I had a vague desire to order a piece or two until about three weeks ago. It was the first of two work pumping sessions and I got a pathetically low amount of milk. I started to panic a little; at only seven months old, it's too soon to stop feeding Elora breast milk. I really want to make it to at least a year. I'm a "just enough" supplier as it is (this means my body produces what she drinks and not a drop more), so finding myself with less did worry me. It made me realize that this part of being a mom, the ability to provide for my baby all the nutrition she needs, was very important to me and more important than I tend to let on. That vague desire was replaced with a desperate need as I searched for something to help me cling to this very precious time.
But I have a few problems with the breast milk jewelry currently on the market. The first is that the pieces are very expensive. They are made with closely-guarded processes. Search for a tutorial on how to do it yourself and you'll only find posts like the one I'm writing now: just a mom who wanted to figure out how to do it herself with varying results. Based on all the research and trial runs that I did, I absolutely understand the cost. It's not that I don't think the money is worth it, but more that I don't really have it lying around. Another hang up for me is the wait time. I found one artist who says you'll get your pieces in six weeks, another who said three months, and there is one with a ton of complaints because it has apparently been more than a year and people still don't have their orders. The demand is high since only a few people know the secret, so of course they are busy. There is also cure time, which is often impossible to rush. One of the glazes I used takes 28 days to cure, so I understand this too. That leads me to my next point: how do you know that the piece you get is actually made with your milk? If I were doing this as a business, I'd probably want to have several orders curing at once to minimize the wait. Or maybe they work one order at a time to be sure they don't get pieces mixed up. The reality is we don't know. I also wonder what happens to the extra. My method made a ton of compound and I used a very small amount of milk. Some artists ask for only a teaspoon of milk, some ask for an ounce. You want enough to work with, of course, but then what happens to it? Along the same lines, with these closely-guarded trade secrets, we don't know if whole milk is being used or just the casein (separating the casein is one way to make a clay out of regular milk, though the casein content in breast milk is quite low so you need a lot of it. I suspect this is the method the people who want an ounce or more are using). It's more meaningful to me if the whole milk is used, and I've come across a few other moms who feel similar.
So I decided to figure this out on my own. That way I know it's my milk, I completely control the design and the colors, and I can make as many pieces as I want. For my purposes, I don't care what other ingredients are involved as long as my whole milk is one of them. This is not my trade so I have no trade secrets to protect. Hence, this post!
The first thing I did was research if it was possible to mix the milk with the resin directly. The answer is yes and no but mostly no. It's like mixing oil and water: they really don't mix. You can do a few things (add more hardener, freeze it while it cures) to force it to mix but I wasn't getting anywhere close to the same look as what the professionals make. So then I searched for a way to make clay with water as one of the ingredients, figuring I could just substitute my milk for the water. The answer is YES! you can make a hard, air-drying clay with water as one of the ingredients. This clay uses plain old white glue, water, and flour or cornstarch. It's similar to a recipe I found a few years ago that makes a kind of porcelain clay. I did a couple test batches with water first, and I tried both flour and cornstarch. I found that flour worked better so that's what I used for my milk clay compound. This is the video I referenced for my clay.
So, you need roughly equal parts clear-drying white glue and water or milk and some flour. I highly recommend trying it with water first so you get a feel for working the flour into the compound. You want enough flour so that it won't be sticky or you will end up with a flaky mess. If it's too dry, add more water/milk. If it's too wet and sticky, add more flour.
|Flour in a baby food jar and plain Mod Podge|
|See how it sticks to my finger? Too sticky! Add more flour!|
A note about color: the flour will color your clay. I used an unbleached all-purpose flour and it had a nice doughy color that I liked a lot. Cornstarch was stark white, which I didn't want at all. The batch with flour and milk came out slightly more yellow than the flour and water batch. I did not try cornstarch and milk. My milk tends to be tinged with yellow, blue, or green depending on the day and this was a yellowish day. If your milk has more distinct colors, I imagine it will reflect in the clay a bit. Just remember there is more flour than anything in this compound, so that will be the predominant color. You can mix in a bit of paint to color your clay from the beginning, as in the video, if you want. I wanted mine to look more milky and I think, even at mostly flour colored, I got that. I did try coloring one piece with mica powder and it didn't come out as I imagined it would.
|Drying in some molds in round two!|
|Test round pieces, all dry. You can see some unevenness and other imperfections: that's why this was the test round!|
|This is a great sealer, but it takes 28 days to cure fully!|
|Coated with the blue Mod Podge and left to cure.|
I intend to drill holes in the heart and button on the right and just make them into charms.
The two smaller hearts and one button will be left as-is, as charms for a floating locket.
|You need a mold, a resin kit, some plastic mixing cups, and some popsicle stirrers. |
Mold Release is not necessary but, from my research, I found it to be a good idea.
|Beads waiting for resin. You can see the one I tried to color with mica powder!|
|The white jar is a blue glow-in-the-dark that I ended up not using for this round.|
Now, my resin says to let it cure for 24 hours for a soft cure and 72 hours for a hard cure. I want my pieces really hard so I left them in the mold for three days. Follow the instructions on your resin for curing times.
After you pop your pieces out of the mold, you may find there are some bulges where resin ran over the edge of the mold. Cut these off with scissors. You may also find that some pieces have sharp edges, either from rising up the sides of the mold or just slightly overflowing the mold. These bits can be sanded down and I didn't get any pictures of this part. It is recommended to use wet/dry sandpaper with water to help control the dust. I didn't have that so I just used what I had. A small jeweler's file or regular nail file can also be used for some of the small edges. Keep your pieces moving and roll with curves to keep things even. I used this video to learn about sanding and finishing resin pieces.
The green heart remained tacky after all the other pieces were done; I suspect it was a result of adding the mica powder directly to the resin in the mold. I probably didn't mix it enough. Additionally, a lot of the pieces had cloudy areas over the clear resin, probably a result of the mold release spray. The sanding process also leaves scratches and rough edges. The easy fix for all of these problems is Resin Spray.
|Gloss and sealer.|
The final step is to turn them into jewelry! There are a couple easy ways to do this. You can drill a hole and add a jump ring, you can drill a hole and add a chain, you could drill a hole straight through and use a headpin, you could glue a bail onto the back, you could glue it onto a cabochon setting, and I'm sure there are more.
|A small hand press drill works great on resin.|
I used a spring drill on a few of my pieces and then realized that the resin is very thick and I need larger jump rings than what I have! I think gluing a flat backed bail would probably be easiest, but I'll have to pick up some of those.
|This one wasn't too thick!|
|Wear it with pride!|
For part 2 with finishing tips and pictures, see this post!
All of the supplies that I did not already own were purchased on Amazon. If you need links or help finding supplies, let me know! Always shop Amazon Smile (not an affiliate link) and support your favorite charity! Some might be available in your local craft store, but I had bad luck finding what I wanted there.