Puraban (plastic sheet) crafts became popular among young children and schoolgirls in the 1980s and '90s. You could cut out a design, pop it in the toaster oven and watch it shrink and harden. Now the technique is enjoying new life as a way of making elegant jewelry accessories.
Yuu Taniyanagi, 33, is a puraban designer whose career stretches back to her preschool days. "I used to make lots of them in kindergarten," Taniyanagi said. She now produces and sells all sorts of accessories, including hair ornaments and earrings. "It's not easy to find items that you really want to put on. So why not make them yourself?" she said.
I was introduced to several of her creations.
A big, looped earring reminded me of a highly-polished seashell. It looked light and comfortable, but elegant at the same time. For another piece, a hair ornament with a yellow flower in the centre, Taniyanagi combined a number of smaller components. She said she wore the gorgeous item to her friend's wedding reception.
There were also brooches, buttons, badges and many more items, all made from puraban.
"I try combining colors and attaching metal to the pieces. There are really no limits to what you can do with them," Taniyanagi said.
I decided to take a beginner's lesson focused on making a badge.
After drawing an outline on the back side of the puraban with a watercolor ink pen, I cut the shape out with a pair of scissors. Cutting the sheets isn't difficult at all, since they are only about 0.3 millimeters thick.
Taniyanagi told me I need not be too precise. "Once you start baking them, they will shrink down to from one-sixth to one-fourth of the original size. In the end, they'll come out really cute," she said.
When you have the shape ready, preheat the toaster oven. Place the item on a cooking sheet and place the sheet in the oven, then apply more heat. After a minute or so, the puraban will curl and shrink inside the oven. "It always reminds me of surume being baked," she said with a smile, referring to the dried squid snack popular among drinkers.
Once the piece has shrunk, remove it from the oven and place it between books (or anything with a flat surface) to make it flat. I would recommend gloves and a long-sleeved shirt for this part, to avoid getting burned.
Next, it's time to add colour with acrylic paint. Begin on the back side, and start with the colour you want to have closest to the surface. Wait until the first colour dries before adding a second. You could also use pens, coloured pencils and watercolor paints; they give the piece a totally different appearance. Glue on a back pin and the mission is accomplished.
The plastic sheets are available at plastic-model shops, sundry goods stores and 100-yen shops. Books and websites offer further instructions, but the best way to learn is to attend a handicraft class.
"It'll be nice sharing the experience with your family," Taniyanagi said. "There's so much you could do with the craft."
You can make chopstick holders out of puraban, too. Taniyanagi uses plastic bottle lids for the curvy part of the piece. The curve keeps the chopsticks from falling out of the holder.
Pile up three ¥10 (S$0.10) coins inside the lid to create a shallow depth. Place a freshly baked puraban cutout over the lid, which is facing upwards with the coins inside, and press the centre downwards with your finger while it is still soft from heat.
"It would be nice to have puraban holders in the shape of colorful autumn leaves and cherry blossoms on your table to match the season," Taniyanagi said.