OK. This is a lesson in buying an off-brand.

I have made shrink-art off and on for nearly 35 years. My aunt Shelly and I spent quite a few summer afternoons engrossed in the laborious tracing, coloring, and cutting of the Shrinky-Dink figures before watching them curl up and shrink in the oven. It still thrills me to this day.

I saw these cute ballerina and flower kits in the dollar bin at Joann’s. Fabulous! No tracing! Just color, cut, and go! I put them aside for a fun summer day project with my daughter. Since I needed a little tag for the milk machine to help the farm-sitter figure out which way the valve needed to go, the day had arrived!

My first clue that this would end badly should have been that there were NO directions in or on the package. None of the packages had directions that could be seen from the outside. I mistakenly figured that the cardboard thingie was folded in half and had the baking instructions on the inside. I have e-mailed the company and received a reply telling me that I should call Customer Service if I need an immediate response. So I called customer service, they directed me back to the store I purchased them from. Hmmm. I called the store, twice. The first time it rang for three minutes ten seconds. The second time, to make sure I dialed the right number, two minutes forty-eight seconds.  No answering machine, no automated “Please hold for the next available associate” thingie. Yeah. Lots of help there!

I went and pulled out the instructions from the package of real Shrinky-Dinks. The toaster oven is the prime method of shrinking but your regular oven will work, and should be set at 325. Shrinking should take 1 to 3 minutes. It is recommended that a piece of brown paper bag be placed under the plastic pieces to keep them from sticking to the pan. Check, check. done!

This is what the Shrink-A-Doodles looked like after 45 minutes in the toaster oven at gradually increasing temperatures topping out at 450/475. Now, this is not a new toaster oven. I thought perhaps the temperature might be off, and contemplated using the conventional oven. I called my sister who dug through her crafting supplies and found her directions confirming, word for word, the directions I had. She also suggested that I try the large oven. So, while we discussed a bunch of other things, I heated up the big oven, and popped the figures in.

This is what 15 minutes in a 325 degree oven did for them. By this point I’m starting to see this project as a personal challenge. The teflon griddle pan was out from pancakes the night before so I heated up the burner to medium. My sister is protesting, saying that the $1 I spent on the shrink-a-doodles will be seriously off-set by ruining my pan if the non-stick feature does not extend to plastic imported from China. I conceded her point, but pressed on.

This is what they looked like after 10 minutes on the griddle at increasing settings from 4 to 6 (medium-low to medium-high).  About five minutes in, I figured we weren’t going to have any success with that either. I started a pan of water to boil. This project is now starting to take on many features of a mad science experiment.

I do have to say that I felt a little bad about boiling a ballerina. She didn’t come out any worse for wear though. The final stage was holding the tag over the red hot burner. Of course that is when the batteries in the camera crapped out. That method was the only one that did anything even remotely close to shrinking the plastic. I think it was only because it was about to burst into flames if I left it there another few seconds.

I have no idea what this stuff is. It is certainly not Shrink-A-Anything. I plan on sending this whole thing back to the corporate office with a link to this posting for the pictorial evidence. My daughter was disappointed that they didn’t shrink. I was disappointed that they failed to provide the thrill of the “shrink” myself. A dollar may not seem like a lot to the corporate suits, but this could have been an entire weekly allowance for a kid. On the other hand, if NASA or Boeing are ever looking for a material that will withstand nearly 500 degree temperatures without failing, they should call the company that made the Shrink-A-Doodle plastic. But, don’t call customer service, they really can’t help you.

Lesson learned. Stick to the brands you know will work. Unless, of course, you are in a mood for some science experiments.

Up Date: I did send off the faulty materials, a copy of my receipt, and a short note explaining my disappointment in the product. I received a comment here from the folks at JoAnn corporate as well as two letters. Both letters indicated that they were passing on the information to the appropriate departments and included several discount coupons. The letter informing me that they were pulling any remaining product from the store also included a gift card to make up for my lost purchase and to encourage me to shop in their store again.

Thank you JoAnn Corporate. I hope that you have the final products quality tested in the future. It would save both of us some hassle.