Skull-A-Day 4.0 - Tutorial - #44: Shrunken Skeleton Earrings

I have lost my old pair of long skeleton earrings, so I decided to make some replacements, using shrink plastic. More commonly referred to as "Shrinky Dinks". The ribcage is shaped like one from long term corseting. The rest is fairly normal.

I've worked with shrink plastic before, but this was different than past projects. I have misplaced my pack of clear shrink plastic. I purchased a pack of white, which comes shiny, vs. roughed up. This project was full of trial and error, but thankfully I worked out a lot of the errors. Now, I can explain how to make a successful piece, in the tutorial. They turned out longer than I planned, but I was going off of a guide that said to make the image 3x the size you want the finished piece to be. In reality, make the shrink plastic image about 2x the size of the final product. ok, on to the tutorial...with photos to give you scale of non-shrunk and shrunk pieces.


  • Paper and Pencil - For sketching out your design, before drawing on the plastic
  • White Shrink Plastic - Michael's has the "Shrinky Dink" brand with the stamping products
  • A sanding block - You will need to sand a lot. A sanding block is easier to hold on to and control, than normal sand paper. I bought mine at Lowes. I think it was with the paint stuff...maybe beside the supplies for repairing walls
  • Black India ink pen - I have a set that includes Super Fine, Fine, Medium and Brush. I used Super Fine for the line work and Fine for the black filling in of the skull and bones. I don't recall the price, but it's with the drawing supplies. If you don't have those, any alcohol based ink will work.
  • Colored Pencils, Acrylic paint or permanent markers (optional) - To color the plastic. If you just color one side of the white plastic, the other side will have a milky color. I recommend using the paint after shrinking, otherwise a crust will form on the back. The other two are fine to use before shrinking
  • Hole Punch - I used a regular size, which works well for the joints moving easily
  • Small Scissors - For cutting out pieces
  • Brown paper - To protect the work surface while shrinking pieces
  • Matte clear liquid varnish - To protect the design after shrinking. I don't recommend the spray kind, as some of them have accelerants that melt plastic
  • Small paint brush - To paint on the varnish
  • Wax paper - To lay the pieces on while they are drying
  • Wire - I used # gauge craft wire to make jump rings, for attaching the joints and the earring hooks. It's a good size to bend well and keep it's shape
  • 2 Lever back earrings findings - I use this kind because they don't pull at my ears and stay on well. Also, this particular brand doesn't cause my ears to bleed due to a metal allergy. You can use regular fish hook style earrings or posts with loops for connecting things
  • Small diameter dowel rod or bamboo skewer - This is for creating jump rings easily, by spiraling wire around it and clipping off pieces for jump rings. I keep an 8 in one in my jewelry making tool box. Small dowel rods are only a few cents at home improvement stores. Bamboo skewers (for kabobs) can be purchased at a dollar store, a grocery store or kitchen supply place. You can reuse them

I have a set of jewelry making tools that includes round nose pliers, needle nose pliers, bend needle nose pliers, flat pliers and small wire nippers. This set can be found in the jewelry making aisle of Michael's. At the time, I think it was about $10-$15. It's worth the purchase. Of that set, I used:
  • Wire nippers - These are small wire cutters, which are good for getting precise cuts
  • Round nose pliers - Good for holding small objects without leaving marks on it...or at least not big ones
  • Bent needle nose pliers - Good for securely holding objects without having to hold your wrist at an uncomfortable angle
  • Heat gun - I use a heat gun, so I can control the pieces while they are shrinking. This prevents them from sticking to themselves while shrinking. This takes less work than having to redo pieces that shrink wrong. If you want to risk it, use an oven. Follow instructions on shrink plastic package.


1) Draw your design on the paper. Remember to make it 2x the size you want the finished piece to be. I used anatomical skeletons and skulls as a reference. I drew the skull, torso, an upper leg with patella, a lower leg with foot, an upper arm, and a lower arm with hand.

To give you an idea of what my pieces look not shrunk and shrunk

You can use this as a reference, should you want to make your own.

2) Using the sanding block, sand the front and back of a shiny sheet of shrink plastic. Make sure there is NO SHINY AREAS remaining. If there are, the ink will smudge. This will take a while, but it's worth it. If you have a large design, like mine, you will need to sand two sheets or more. I sanded two.

3) Lay a sheet of shrink plastic over the design. You will notice the white plastic is see through. Using the super fine pen, carefully trace the design onto the plastic.

4) Flip the sheet over. Trace the design you can see from the front side. I made little zig zag marks to indicate ares that needed to be filled in with black.

5) Use the Fine pen to fill in the areas you want black.

6) Carefully cut out the pieces with the small scissors.

7) Use the hole punch, to punch holes for attaching the earring hardware, pieces together with jump rings, or any dangles like beads, you might add. On my design, the small Xs indicate where I have to punch.

8) OPTIONAL - Color in your design with the colored pencils.

9) Lay the brown paper down on your work surface. You're work surface has to be able to stand high heat. A cookie sheet on your stove top would be good.

10) You will do the shrinking ONE PIECE AT A TIME! Using the small scissors, carefully hold the center of your piece down. Turn your heat gun on. Mine had a heat adjustment. I put mine down to 500 degrees, but less with work too. The higher the heat, the faster the shrinking. Too high, and you might burn your piece. You don't want to do that. You will have to start over again with that piece. 

11) If your piece sticks together while shrinking, turn off your gun and quickly unstick the areas. If it hardens too quickly, reheat and try again. This part is very HOT, so you might want to use the pliers to undo the areas.

12) After everything is shrunk, it's time to seal them. Using the small paint brush, paint an even coat of clear varnish on the front of each piece. After they have completely dried (about an hour), paint the other side with the varnish. If you want to use the acrylic paint, this is the time to do this. Use the acrylic paint before applying sealant, so it will adhere better.

13) After the pieces have dried, it's time to make them into earrings. First, we need jump rings. Using the dowel rod or skewer, wrap the wire around it several times. Using the wire nippers, clip the wire from the spool.

14) Gently, pull the coiled wire off the dowel rod. Stretch the wire a bit, so the coils are spaced out a bit.

15) I had to do the jump ring making one at a time, because each set of joints fit together differently. Using the wire nippers, I cut different length rings off of the coil, and checked fit on different areas, until I figured out which size worked best for that joint. Use the pliers to form the cut rings into nice circles.

16) Using the 2 sets of pliers (one in each hand) open a jump ring, Put two pieces of the shrunk plastic together (in this case, the joints of the skeletons), on the ring. Using the two pliers, close the ring. 

Repeat steps 15 and 16 for each joint of the design.

17) At the necks of the skeletons, I added a jump ring. I added a jump ring to that one, with the earring hook.

I know it's a lot of steps, but after shrinking a few pieces and adding a few jump rings, the last ones go much quicker. Enjoy!


  1. What a fabulous project! It will be perfect for Halloween. I will feature/link nearer that time so others can come visit! Pearl

  2. Thanks. I tend to wear this type of thing year round, but for those that prefer Halloween only, they work for that too. They also work as decorations. Would be a great addition to a wreath or garland.


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