New life for polymer clay canes

From polymer clay cane to digital pattern

A few months ago I put together some scrap clay, created a kaleidoscopic cane and instantly fell in love with it. The problem? Because I made it with little odds and ends, the finished cane was only about an inch long. That meant it would only last long enough to be used in a few small projects, and then it would be gone forever, and there’d be no way to make another.

I made a few pens, a pair of earrings, and a couple seam ripper handles, and then this was all I had left:


What a bummer.

I’m sure those of you who do millefiori work in polymer clay can relate.

Well, my love for this design prompted me to find a way to extend its life, and I am so happy with the result, I hate to keep this technique to myself. I know there are other polymer clay artists out there in the same boat, and I also know that this is a technique that can apply to many other things besides polymer (photographs with ho-hum composition but intriguing colors, quilt blocks, crochet motifs…).

Why turn a physical object into a digital repeating pattern?

Why do this? For one thing, these patterns can be used in all kinds of computer-related applications. In fact, a desaturated and colorized version of the cane pictured above is currently the background of my blog.

But perhaps more excitingly, a digital pattern can be uploaded to all kinds of online services that will apply your pattern to a tangible object. I’ll show you a few examples of these at the end.

Here’s what you need to do this project:

  • A thing you want to tessellate (i.e. a polymer clay cane)
  • A way to capture an image of the thing (i.e. digital camera or flatbed scanner)
  • Photo-editing software that allows you to work in layers (i.e. Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro)

Capture an image of the thing and square it.


I used my camera on a tripod, set my ISO to 100, set a 2-second shutter delay, and took a nice, full head-on shot of my cane. If this intimidates you, a flatbed scanner will also get you a steady image.

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Open the image in your photo-editing software, and crop fairly close to the part you want to tessellate, leaving a bit of room for the next step. In this case, I decided not to use the whole cane, but just one quarter of it, since the other 3 parts were really just the same square repeated.

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Use the Move tool in Warp mode to stretch your image to the edges of the frame. Some sections might require more pulling than others, and you may find that when you pull one corner, you’ll have to push back on one of the edges. Just keep nudging and finessing until the only things you can see in the frame are things you want to keep in your final image.

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Select All and Crop (or Image > Trim) so that any of the stuff you stretched out of the frame is well and truly removed from the image.

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Resize to a square. My image started as 949×851 pixles, but I knocked it down to 500×500, which is sufficient for my purposes. This is the building block with which we will construct our repeating pattern.

Note: Strictly speaking, it is not necessary to use a square. A rectangle can work just as well, although the math in the next step is a tiny bit more complicated. In our example a square is exactly what we want, since we are using a square cane to begin with.

Tessellate / Kaleidoscope the image of the thing.

This is where the magic happens, and you have to have at least a vague understanding of how layers work in Photoshop (or your tool of choice). Our final image will be composed of four layers:

  • top left: original 500px square
  • top right: copy of top left, flipped horizonally
  • bottom right: copy of top right, flipped vertically
  • bottom left: copy of bottom right, flipped horizontally

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(I’m going to assume that your image is 500px like mine. If yours is a different amount, you’ll have to do your own math. Double your number to get the new canvas size.)

Increase your canvas size to 1000×1000, anchoring your current image in the top left.

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Duplicate the image layer, flip it horizontally (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal), and drag it all the way to the right, making sure the edges line up nicely.

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Duplicate this new layer, flip it vertically, and drag it all the way to the bottom.

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Duplicate this second new layer, flip it horizontally, and drag it all the way to the left.

Flatten the image, and be pleased: you’re done with all of the heavy lifting.

Save the kaleidoscoped image as a repeating pattern.

This part is specific to the software you use. My only recent experience is with Photoshop, but if you google “defining patterns in [insert your favorite software here]” you should find something useful.

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Click on Edit > Define Pattern… and you will be prompted to name your pattern. Call it whatever you like! You might want to come up with a naming convention of some kind, if you plan to make a lot of these.

That, my friend, is all you need to do in order to use this pattern in Photoshop forever and ever.

If you also want to use the pattern outside of Photoshop, you should save it to your hard drive or to the cloud for safe keeping.

Using the pattern in Photoshop

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Take a canvas of any size and add a pattern layer. Your design is automatically tiled, and you can scale it to whatever size you like. In this example, I found 100% to be way too big, so I scaled it down to 25%.

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Use it for pattern fill in a logo. This is a little too busy for my taste, but you get the gist. It might be great in another context or with a more subtle pattern.


Other ideas: as a background in a business card design, as a blog background, as an element in digital art.

Use the pattern in fun and exciting ways.

This is the part that thrills me the most: turning my tiny polymer clay cane into something you just can’t make with polymer clay! Like, for example:

I made a digital pattern out of one of my can designs and had it printed on a mug.

