Saturday, 17 December 2011

Can't Afford Ornaments? Make Your Own!

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The bf and I bought our first grownup-sized (6' +) Christmas tree this year, and after we hauled it home (well, he did) and set it up, I looked up at the giant beauty and realized something: we didn't have any ornaments, and we were far too poor to buy enough of them for a tree this size.  We were going to have to do a homemade Christmas tree, and all we could do was pray it didn't come out too wonky.

Okay, okay, technically we could have found a way (probably through IKEA or Poundland) to afford a whole, big-ass tree full of ornaments.  But I'm not sure how much longer we'll be here in London – not more than another year for me, and hopefully not more than 2 for the bf – so it doesn't make sense to acquire even more stuff than we already have, and anyway, making things is fun!  So I hopped on the internet to find a recipe for a baked good that wouldn't spend a lifetime on my already-ample hips: salt dough ornaments.

The project started with the dough, a simple but muscle-testing mix of flour, salt, and water – I added some cinnamon for scent but I'm not convinced it worked.  It did give them a nice sandy color, though.

I made all the ornaments while the bf studied for his exams, and even though it took a long time it was pretty easy.  And I must admit that there's little I find more satisfying than cutting dough with cookie cutters.  Don't ask me why – I'm just weird I guess.

Anyway, we had some acrylic paints left over from a craft project I did when we first moved in, so when the time came to decorate I busted those out, along with some markers and silver Sharpies which I'd bought for the sole purpose of this very experiment (I know, it's getting less and less cheap all the time, eh?).  So I was all set for crafting!  Except, I needed crafting buddies.

I must admit, this project did make me miss my siblings, my partners-in-dorky-craft-crime, a lot.  As much fun as decorating and crafting is, it's always infinitely more fun when you do it with someone whose company you enjoy (and maybe someone with whom you get a teeny bit competitive, in a not-so-serious way).  And while the plan was to do all these with the bf, he fell through in a major way, so for much of this project it was just lil ole me, sitting alone at the dining table.  Not for all of it, though!  My friend Kristina rescued me from the sads and helped with the crafting in a big way, and all for the very small price of a thrown-together dinner and a couple glasses of wine.  She's the best.

The pile of unpainted animals/hearts/veggies (I have a very random group of cutters) seemed endless at first, but slowly, Kristina and I began.  And slowly, painstakingly, we began to amass a collection of ornaments that I knew would do our tree proud:

There were lions, and giraffes, and elephants, and crocodiles – then there were veggies and snowmen (cut with my fair fingernails, hence the raggedy edges) and hearts and lobsters.  It was a veritable smorgasbord of randomness!  But it was really getting fun.

And the hero of the evening was definitely Kristina.  She rocked my socks off with her super-bomb blue snowman and awesome pink elephant.  And mostly, she rocked my world with her humor and adorableness – seriously, this girl can make me smile through the worst of it.  The bad-ass ornaments were just the icing on the inedible cake.

And in the end, the bf did a few as well, so the tree wasn't completely mine and Kristina's.  And we ended up with 59 awesome, colorful, handmade ornaments for nothing more than the cost of a new shaker of salt (a cup is a lot) and some felt-tip markers (which were barely used – the paint and the Sharpies were the best tools).

So if you're poor, or bored, or just like doing crafty things with people you love, I highly recommend the salt dough ornament project.  It's fun, easy, and makes absolutely certain your tree will look like nobody else's – guaranteed!

PS if you want to see more photos, check out the Flickr set.

Salt Dough:
adapted from Allrecipes

Preheat oven to 250F/125C.

In a large bowl, mix well:
     4c flour
     1c salt
     2 Tbsp cinnamon

Stir in:
     1.5c warm water 

Knead the dough with your hands until it's soft and pliable (you may need to add more warm water – I added another 1/3 cup, but you should see how it goes), then roll it out onto a floured surface until it's 1/8-1/4 inch thick.  Cut out shapes and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets.  Make holes in the tops of the ornaments for threading ribbon, or cut up paper clips and insert to make built-in hooks/loops (def my preferred method, and I tried it both ways).

Bake 1-3 hours, until ornaments have dried out and hardened completely.  If they bubble too much, just pull them out and pat the bubbles down gently with the back of a spoon, and if they start to crack, put a pan of water in the bottom of the oven.

Once the ornaments have hardened and cooled, bust out the paints/markers/glitter and get to it!  Oh, and if you need a topper, an angel made with thick paper and tape will do nicely.


  1. Those are awesome! I love the lobster the best! I have a salt-dough ornament my kindergarten teacher made for me in 1980 on my tree. It's my favorite one!

  2. Thanks, Jennifer! The lobster is one of my faves too. I don't think I baked them well enough for them to last 30 years, but we'll certainly keep them around until they crumble!


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