Crafting/ DIY/ Jewelry/ Upcycling

Not your Grandmother’s Cameo – Shrink Plastic Jewelry


I can be a bit nostalgic, truth be told, I’m a sucker for old things.  My Timeless Tamara jewelry line is centered around antique jewelry pieces, I love vintage fabrics, and my family often teases me about my compulsion to photograph old fences and buildings.

One of my favorite things to do is revisit classic crafts and give them a modern twist.  Update the macramé purse, if you will (will you?!).  So here’s my take on two old-fashioned looks:  A cameo and a silhouette.

Shrink Plastic Cameos


If you don’t already know, cameos are made by carving gemstones or shells.  The finest examples of gemstone cameos are customarily carved from agate, onyx, or other layered semi-precious stones, where carving reveals contrast.  While stone cameos can be traced back as far as 25 BC, shells and glass began appearing during the Renaissance.

Silhouettes originated in the 18th century, and were traditionally profile outlines of people cut from black paper, then mounted and framed.

Here’s now to make your own updated cameo/silhouette pendant, using thoroughly modern materials.

Things you’ll need:

Translucent Shrink Plastic –mine is from Grafix (available @ Amazon), and Aleene’s (

Dye-based inkpads, or permanent ink pens (like Sharpies)

E-6000 or other glue suitable for use with plastic

Punches and scissors/sizzix cutting dies

Heat gun or Oven


Wooden or acrylic  block

Pie plate or cookie sheet


Jewelry findings/chain/pin back

A quick side note on shrink plastic:  The translucent stuff is pretty easy to find in craft stores.  But if you want to be SUPER thrifty, you can use #6 plastic, which is found in salad bar or to-go containers.  It’s usually clear, so you might try sanding both sides to get that milky-colored look.  It’s sometimes hard to find pieces big enough that are flat to do this project with, but give a whirl, Up-cyclers!

First punch or cut out your scalloped circle.  This will be the base of your cameo.  Since shrink plastic reduces by about 75%, I started with a punch 3-1/2” in diameter (mine is from Marvy Uchida).  Then punch or cut a circle that is 1/4” smaller in diameter.  This will be your middle layer.  Once shrunk, the base circle will be about 1-5/8” in diameter.

Shrink Plastic Cameos

Finally, cut out your subject piece.  Hold or tape the template on your plastic and cut with sharp small scissors.  You can find templates for everything shown, here: Silhouettes.  If you want to cut your own subject shapes, just make sure that before shrinking, all the elements are in proportion to each other.  That way all the elements will look perfect when reduced.

Shrink Plastic Cameos

The letter “T” I used is Lucida Calligraphy font, sized 140pt.  If you’re making a monogram/letter subject, I recommend that you use simple cursive fonts.  The plastic usually warps a bit when shrinking, so straight fonts can get a bit tweaked.  Also, small details can melt or get stuck, so simpler is better.

Normally I would recommend punching a hole in the plastic before shrinking, but I found that my circles sometimes shrank to ovals, so my pre-punched holes often ended up in the wrong place and the piece hung wonky.  So drill the holes after everything is shrunk.

Take your smaller middle circle and sand one side in two directions to rough up the surface.  This will help the ink to adhere to the circle.  Once you’re done sanding, apply dye-based inks to color, and let dry a few minutes.  If you are using Sharpies to color, you don’t need to sand plastic.

Shrink Plastic Cameos

Ink colors intensify as the plastic shrinks, so I recommend creating a test sample with scrap plastic before coloring the finished product.  Also, sometimes the intensified color looks beautiful on the ‘wrong’ side – take a look and see if you like the color on the back better than the front.  This is your project.  You decide what looks best!

Shrink Plastic Cameos

Shrink Plastic Cameos

Time to shrink.  You can use a heat gun or your oven, set at 250° to 300°.  Here are the pros/cons for each method.

Heat gun Pros:  It’s super fast – about 30 seconds to shrink.  You can watch it go (c’mon.  It’s fun!).  It’s easy.

Con:  Items distort a bit more.

Oven Pros: Even shrinking – minimal distortion.   Less possibility for sticking.  You can do all your pieces at once.  Shrinks about 10% less than with a heat gun.

Cons:  Takes a LOT longer (5-7 minutes for bigger pieces, but if you’re doing all pieces in one batch, it’s pretty quick.).  You can’t watch it unless you have a window in your oven.

It’s a bit hard to tell in this picture, but the circles on the left were done in the oven, and came out perfectly round, the ones on the right are more oval.

Shrink Plastic Cameos

Once your items are shrunk, but still hot, grab the wood or acrylic block and press down on the plastic items for a few seconds to make them completely flat.  Let cool, then assemble and glue in place.  Drill holes near top with 1/16” drill bit.

Shrink Plastic Cameos

Add jump rings, chains or pin backs.

Because you can choose your subject, and it’s made from plastic, your new cameo looks completely modern, yet unmistakably retro.  Enjoy your modern classic!

Shrink Plastic Cameos

You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply