... I'm not by any means the first to attempt a solution to these problems. Earlier this year Giny showed how she uses a laminator to make great reusable templates and a while back Sabine Alienor shared her genius method of creating a very durable template from shrink plastic. Both methods impressed me enormously, and I've got some shrinky plastic to try Sabine's method. But I lack a laminator at home and suffer from an allergy to arithmetic - even the simplest calculation of shrinkage is outside my comfort zone. So, hoping to avoid mental exertion this afternoon if possible, I wondered whether there might be a really quick-and-dirty alternative. So that's what this is - just another alternative, using the materials to hand.
Experimenting with various types of plastic packaging, some of which proved surprisingly hard to cut (and probably weren't polymer safe), I eventually arrived at the idea of using the side of a square (squircular?) plastic milk bottle - the type of food-safe plastic that's also polymer safe. It proved easy to draw on with a marker, and delightfully easy to cut. (Note: As far as I know this type of plastic isn't biodegradable or otherwise liable to disintegrate, but time will tell - and in the meantime any templates or stencils you make with it will be perfectly safe to use with polymer clay.)
These templates (and, if you use a blade or fine scissors this plastic will support some detail, so stencils are also a possibility) are reusable and firm enough to lean your blade against without too much fear of slipping. The plastic adheres well to the clay; this stickiness means it needs to be peeled off carefully, but there are some advantages. It's flexible and you can use it to support thin layers of laminate, peeling off the template once in place. I wonder whether this might even be helpful when insetting shapes into a sheet of clay.
A plastic milk bottle - the sides of a 2.7l bottle gives two decent sized flat pieces, but smaller is OK too.
A largish pair of scissors (kitchen scissors ideal)
A smaller, sharp, cutting tool - a small, pointy pair of scissors or a craft knife or scalpel. Those sharp little nail scissors with curved blades are great for going round curves, and the point helps you get into the shape with minimal damage; if using a craft knife or scalpel, please use a cutting mat!
A Sharpie or other marker
(Excuse the state of my big scissors - they've been in service 30 years!)
This is what you do:
Rinse out the bottle with cold water (hot could distort the sides) and drain; Peel off the label.
Using the bigger scissors, trim out the flat surfaces, removing any curved bits. Discard any that have a seam or other markings, as these could mark your clay. Give the remaining, flat bits a wash on both sides with cool water and washing up liquid to remove any leftover grease or stickiness, and leave to dry.
Pick your shape, and place a section of plastic over the top. Choose a piece that's large enough to cover the shape with a decent border around. You could use double-sided tape to hold it place, but unless your shape is very complicated you probably won't need it.
Trace carefully with a Sharpie or other marker. Try to keep your marks long and clear, rather than short, sketchy strokes.
If your shape has a corner, begin there, and using the small, pointy pair of scissors - or alternatively a craft knife or scalpel - push just the very tip into the plastic, snip, and begin to follow the line round. Don't hesitate to turn the shape around, or even reverse the plastic, if it gives you a better cutting angle.
The plastic is soft, so you won't damage your nail scissors : )
So now you have two shapes, a positive and a negative template. Have a look at both and trim away any rough or jagged bits. If you can still see marker markings, you'll want to keep this away from your clay, so keep this side up when using. Having said that, I used Sharpie and it seems to rub or scrape off fairly easily, but you might want to experiment with wiping or washing off any remaining marks, maybe with a dish scrubbie, at this point.
Lay your template on the clay, marker side up, and smooth it down gently. Provided it's flat it should stick nicely to the clay with minimal extra help to hold it in place while you cut round, keeping the flat part of your scalpel lightly in contact with the edge of the template for an accurate line.
If you try this, let me know what you think!
Scotty dog pattern by Jenny B. Harris, AllsortsMakery.com