By Cassie Johnston
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One of the most popular holiday-themed posts on my blog is my tutorial for how to make cinnamon ornaments—they are easy, smell wonderful, and are a super fun craft for the whole family. But if cinnamon isn’t your thing, another great option for homemade ornaments is using salt dough.
One distinct advantage to making salt dough ornaments is that I can almost guarantee you already have all the supplies you need in your kitchen. All you need to get your ornaments going is all purpose flour, salt, and water. It’s a great craft for those days when you just aren’t quite sure what to do with the kids (or adults). No special materials or equipment required. Just mix, cut, bake and decorate!
Before I dive into the (really simple) directions, I want to answer a question you see a lot when talking about salt dough—why salt? Well, there are a number of reasons. First up, the large volume of salt makes this dough not-so-tasty, which is a good thing when you have the littlest elves helping you and they are determined to take a sample taste of the craft project.
Secondly, and probably most importantly, salt is an excellent preservative. If you left the salt out of the recipe below, and just mixed together water and flour, you would end up creating a near perfect little homestead for mold to set up shop in—not so great if you want to keep these ornaments in a box in the basement for the majority of the year.
Alright, now that we’ve covered why you should definitely make sure to add the salt, let’s get started making these ornaments. Here’s the recipe for the dough itself (scroll down to the bottom of the post for a printable version):
And here’s the tools and supplies you’ll need for the project:
Alright, let’s get started. It’s so easy!
Grab your large mixing bowl, and add in the flour and salt. Stir until well combined. Then, slowly stream in the warm water while stirring. Keep stirring until you’ve added all the water.
You’ll get to a point where it is too hard to stir with a spoon. Put it down and use your hands to get in there and mix it well.
Once the dough starts to come together, keep kneading with your hands for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and pliable (just like making a pizza!).
Put down a large piece of parchment paper, and place a good-sized chunk of dough in the middle. Place another large piece of parchment on top, and roll out the dough until 1/8″ thick. You want to err on the side of a thinner dough. Too thick, and the ornaments tend to split or break easily because of air pockets that get trapped in the middle. I’m a believer that all body types are beautiful, but in this instance, thin is in.
Removed the top sheet of parchment, then using cookie cutters, cut into the dough—do not try to remove the cut out pieces! You want those to stay on the parchment.
When you’re finished cutting the piece, peel away the excess dough, leaving behind the shapes on the parchment.
I like to put texture into my ornaments, so this is where I bring out any random object that has a fun texture—forks, straws, other cookie cutters, scissors. There are no rules! You can also use rubber stamps.
And then, take a drinking straw, and poke a hole in the top of each ornament for a ribbon to hang from.
Transfer the whole parchment paper and shapes onto a baking sheet. Bake the ornaments in a 300°F oven for about an hour. This isn’t an exact science, because inevitably, your shapes won’t be 100% even in thickness. They are done when they feel hard. They are really done if they start to brown (no worries, that’s something we can fix later!).
Let the ornaments cool completely before proceeding to the next step.
Now the really fun part, get out that glitter and decorate! You can hang the ornaments as is, if you like, but they really look beautiful with some paint added to them.
Before I start decorating, I like to mist all of my cooled ornaments with a thin coat of white spray paint. This helps cover up any irregularities in color (like when some got too brown from baking), and I think helps the ornaments looks more like clay than hard bread. This step is totally optional.
Once the spray paint is dry, I paint using acrylic paints and brushes (puffy paints would also work wonderfully).
Where I want glitter, I use Mod Podge or school glue.
It’s a fun, carefree way to spend a holiday afternoon!
Once all your decorating is dry, it behooves you to seal these ornaments so they last a good, long while. I have a salt dough ornament that hangs on my tree that I made when I was five! These things can really, really last if you take time to seal them. It’s easy, too! Just use spray poly. You can nab it at hardware stores or craft stores.
I just do one coat on each side, let it dry completely, and then string a pretty ribbon through. I like to use matte or satin finish poly so the ornaments still feel like unfinished clay, but if you dig the glossy look, use semi-gloss or glossy poly.
And then put those beautiful new ornaments on your Christmas tree!
These also make wonderful, thoughtful gifts!
And they are a great way to mark major milestones in your life. This is a salt dough ornament we made last year to mark Juni’s first Christmas. Her hand was so tiny. *sniff* *sniff*
To make it nice and easy for you, I’ve included a printable version of the “recipe” below. Share it, print it, and store it with your Christmas cookie cutters so you always have the recipe ready when Christmastime comes around!
Salt Dough Ornaments are a fun Christmas craft that use pantry staples you probably already have on hand!
