By Erik J. Martin
Every year, you haul that dusty old box of ornaments out from the garage or attic and take stock of what has become, over the years, a hodgepodge collection of incompatible, outdated, damaged, and/or bland and homogenized machine-made trinkets designed to hang on the branches of your Christmas tree. These timeworn adornments have served you and your family well for many years, but they don’t exactly harmonize well any longer or reflect modern aesthetics.
So why not start from scratch – literally – and swap out some or all of these passe baubles with homemade replacements you can be proud of?
Creating one-of-a-kind ornaments can make your tree feel like home, proudly displaying your creativity and unique designs for all to see. Decorating your tree is such a special, wonder-filled tradition. However, when you have a plethora of mismatched ornaments, the tradition can lose its touch. Specifically if the majority of your ornaments hold little to no sentimental value, you know it’s time to purge.
It’s worth making room on your tree for new decorations and new memories. Handmade ornaments are truly unique – you’d never be able to buy one of them off-the-shelf at a store, and creating your own decorations means you can make them as personal, imaginative, and creative as possible, whether with family photographs inside glass globes or baby’s little handprints pressed into salt dough.
Crafting together as a family is one of the best ways to get into the holiday spirit, especially if you have younger children. You can even create an assembly line for this project that makes each family member feel included. Maybe one of your kids cuts out the shape of the ornament while the next child adds paint or glitter, followed by mom putting the hook on it and dad hanging it up. Each family member can also make his or her own ornament, creating more variety for your tree.
Try this simple recipe for self-made ornament success. First, use bakeable polymer clay in a color of your choice to create the shapes you want for your ornaments. Next, press a hole in the top of your molded shape with a straw for a ribbon to attach to. Cook your shape in an oven at 275°F for two hours to create a hard and durable ornament. Then, add color and detail with acrylic paint, glitter, or other decorative materials. Thread a ribbon loop around the hole at the top and hang it on your tree.
Keep your ornaments relatively simple and don’t over-decorate them. Also, don’t feel the need to make all of your handmade ornaments Christmas-themed.
Salt dough is another popular medium for DIY ornaments. To make the dough, stir together 4 cups of flour with 1 cup of table salt in a large mixing bowl. Add in a few tablespoons of water at a time (1.5 cups total) until the dough starts to come together. When the dough becomes too hard to stir, use your hands to knead the dough until the mixture is nice and smooth; next, cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it sit for 15 minutes while preheating the oven to 300°F. Divide the dough into four pieces, working with one piece at a time.
Roll the dough to an even thickness of one-quarter inch. Cut shapes with your favorite cookie cutters, and transfer these shapes to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Use a chopstick to poke holes in the top of each ornament. Then, bake for up to one hour, until the ornaments look completely dry and feel hard. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Lastly, top off your ornaments with decorative paint or other craft materials, and seal the ornaments with polyurethane spray. Thread a ribbon through the hole, tie it into a loop, and hang the finished ornament on your tree.
Kimberli Fancher, a homeowner and crafter, enjoys making ornaments fashioned from pre-cut unfinished wood shapes bought at craft and hobby stores.
“Foam shapes, pine cones, sea shells, photos, and leaves also make great starter materials,” says Fancher, who adds that scissors, craft glue, a hot glue gun with glue sticks, tape, acrylic paint, spray paint, brushes, sponges, cotton balls, pine straw, twine, jute, fishing line, sharpies, and stencils are helpful tools and accessories to have on hand.
When it’s time to hang your ornaments – both store-bought and DIY pieces – Fancher recommends starting from the top and working your way down.
“It’s a good idea to group similar ornaments together and space them out evenly,” she continues. “Place bold, sparkly, or extra-large ornaments around the tree where they will catch your eye, and don’t position too many ornaments at eye level front and center of the tree.”