Tessellated Canes

Monday, March 11, 2013

How to make tessellated canes with polymer clay. By Judy Belcher

Much of the jewelry I create celebrates both left-brain and right-brain ways of approaching the creative process. Similar left-brain/right-brain strategies can be employed when making the tessellated canes for the Twirling Necklace. Use the left side of your brain to cut, mirror, and list the various ways your original cane can be recombined. Or exercise the right side by smashing and morphing the original cane into a new triangle and create dozens more tessellations.


polymer: 6 oz. (170g) white; 6 oz. (170g) turquoise; 6 oz. (170g) yellow (I used Kato Polyclay, as it holds even minute details clearly during the caning process and firms up quickly so I can immediately slice the cane.)

pasta machine

cutting blade

1. Using the Two-Color Skinner blend technique, create various hues of lime green polymer and, with the pasta machine, roll each color to a 1 x 3-inch (2.5 x 7.5cm) strip on a medium thickness. Stack each strip, beginning with white and gradually getting darker, ending with the original color, to create a gradated cane. Repeat to create a gradated cane in turquoise.

2. Turn 1 gradated cane on its side and cut 3 triangular-shaped wedges. Repeat for the other color.

Pic 2

3. To create a master cane that will be recombined into many tessellated or mirrored canes, combine the wedges, making sure they remain straight throughout the cane. Work toward a form that loosely resembles a triangle. Compress the cane, folding over any edges that stick out, as they will form curved elements that are lovely when repeated. Choose a point of the triangle and use your fingers in a pinching motion to refine the point and press down against the work surface to flatten the opposite side to form it into an equilateral triangle. Turn the cane and continue to refine. Reduce the cane so each of its sides is 1/2 inch (13mm). Cut off the distorted ends of the cane, as they will not mirror well.

Pic 3

Note:Each of the 5 variations of tessellated beads shown in steps 4-8 requires segments from this master cane. While you may not have enough of the master cane to create all of the combinations that follow, if you combine the pieces gently, you can take them apart and try different combinations. Build at least 3 variations of the tessellated design, as they will add interest to your finished necklace.

4. Tessellating the master cane is the most fun part of the process! For the first design, cut six 1-inch- (2.5cm-) long segments from the master cane. Put 2 triangles together so the sides mirror each other. Repeat, mirroring the same 2 sides, for the other 4 segments. Piece these 3 new segments together so the centers meet and all sides mirror to form a hexagonal cane.

Pic 4

5. White center point: For the second design, still using 6 segments, look at the side of one of the triangles mirrored in the first cane. Choose a different side to mirror and piece these segments together as you did before, paying close attention to the center point to ensure that the new pattern is different.

Pic 5

6. Blue center point: This design also uses 6 segments, mirroring the side of the triangle that is different from the first 2 variations. Piece these segments together as you did before, paying close attention to the center point.

Pic 6

7. Complex: For an even more complex pattern, cut two 3-inch- (7.5cm-) long segments from the master cane, mirror one side of the triangles, and reform them into a new triangle. (Use the technique in step 3 to form the new equilateral triangle.) Stretch and reduce the triangular cane so each side is 1/2 inch (13mm) wide. Cut the cane into six 1-inch- (2.5cm-) long segments, and mirror again as in the first 3 variations. This complex cane can be done in many variations, depending on which sides of the master triangle you chose to mirror for the first part of the step. The image shows only two of these variations.

Pic 7

8. Square: The master cane can also be recombined into tessellated square canes. Cut two 3-inch- (7.5cm-) long segments of the master cane, and mirror one side of the triangles. Reform this new, diamond-shaped cane into a square cane by pressing with your fingers and rolling each side with an acrylic rod. Stretch and reduce the square cane so each side is 1/2 inch (13mm) wide. Cut the new square cane into 4 equal segments. Mirror these segments so the centers meet and all sides mirror each other to form the tessellated square cane.

Think about all the combinations that this method of mirroring can produce. Seven canes are shown here, but by manipulating the master cane, hundreds more of these beautiful canes can be built.

Pic 8


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