I hope you have an absolutely wonderful holiday, my friends! I’m taking the next week off from the blog to enjoy time (and eggnog and chocolate and all the Christmas movies) with my loved ones. I’m sure I won’t be able to resist posting holiday cheer over on Instagram, so make sure to follow me there for all my holiday updates. I’ll be back right after the holiday to start talking all things new year—goals, resolutions, healthy recipes! See you then. Happy Holidays!
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just made a version of these yesterday with Squish. He’s not quite into it yet…but i had fun :)
Thanx for sharing!
So, if you put the salt and water together and heat it until the salt completely dissolves, you’ll have a really smooth nice dough that isn’t as “rustic” as this stuff. :)
i live in the UK what can i use instead of Polyurethane spray please thank you
Any clear gloss spray paint
Hi! I am a teacher and I am wanting to do this with my class. Could I go ahead and make the dough the night before? can the dough be ok until lI can go home to bake? What would you suggest the steps be ?
If i were you, I would just make the dough and bake them ahead of time and let the students decorate them to take home. That way you don’t have to worry about mixing them up or changing shape.
Depending on the school and district, you might be able to work something out with the kitchen staff to let you bake them at school.
Just a thought.
Just to pass along our knowledge, you can add more salt, and it will give the dough built in sparkles. :) Been making these since I was a child, but have to look up the recipe every year lol
OMG Yours turned out so cute!!! I made these last night with my puppy and had her paw print pushed into the salt dough and it turned out soooo dang adorable. Here’s a look at mine! I even zapped it in the microwave at the end to make the drying time quicker!
A gift ornament has mildewed , how to fix?
Interesting, I’ve never had that happen! I’m not sure there is anything you can do to fix it, sorry. Once something is mildewed, it’s pretty hard to remove it.
I want to use this idea to make decorations to be used outside. Does salt dough crack easily in the frost (like terracotta does)??
I wouldn’t recommend this, unless you use a VERY, VERY thick coat of poly over the decorations. The salt dough is very porous, and will swell and shrink with the humidity, causing breakage.
thanks for your tutorial! they all look so great!
When you painted them …what types of paint did you and your children use? I am concerned that if I use just any paint it will soak in and not be distinguishable. Yours are absolutely beautiful! I want to do this with my niece and nephew over Thanksgiving weekend when I babysit! Please advise.
I use acrylics! Puffy paint could be fun, too.
I want to do these over thanksgiving – hand prints for my son and footprints with my infant. Do you just press the hand/foot straight into the dough or did you use parchment paper in between?
Press the hand straight in. :)
I want to try these but I was wondering I have lace left over from my wedding dress, I made garters for all the girls in my family, my sons wedding for my daughter in law to have, and a couple headbands, for my first grand daughter, i also made some clear glass ornaments stuffed with lace for muy other daughter inlaw. I was wondering if i would take lace, and lay a piece cut out like the salt ornaments anda then spray them with the clear coat would the lace stick?
I’m not sure about that (I haven’t tried something like that), but you could definitely press the lace into the dough and get a really good impression—and then the lace pattern is on the ornament. Let me know how either turns out! :)
I have been looking at the different ways to make the dough ornaments and I have run into a resipe that calls for cream of tartar.what is the difference between using it and not? If any.
Apparently it can make the dough a little more elastic and stretchy? That’s just what my research found though – I haven’t tried it with cream of tartar myself!
Happy Holidays! Approximately how many Salt Dough ornaments do you get from using all of the ingredients? My cutters are large to med size.. To make about 30 or more would I need to make a couple of batches of dough? Also, I live in a small 3rd floor apt and..I thought it would be unsafe to use spray poly or paint.so I got the kind you brush on. Would that work as well or mess up the glitter, ect. on them? Which one is best to store them in, a cardboard box or a plastic container.
You could definitely get 30 out of one batch with medium ones—if you use the larger ones, I’d double the recipe.
I’ve never tried the brush on kind with the ornaments, but honestly, you’re going to have just as much of an off-gassing issue as you would with the spray kind. I *highly* recommend doing either spray or paint-on poly outdoors.
And either is fine for storage. Good luck! :)
Very useful. thanks for sharing.
These are adorable. Perfect activity for the winter school break .Thanks for sharing!
Do you know if this recipe would work with Gluten Free flour?
I think it would!
Hoping someone here can help. My keepsake salt dough ornaments got molding this year while in a wet basement (dumb move on my part, I know). Any ideas on how I can clean them up and preserve them?
My only suggestion would be to repaint them with a good, sturdy paint and then make sure to seal them well—sorry to hear they molded!
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