A mug! I took my repeating pattern to Zazzle and had it applied to a two-tone mug. I can’t begin to describe how in-love with this mug I am. Polymer clay is generally not something you want on your drinkwear (unless, maybe, on the stem of a wine glass) but with this technique I get to enjoy my pretty clay pattern with my morning coffee any time I want. Which is often 😍☕

From polymer clay cane to digital patternHere’s another cool thing: Fabric. Spoonflower will take your repeating designs and print them on fabric, wrapping paper, wallpaper, etc. It’s pretty cool. I haven’t used my fabric yet, but I think this fat quarter size would make a nifty pillow cover using solid fabrics for the back panels. A larger cut would be nice for a skirt. Try doing that with polymer clay! (P.S. You could do it, but it wouldn’t be easy, or particularly comfortable to wear.)

So there you have it. Your polymer clay canes can see new life as coffee mugs, pillows, and so much more. Isn’t that cool?

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By the way, you can do this technique with any photos. I took this picture with my old phone in a circus-themed restaurant last fall. The photo itself is kind of terrible, but I saved it because I love the colors in it.

I cropped it down and kaleidoscoped it, and wow. Same great colors, much better composition. This would make a pretty cool a-line skirt…

It just goes to prove my favorite quote from Judy Belcher in her awesome Millefiori Story DVD: “Even crap is beautiful tessellated.” 😉

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Here’s a recent instagram photo that I kaleidoscoped. I could do this all day. And I might. Because it’s fun.

Try it yourself! And if you have any questions, please ask!

TWiP: Themeless

This Week in Pictures (TWiP) at Polka Dot Cottage

It’s the Week Without a Theme. My photos are kind of a mish-mosh. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. We kicked things off with a very enjoyable family party, and ended the week with another snowfall. And just as the last one was nearly all melted! The good news is that it stuck around for a few hours in the morning looking lovely, and by lunch time the sun had already done most of the work clearing the paths. That’s my favorite kind of snow fall!

So, what is This Week in Pictures?

It’s a roundup of the photos I shot with my DSLR for Project 365 (one image each day for all of 2016), plus some phone snapshots I posted on Instagram during the previous week.

Ready? Cast your mind back to this time last week…


365: 2016 30/366 – Family party today, and dueling cameras with Uncle Bill.


365: 2016 31/366 – I’m not normally a big fan of working on a Sunday night, but I have a few little things I want to accomplish. After that I can be all about pajamas and PBS dramas :-)


365: 2016 32/366 – I didn’t plan it, but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying how nicely my nails go with my paper straw 😀


365: 2016 33/366 – I’ve had one of those days where I accomplished a lot, but none of it was anything I actually wanted to do. I’m feeling a little cranky, so I’ve lit a candle, and I’m going to sit somewhere and just do what I want to do for the rest of the night!


365: 2016 34/365 – I’ll admit it has taken me scandalously long to take down the Christmas decorations, but in my defense, I was still using Tacky Santa’s red glow to light up the living room in the mornings while I got lunches ready and saw Aidan off to school. Now that the sun is rising at a more reasonable time, I can let Santa go back in the attic for a while :-)

Instagram: I knit this hat in one night last week. I like the subtle cables, but I think I’m going to use the second ball to make another with more obvious cabling. #pdc #pdcwintergreenhat #malabrigochunky


365: 2016 35/365 – Bobble Head Luke is overseeing my clay work today. So far, he seems unimpressed.


Instagram: It’s so pretty when it’s new (and there’s not two feet of it…) 😉❄

365: 2016 36/366 – I shoveled this morning, but the snow is piling back up on the front steps.

Instagram: What I do, in a nutshell: I take lumps of solid colored clay, work them into blocks of complex pattern, apply slices of that pattern to things like seam rippers, crochet hooks, and earrings, sand and buff the daylights out of those objects to make them shine, and finally ship the objects to happy customers 😊📬 #pdc

Thanks for taking a peek at this week’s photos! If you want to see this stuff as it happens, please feel free to follow me on Flickr and/or Instagram.

I may already have plans to blog about some of these things in greater detail over the coming week, but be sure to leave a comment if there’s something in particular you want to know about!


This Week in Pictures

Now accepting custom orders

I’ve opened up custom ordering for the next week and a half. If you need a few new crochet hooks, a seam ripper, or any number of other tools and pieces of jewelry I can make, please head over there and place your order!

I’m headed to the annual Clayathon in less than two weeks, and I plan to spend some of my time working on new color schemes and designs. I’m so excited about this!

Among other things, I’ve got an idea for a red and aqua color scheme that looks really fabulous in my head. I’m eager to see how it works out in reality 😀

colors_Swamp patterns_Floral

I’ve also been looking at some of my old (er, “classic” 😜) color schemes and thinking of resurrecting one or two of them, along with some of the older patterns I used to make. I’ve been keeping a list of things to try, and while I can’t promise which of these items will come to fruition, I can tell you that there will be something new.

I’ve updated the shop order forms so you can choose one of the eight most popular designs from 2015, or you can choose to let me surprise you with one of those patterns in a new color (or one of those colors in a new pattern)!

Polymer Clay Shawl Pins at Polka Dot Cottage

One other thing – I’m bringing back shawl pins. I haven’t decided if this is a permanent or temporary thing. We’ll see how it goes!

