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How to Make Miniature Bells
Sculpting bells is a useful technique that can be employed to make scale miniatures from polymer clay or two-part epoxy putty or to make edible cake decorations from a fondant base. You will need to adapt your tools to suit the size of the bell you wish to make.
The dolls house scale bells shown here were made using large and medium embossing tools with rounded ball ends. A method for making silicone putty molds for miniature bells (suitable for paper mache, fondant, or polymer clay) is also shown. The bells on the right of the photo, the large bronze bell with the small crack and the red glittered bell, were shaped in molds made from a golf tee (the bronze bell) and the plastic top of a china glue tube (the red bell).
The size of your bell will depend on both your skills and the type of polymer clay or fondant that you are using. Large bells with thin sides are easiest to make using very elastic clay. If you want large fondant bells for the top of a wedding cake, you will find it easier to use a special mold than to make bells by hand, but smaller bells to decorate garlands on the sides of cakes, are easy to mold freehand.
The handbell was made from a polymer clay bell, with a handle cut from a decorative toothpick inserted into a hole on the top of the bell after it was cured. The bell clapper was made by dipping a piece of thread in glue to form a rounded blob, which was then trimmed to length and glued to the inside top of the handbell.Continue to 2 of 11 below.
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Materials You'll Need
To make miniature bells you will need:
- Modeling medium: Polymer clay (we used translucent), paper clay or another form of elastic paper mache, or fondant paste (for edible cake decorations)
- Embossing tools: For this project, you need round ended tools; we used a large and medium rounded embossing tool. Silicone shaping tools will also work. If you are working with fondant for edible bells, use cake decorating tools, and use them only with food.
- Decorative finishes: We made miniature glittered bells for Christmas ornaments, so we finished many of our samples with glitter. Fine flocking will give a velvet finish to miniature bells, and mica pigments like those from Jacquard can be added to plain polymer clay or painted on afterward to create a metal effect. The metallic effect bells shown in the photo on the first step of these instructions had Jacquard antique bronze powder mixed into polymer clay. The handbell was painted with antique bronze powder after it was baked. Edible fondant bells can be decorated with food colors, icings, or special sugar glitters. Edible gold foil and flakes are also available.
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- A bell-shaped original: We used a bell-shaped cap from the top of a tube of ceramic glue, and also a golf tee to make successful molds for miniature bells.
- Two-part silicone mold putty or another suitable molding compound. Two-part silicone mold putty is available in forms that are safe to use with edible materials (including the Easy Mold Putty from Dick Blick Art Materials). Completed molds used for edible materials, cannot be used for non-edible materials (like polymer clay) as well. You need to keep materials used with food away from craft materials to avoid contamination.
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Begin to Shape the Bell
To begin shaping miniature bells start with a ball of your modeling material. For the dolls house scale handbell, we used a ball just a bit smaller than 1/4 inch across. The amount of material you need will depend somewhat on how thin you can work on the walls of your bell. If you want solid bells, you will need more material than for hollow bells.
Press your round ended embossing tool into the top 1/3 of your ball of clay. Holding the ball in your hands, gently pull out the bottom edge of the ball to form a rough cone. As you work with the ball, it will form a point on the end in your hands. That will be shaped in the following step.Continue to 4 of 11 below.
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Widen the Rim
Use your ball headed embossing tool to gently spread the bottom third of your modeling material (polymer clay) into the rim of the miniature bell. Try to find photos of the type of bell you would like to make, as they all have slightly different shapes. Keep the rim as evenly round as possible while you are shaping it.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
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Keep the Main Bell Shape Constant
In this photo, you can see that the rim of the miniature bell is being shaped like a saucer with a raised edge. The main shape of the bell is still closed; the embossing tool is only working on the bottom edge. By comparison, the shape beside the piece being worked is the original cone shape which resulted from first pressing the embossing tool into the original ball. In future photos, this original cone shape will be shown beside the bell so you can compare how the shape is changing.Continue to 6 of 11 below.
