fun to learn something new, even when it is outside your comfort zone a bit.

The first two days of the conference I spent with Robert Liu from California.  Robert creates heat-bent bamboo jewelry from bamboo he grows in his own yard.  His website has his bio and examples of his work which you may find of interest:  I'd never worked with bamboo before, and was surprised when I discovered I would be using an open flame torch to bend the bamboo and shape it into the desired forms.  Through a variety of circumstances, I ended up being the only student for the first day, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have had Robert's instruction and guidance all to myself.  He is a patient, thorough, and encouraging teacher, and I'm delighted to have worked with him.

Once I had the opportunity to heat-bend some of the bamboo he supplied, and learned to do some wire-wrapping at appropriate junctures on the bamboo, I decided to see if I could incorporate some polymer into a piece or two.  My particular approach was an experiment for Robert, too, so we both waited to see what the outcome would be.

My first piece kept its shape when I baked the clay on it because I wired the bamboo in place for the baking time.   I had to bake the clay a second time and did not wire the bamboo.  There was no change in the shape, so I decided (wrongly as it turned out later) that I didn't need to wire the shape in place when baking the clay portion.  Ah, lessons learned....

This piece is flexible enough to just slip around my neck and it's shape keeps it in place.  The whole piece is very lightweight and easy. I wish I had put some of the decoration more in the middle of the front since that section is very visible.  I also realized after wearing it that the polymer "snakes" I used for vines around the bamboo should have been thicker.  Although they have not broken, I would want them to be more sturdy if someone else were going to wear a piece I'd made.

For my second piece, I used a thicker piece of bamboo and made the polymer "vines" more substantial.  I really liked this piece, but made the mistake of not wiring the ends of the bamboo together before putting the piece in the oven to bake the polymer.  Since it hadn't seemed necessary for the first piece, I figured this piece would be okay.  Not so.  Perhaps the oven was hotter or the thicker bamboo held the heat more.  Whatever the reason, the bamboo lost much of its bend.  I need to either re-torch it sometime, or attach a chain to the 2 ends to create a complete necklace circle.  As it is, I have a really pretty piece of black bamboo with cream flowers in a half-circle shape.  Perhaps a conversation piece?



  1. Hi Kristie. Just a thought. Could you punch a hole in or wire wrap the ends to add chain to go back behind th neck. It would ang lower but maybe something coordinating could be made to wear inside. It's very pretty and an interesting piece.

    1. Thanks for your comments. Yes, drilling into the bamboo and adding a chain on the ends is one of the things Robert and I discussed doing. Certainly something new and outside my regular wheel house!