Product Review: Loew Cornell Clay Modeling Tools

One of the first things you’ll need when you begin working with polymer clay is some sort of tool set.  You can get by for a while without tools, but eventually you’ll realize they just make things so much easier.  I started out with this basic set from Loew Cornell, which can be found at Michaels or Hobby Lobby for only a few dollars.  The Loew Cornell Clay Tool Set includes three tools, each with two ends, and are perfect for smoothing, shaping, and contouring. 

While there are many more advanced sets out there that you can do a lot more with, this set is a great one to start with – it’s basic enough that everyone from beginners to more serious crafters can get good use out of them, they’re plastic and very easy to clean, and best of all, they are cheap!

 

What modeling tools have you used?

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Product Review: Sculpey Work ‘N Bake Clay Mat

Not long after I began making custom cake toppers, I started to think of ways to improve my technique – both in sculpting and actual baking.  I was – and still am – trying to figure out the best way to bake items when they aren’t standing upright. 

I like to insert a few toothpicks into the bottoms of my figures just before putting them in the oven, for three reasons:

  1. It makes it easy to securely insert them into the top of your wedding cake.  I didn’t do this for my own penguin cake toppers, so my baker had to construct a little platform, or tiny ice rink as I like to think of it, to secure my penguins to the cake.
  2. It helps the figurines stand up better in the oven while baking.  I usually make a little platform out of foil and poke holes in it for the toothpicks.
  3. The toothpicks make it easier to pack the cake toppers, since I insert the toothpicks into a foam brick and wrap them (in several layers of bubble wrap).  That way, it sort of immobilizes them during shipping, since after all, they are fragile, and you never know what can happen during shipping.

Anyway, if the customer requests it, I don’t put the toothpicks in.  Sometimes people have other ideas of how to attach the toppers to their cake, or maybe they aren’t having a traditional cake (cupcake display, sweets table, etc.).  For those who would like to keep the toppers as keepsakes after the wedding, you can simply clip the toothpicks off, but some people would rather not.  So, when I don’t have toothpicks in, it can be a bit trickier to get the figures to stand up straight while baking.  Since the cute little birds I usually make are a little plump and top heavy, and all there is on the bottom are little webbed feet, it often takes a little baking time to harden the feet enough to support the whole body.  But, if you lay a figure on its side, the spots that touch the baking surface end up with a shiny little sheen on them.  So that’s what started my search for a new baking surface.

I picked up the Sculpey Work ‘N Bake Clay Mat at Michael’s.  It is a non-skid silicone mat that you can place on your baking sheet or pan.  I really like that you can work on your clay pieces on the mat, and then bring the whole thing into the kitchen and pop it in the oven.  The mat is non-stick, so I think it may sort of grip the items a little bit better than if you were to just put it on foil or wax paper.  Also, since its made of silicone, it doesn’t get as hot, and you can handle it soon after taking it out of the oven.  It really keeps you from making a mess on the table during the sculpting process, and makes clean up easy (when you’re done baking, a little soap and water will clean the mat). 

So, while the baking mat doesn’t necessarily solve all the issues I intended it to, it has a lot of benefits I hadn’t considered, and its convenience is a huge help in the clay-making process!  Just another reason I heart Sculpey.

Michaels vs. Hobby Lobby





For those of you who are crafters, chances are when you need supplies, you hit up either Michaels or Hobby Lobby.  Being familiar with both, I thought I’d put a little more thought into how they stack up against each other.

I used to be a strictly Michaels girl – for years and years, I was a loyal customer, not interested in shopping elsewhere very often (aside from going to Joann Fabrics for fabric projects and sometimes Archiver’s for scrapbooking).  I cringe to think of how much money I’ve spent at Michaels over the years!  For some reason I wasn’t keen on Hobby Lobby – I had gone a couple times and it had left me feeling pretty ‘meh.’  But this past summer, we moved, and while there is a Michaels a few miles away, there’s a Hobby Lobby literally around the corner.  So, I decided to give them another try…and I have to say I’m a little bit in love.  

So here is how the two stores compare in the categories of selection/layout, price, and customer service, based on my experiences over the years.

 

Selection & Store Layout

I find that Michaels is easier to navigate, probably because the stores are typically smaller than Hobby Lobby stores.  The aisles at Michaels are well organized and well stocked, and I’m rarely unable to find something I need.  Hobby Lobby is a much larger store, and while it is also well organized, it can be a little bit overwhelming.  Due to its size, the selection is greater at Hobby Lobby.  They also have departments that Michaels doesn’t, such as more home goods.  (On the other hand, Michaels has lots of candy near the checkouts that is great for those impulse buys.)  For what I usually shop for – clay, jewelry making stuff and scrapbooking – either store will do, so it comes down to price and customer service.

    

Price

In terms of price, I’ve found that Hobby Lobby is cheaper overall.  If I’m just popping in for a pack of clay or some artificial flowers, I’m not going to end up spending too much either way, so either store will do.  But if I’m planning to stock up on supplies, it’s worth it for me to shop at Hobby Lobby and save a little bit of money.  However, both stores have coupons on a regular basis, as well as pretty decent frequent sales.

   

Customer Service

I don’t usually have the best of luck with customer service at Michaels.  Despite a couple of employees that stick out in my mind as being especially helpful, most of my experiences there have included high school students who avoid eye contact in a desperate attempt to not help you find something, and elderly women who seem bewildered by the modern technology of a cash register.  Now, the first time I went back to Hobby Lobby, people actually smiled at me, and asked if I needed help.  Most employees there seem knowledgeable about where to find things despite the vastness of the store.  (Though a little off topic, I have to say that the employees at Archiver’s are by far the friendliest I’ve come across, in craft stores and maybe even retail stores in general.)

So while I love Michaels, I’ve quickly come around on Hobby Lobby.  They come out ahead in selection, price, and customer service.  I’m still more familiar and comfortable in Michaels stores, but I think that will continue to change as I continue to shop at Hobby Lobby more often.

Where do you do your craft shopping?