DIY clay herb markers, or "the case of the broken diy bone"

DIY clay garden markers from Small Company ArtworksI gave this project a try one lovely weekend, when I felt creative but didn't feel up to sculpting something new. Sometimes you have to shake things up, right?

The original idea for these clay garden markers came from Wit and Whistle, who has a lovely guide to DIY Garden Markers. Hers are prettier than mine, for the record.

You only need four things (plus an oven or toaster oven): clay, a roller, a knife, and an alphabet stamp set. I started by digging through my art supplies for some tiny alphabet stamps I got at Michael's in the $1 bin (it's worth hunting for this bin next time you're there). 

Substitutions: 

  • If you don't have stamps, you could probably handwrite on the clay with a pen you don't care about. Just try to press evenly as you write.
  • If you don't have polymer clay, now would be a fine time to experiment with a homemade air-dry clay recipe (and you won't need an oven).
  • The roller and knife are straightforward to substitute. Try the side of a glass for the roller (you'll want to clean it with rubbing alcohol before drinking from it again), and a ruler edge for the knife. The latter may actually work better than a knife, now I think about it.
  • A toaster oven actually works really well with polymer clay, and you don't heat up the whole house to make six tiny plant stakes.

Step 1: cylinder to pancake

Roll the clay with your hands into a cylinder about the length you'd like your stakes. Roll the cylinder into a pancake less than 1.4" (0.63cm) thick. Some clays are sturdier than others, so go thinner if you like and find out what yours is like.

Supplies for DIY clay herb markers

Step 2: cut the stakes

Remove the excess cat fur decorating your clay. Unless you like the look.

Then using your knife edge (Wit and Whistle used the back of the knife to avoid little serrations. I just smoothed them with my fingers afterwards.), cut mostly-even slices from your pancake, then trim the ends into points. Smooth as desired.

Cutting clay for easy herb markers

Step 3: stamp

Wit and Whistle seems to have some superpower that involved stamping neatly and evenly, but I lack this talent. I ended up lining up the letters in my hand and pressing them in all at once. This part is worth doing slowly and carefully, so leave the carefree attitude at the previous steps.

Of course, I chose to start with tarragon, and I only have one of each letter. If you're in the same situation with your stamps, I found it easiest to place the first letters and fill in as I went. The pictures explain this better than words do.

3 things you're not going to want to do

  1. Don't press too hard, or you'll end up with the edges of the stamp showing in the clay, like I did. I told myself it's an artistic embellishment and left it alone.
  2. Don't begin your word at the end and work backwards. You'll end up with -osemary or -arsely. Just trust me on this.
  3. Don't press a little at one end and little less at the other. Try to keep pressure pretty close. Yeah, I know, but it does get easier the third time.

Using stamps for easy herb markers

Step 3, redux: stamp again

Once you've successfully completed the, uh, "test" batch, do it all over again. Seriously, I did this project three times to get a set I could live with. Happily, it still took me 15 minutes to make six stamps (three times).

All in all, I'm happy with how it turned out. Not as professional as Wit and Whistle's, but not terrible, either. 

Things I'd do differently:

  1. Use a toaster oven. I really didn't need to heat the whole oven for this project. If you do use a toaster oven, put a sheet of waxed paper or parchment between your markers and the aluminum foil. Foil makes polymer clay very shiny when you bake on it.
  2. Tighten my spacing. Longer names get lost when I put them in the pot, so closer spacing would help. But since I'd have to wrestle with lining things up properly, I'd have to do this when I had extra patience.
  3. Paint. These markers would look cute with a wash of, say, dark blue paint to highlight the letters. Mix half water with half paint to get the "wash" effect. I'd also varnish them with a quick coat of water-based varnish to seal them in that case. That'd also give them a pretty shine.

Plants with DIY clay markers

Final recommendation: definitely one to try

For DIY, this one checked all the boxes for easy, inexpensive, useful, and satisfying. It's also quick, so you can pat yourself on the back and go have a cup of tea that much sooner.


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