Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Shrinky Dinky Done! And some Do's and Don'ts

Reliving childhood achieved! I was afraid making shrinky dinks as an adult would be one of those experiences that you remember from childhood as totally awesome, but when you try to recreate it as an adult it's woefully disappointing. Well, fear not, it was just as fun as I remembered.  It was especially fun since I have a toaster oven and could watch the entire shrinking process from start to finish. As soon as my pieces started to shrivel up I almost squealed with delight. I probably would have had my parents not been in the other room. I didn't really have a specific project in mind since I wasn't sure how the finished product would turn out so I just did a practice run and made a little drawing of a peony (one of my favorite flowers) and followed some pointers I found online beforehand.

Here are some tips I would like to pass along, as well as one thing that didn't work out so well. As I've only made a couple attempts with this oh so wonderful childhood invention, this isn't a complete list, but at least a couple to start out with:

Little baby ruler!
  1. Make a full size ruler and shrink it as a gauge. Genius, absolutely genius! This is one of the best suggestions I found so that you know exactly how much the plastic will shrink in my particular source of heat and I can tell how much my future pieces will shrink. This is great in case I make buttons for a piece of clothing I might make or "retrofitting" beads for a piece of jewelry I've already made, especially if I'm trying to sell it and want it to look as perfect as possible. I even marked flu-size measurements after I shrunk the ruler so I can flip it over and use it to measure going both ways (it also turned out looking like  an adorable little baby ruler afterwards).
  2. Key your eye on your pieces as they shrink. I'm fortunate enough to have toaster oven, which is the perfect heat source for dinks (as if I didn't already have enough reasons to love my toaster oven). I only made little pieces to start out with, but the larger ones tend to twist or curl onto themselves as they shrink so if you can watch them carefully you're able to use a chopstick (or whatever pointy long thing that isn't your own finger) to help flatten them out. But if you're patient they tend to flatten themselves out pretty well in my experience with my shrinking ruler. Here are some action shots if you're curious (and because it's fun to watch).
  3. Most of the other suggestions are found on the packaging. Bake the dinks on a piece of cardboard. I followed this step, mostly because I was afraid that if I baked them on a metal cookies sheet they wouldn't shrink, but instead grow and I'd have a giant ruler and HUGE MONSTROUS peony on my hands and they'd grow and grow and grow and take over my kitchen and smoosh me to death and my epitaph would be: "Death by Shrinky Dinks. Here lies Katy Manion, she truly loved her crafts. She lived as she died." Anyway I used cardboard and it worked out perfectly. 
  4. The ruler shrivels up like bacon!
  5. The other step to surely follow it to sand the plastic before you color it. The Shrinky Dink brand-name plastic has a pre-sanded frosty version that doesn't require this step, but I happens to have the Grafix brand that still needed a quick sanding so that the color could really sink in. Also along the lines of color, make sure you're light handed when it comes to coloring the plastic. I've read this suggestion before, but still felt compelled to really push when using my colored pencils, which turned out fine with the peony since I was going for a real color saturation with that and it was also a little bigger, but when I attempted smaller pieces with more black outlines it didn't turn out quite like I wanted. I made little leaf beads with black outline and veins. That combined with a much smaller size and the greens concentrating after the backing resulted in a slightly muddy look from further away and it was also harder to make out the shading of the greens I was hoping would be more noticeable. Depending on the effect you're going for, however, affects what approach to take. Just experiment like I did; this plastic is so wonderfully versatile you're bound to be able to find success.
There are endless possibilities for this re-discovered medium so if you're looking for a fun new project, go out and get some shrink plastic, on the double! Speaking of double, I here tell on the interwebs that you can double-bake or "fuse" shrink plastic. Apparently you bake it once, then bake again (surprise surprise!), but according to some tutorials I've read on the subject, it's a tad more complicated than that and require much practice and patience. After the first bake, you crank up the heat from 350 degrees to 450 and layer the two pieces in a pyrex dish (you leave one piece blank and put that one on top) and bake until the two melt to a glassy finish (about 8 minutes?). I have yet to try this and obviously this is an incomplete set of directions, but if I'm feeling adventurous in the near future I will attempt this one myself. Honestly though, I'm not done experimenting with the conventional use quite yet so it may be a while until this method gets its own blog entry, but I can guarantee it will happen.

If you're ever mid-project of any sort and think, "if only I had the right size and shape bead for this," or "I wish I had a bead with holes in the the right size and place for my wire," or you need just the right color, consider shrink plastic. It makes almost custom beads and you don't have to worry about breaking them like you might if you use polymer clay, which can crumble or shatter if it's too thin or you work it too much with wires or other materials. Once baked, the plastic is a good 1.5 millimeters thick and can take a fair amount of abuse. I needed a tiny spider for a certain piece and couldn't get the right look using conventional beads and it was next to impossible to get the wire legs to look right on top of that so I went back to the drawing board and then back to the shrink plastic. I was able to make the perfect little dink spider that held the legs perfectly in place as well as the other wires exactly where I needed them for the exact look I was hoping to achieve with minimal swearing as a result. I even screwed up several times with wire wrapping and no matter how many times I reworked it, the plastic stood up to the abuse and showed no signs of cracking or breaking.

Moral of the story: shrink plastic does not disappoint and it even better than I remember from my childhood (and yes, I am old enough to reminisce about my childhood!). Give it a try, it's cheap, fun, and versatile, what more could you ask for (other than a bottomless pint of Ben and Jerry's... I may have an ice-cream addiction...)?

Signing Off for now. Yours truly,

Now that I think about it, it may be a while before I experiment with fusing shrink plastic since my soldering torch (yes, a soldering torch!) has just been shipped to me and I will surely be diving right into that the minute my dog, Sadie, barks her head off at the UPS guy when he brings it to my front door, but it will surely make for an entertaining post since I will undoubtedly be cycling between absolute joy at being able to solder for the first time since my first metals class and sobbing in desperation because something didn't work out right and swearing like a sailor, throwing a failed project across the room. If my parents know what's good for them they'll have both the fire department and my therapist on call... can't wait!

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