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Shape the Bell Top
As you gently roll the shape of the bell around in your fingers to help keep the rim shape round and even the bell may turn into a pointed cone. To keep it to its bell shape tamp the top of the cone onto a flat surface if it begins to come to a point.Continue to 7 of 11 below.
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Round the Top of the Bell
When you have a defined rim, you can begin to work your rounded shaping or embossing tool into the top of the bell to help produce the characteristic rounded bell shape. Gently spiral down into the bell from the rim with your tool, making sure you are pressing evenly on all sides of the bell top. If your modeling material becomes too soft, set it aside to harden before you continue to shape the main bell. You don't want your rim shape to become floppy.
On most bells, there is a slight narrowing of the main shape just before the flare of the rim.Continue to 8 of 11 below.
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Check for Even Shaping
When your bell is almost complete, set it flat on its rim and check to see that your shape is even. Look down on your bell from above to make sure the center of the bell at the top is centered on a rounded rim at the base. If the bell is off-center, gently work on the inside of the bell on the lowest side to match it to the rest of the bell.
The bell in this photo shows how the shape has changed from the beginning cone. The top still needs to be pulled out a bit, after the bell has been tamped again to eliminate the point that has begun to form. Once that is done, the bell will be ready to finish.Continue to 9 of 11 below.
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How to Make a Mold for the Finished Bell
To make a mold for a miniature bell, you can either work from a bell you have sculpted or make a mold from an object which has a bell shape in a size you can use. To make miniature bells, we used a mold made from the top of a tube of ceramic glue, which had a long bell shape, and also a mold made from a golf tee. We've shown the steps for making the golf tee mold here, as the glue top, like any bell shape you want to use, only had to be pressed into the mold compound with the widest end of the master original facing out.
The golf tee required a slightly different technique as we wanted to leave the master shape (the tee) intact and not cut it down to a bell.
To make the bell mold from something which is attached to a larger original, or which has a bell only as part of the shape, you can use this technique. Begin by mixing sufficient two-part silicone mold putty to cover the bell section of your original. Make sure you leave the opening of the bell to be the bottom opening of the one-piece mold. The widest part of the original has to be at the open end of the mold.Continue to 10 of 11 below.
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Trim the Mold
Our bell mold will always have a piece of the golf tee stick coming out of the top of the bell unless we can fill the hole left by the tee stem and make the top of the bell rounded. To fill the hole in the top of the mold and shape it into a bell, first use a knife (we used a tissue blade) to trim the mold material away from the golf tee, just above the base of the cup that holds the ball. Remove the golf tee from your mold.Continue to 11 of 11 below.
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Make a Base for the Bottom
You need to plug the hole where the stem of the golf tee came out of the mold. Fortunately, two-part silicone mold putty will stick to itself so that you can add on to existing molds.
To finish the mold, mix enough two-part silicone putty to fill the hole on what will become the bottom of the mold (at the top of the bell). Have an embossing or shaping tool ready as you will need to shape the inside of the mold to keep the top of the bell round, instead of having a plug of silicone putty intruding into the top of your bell shape.
Start by gently pressing your putty onto the existing mold to cover the hole where the base of the golf tee came through. Use your fingers or a shaping tool to blend the new putty into the old shape and then flip your mold over and press the soft putty down gently onto a flat surface so that it will stand upright, with the opening for the base of the bell showing.
Use your shaping or embossing tool to work the soft putty at the top of the inside of the mold, blending it into the main mold piece so that the top of the bell will be gently rounded (the mold putty you added will have pushed through the hole at the top of the bell). You can also use this method to add putty to any small indentations that show up after you have made a mold so that you have fewer repairs to make to objects you cast from the molds. Once you have the inside top of the bell mold gently rounded, let the putty harden. Your filled hole will allow you to cast bells without having to trim off material where the stem of the tee came through the mold material.