So, to recap: if you’d like me to make you something and maybe surprise you with new colors and patterns, hop over to the Handmades Shop and place a custom order.

But hurry, because ordering closes on Thursday, February 11th (the day before I leave for the Clayathon).

Polymer Clay Tutorials, Updated!

Polymer clay tutorials by Lisa Clarke at Polka Dot Cottage

I’ve had a little project going on all last week, and I’m so happy to be able to show it to you today!

The entire polymer clay section of the Download Shop has had a makeover! The shop page itself is brand-spankin’ new, but more importantly, every one of the tutorials on the shelf has been updated and re-formatted.

Additionally, this re-do has given me the opportunity to re-evaluate the pricing on these, and base it on the amount of information presented (like I have been doing with the sewing, knitting, and crochet tutorials all along). As a result, a few of the more in-depth tutorials have gone up in price, but many of them have gone down.

Take a look!

The information within the tutorials has gone largely unchanged (although I have added little bits of information, clarified a thing or two, or added a few new images to some of them).

Nonetheless, if you have purchased a polymer clay tutorial in the past and would like a new, updated copy, email me at with some proof of ownership (order number, email receipt, something like that) and I’ll send you a link to download the new edition for free.

Next up? Some new tutorials! I have a few ideas already, but if there’s anything in particular you would like to know, feel free to suggest it. If it grabs me, I’ll do it!

TWiP: White Out

This Week in Pictures (TWiP) at Polka Dot Cottage

Snow, snow, and more snow. That pretty much dominated more than half of the week. Also? It seems blizzards make me want to Instagram everything in sight, so be prepared for there to be a lot of images to see this week 😉

So, what is This Week in Pictures?

It’s a roundup of the photos I shot with my DSLR for Project 365 (one image each day for all of 2016), plus some phone snapshots I posted on Instagram during the previous week.

Ready? Cast your mind back to this time last week…


365: 2016 23/366 – 9am. It’s hard to tell just how much has fallen so far, with the wind blowing everything around, but I did notice that the Blizzard Warning that is in effect is now calling for 6 inches more than it was calling for as of last night.

Instagram: My view of #blizzard2016 is being obstructed by my current project 😆. I’m revisiting one of my really old clay designs in new colors, and photographing the steps to share later. #pdc

Instagram: I’d probably like this better if I had followed my own directions from 12years ago when this “calico cane” was one of my signature designs. I haven’t made one in years. This one is OK, but it doesn’t set my heart all aflutter or anything 😉 #pdc #pdccalicocane #polkadotcottage #polymerclay

Instagram: I think maybe I’ll just hang out here tonight.


365: 2016 24/366 – I was going to head outside to experience this record-breaking snowfall for myself, but I literally cannot open the front door any further than this without breaking it. And the back door doesn’t even open this far.

Instagram: I was pretty chill about still being snowed in until I realized we were out of chocolate. It’s going to be a long night 😂 [As you can see, we got the front door open. We sent a skinny kid through the small crack and got him to clear off the landing.]#blizzard2016

Instagram: We’re still snowed in, but it’s cool. I’ve got an afghan in progress and a Roku. I’m good 😊


365: 2016 25/366 – I think we have a couple of cars under all of that snow, but it’s hard to tell 😉


365: 2016 26/366 – Our snow removal guys showed up late last night with a snowblower and released us from our snowy prison 😉 It looks like about a foot and a half of accumulation here, but I’m sure a few inches melted off over the last couple of days.

Instagram: When you spend 4 days snowed in with a partner who gags at the smell of coffee, you really appreciate that first cup after one of you is able to finally leave the house 😊🍵❄

Instagram: My project for this morning… #blizzard2016

Instagram: I’m glad we can have fun while we work… #blizzard2016

Instagram: This yarn. So squishy and delicious. I’m going to design a chunky cabled hat with it. Let the swatching commence! #pdc


Instagram: Back to work. Only this time without my helpers, since they went back to school today. Almost done, though, and it’s melting fast, which is nice. #blizzard2016

365: 2016 27/366 – Yesterday was all about snow removal. Today was all about upgrading my Afghan Cane polymer clay tutorial and treating myself for shoveling the last pile of snow this morning. A peppermint green tea frappuccino hit the spot nicely. [At Starbucks, taken with my phone.]


Instagram: I’m losing steam on this ornament-making gig. These two are headed for the oven, and after that I’ve got 3 more. Then I’m done. The last few are a little complicated and I’m dragging my heels… #pdc

365: 2016 28/366 – Aidan and I visited my parents tonight, and after supper Aidan introduced my brother to the GeoGuess app. As you can see by the purple glow on all of the faces, the game spread down the table until everyone with a device was playing. [At my parents’ house, taken with my phone]


365: 2016 29/366 – I just got my first ever passport, and while I have no immediate plans to leave the country, it’s nice to know that I *can* :-)

Thanks for taking a peek at this week’s photos! If you want to see this stuff as it happens, please feel free to follow me on Flickr and/or Instagram.

I may already have plans to blog about some of these things in greater detail over the coming week, but be sure to leave a comment if there’s something in particular you want to know about!


This Week in Pictures