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There’s nothing quite like decorating the Christmas tree to get me in the mood for Christmas. Brett and I put up our teeny tiny little 4-foot-tall tree the day after Thanksgiving, and now we like to turn off all the lights except those on the tree and just bask in its warm light. *Sigh* It’s heavenly.
But aside from a few nostalgic ornaments, there’s not really much on our tree that makes it feel distinctly ours. I have a couple of friends who like to get a new Christmas tree ornament every year to mark significant milestones or fun memories, and I really love that idea. This year, I decided to add to our collection by making some of our own. After all, there’s no better way to make a Christmas tree feel like your own than by decorating it with something you made yourself.
And honestly, I couldn’t be happier with how these turned out. They are so simple to make and you probably have most of the supplies already. It’s easy to make something that reflects your own unique tastes and style, and they make great gifts, too! So grab some friends (or your kids—these are very kid friendly), turn up the Christmas tunes, and let’s make some DIY Christmas Tree Ornaments!
What You Will Need
To make these DIY Christmas Tree Ornaments, you will need:
Clay: I use original white Sculpey oven-bake clay, but you can use any brand of oven-bake or air dry clay that you like. You can even use salt dough—just remember that it’s hard to get fine details with salt dough, so if that’s the route you choose to take, don’t expect to do anything super fancy with it.
Rolling Pin: While oven-dry clay brands like Sculpey are non-toxic, it’s still not considered food safe. Make sure to use tools and utensils that you don’t plan on using with food. When we got a nice marble rolling pin for a wedding gift, my old wooden one got relegated to craft duty. If you don’t have an extra rolling pin, smooth water bottles or glass jars work just fine for rolling out clay. You can also press it out by hand if you’re not worried about getting it perfectly smooth. (A lot of professional clay artists use old pasta rollers to roll out their clay!)
Tools for Embellishing: This is where you can get wild and crazy. I use old cookie cutters, a mason jar ring, tools from a pumpkin carving kit (which are useless for pumpkins but great for clay), a lonely chopstick, a plastic straw (which I save in my craft kit), a plastic knife, bottle caps, a ruler, and a bit of lace. You can also make cool designs with the bottoms of glass cups or bottles, metal buttons, leaves, old silverware, and anything else you can find in your junk drawer.
Plastic Wrap (Optional): I saw a picture on Pinterest that suggested putting a layer of plastic wrap on top of your clay before cutting out shapes to get nice rounded edges. I tried it out this time and found that it was more trouble than it was worth for me, but you may want to try it to see if you like it.
Paint (Optional): Nothing fancy here, just simple (and cheap!) craft paints. If you use colored clay or like the look of white Christmas tree ornaments, you can skip this one.
Ribbon or Wire for hanging the ornaments on the tree.
Roll Out the Clay
Knead your clay a few times to get it pliable and to get rid of any air bubbles that may be lurking inside. Using your rolling device of choice, roll out your dough until it’s about 1/4″ thick. If you have trouble with the clay sticking to your work surface, you can try rolling it between two pieces of waxed paper or reducing the pressure of your rolling pin and gently pulling the clay up and rotating it between each pass of your roller. You can also place bits of lace or leaves or other flat objects on the top of the clay during the rolling process to create some cool patterns and designs.
Cut Shapes and Embellish
Using your cookie cutters or a knife, cut out your desired shapes. Be careful when pulling the clay off your working surface: pulling too hard or too quickly can result in stretched or distorted shapes. Using the household items you’ve collected embellish the surface of the clay however you see fit. You can experiment with creating abstract patterns before cutting out your shape, or waiting to add designs until after the shape is cut. If you would like to make a shape that you don’t have a cutter for, make a template out of card stock and cut along the edge with a plastic knife.
This is where you get to be creative! Try lots of different things to find what you like. If you mess up, don’t worry; you can just squish up the clay, roll it out again, and start again.
And don’t forget to cut out a hole for your ribbon or wire. I used both a regular drinking straw and a coffee stirrer (Brett uses them for vocal warm-ups, so there are always a gazillion of them scattered all over the house) to create holes of different sizes. Alternatively, you can use hot glue to attach ribbon or wire to the back of your ornament after it is baked and painted.
Smooth out the Edges
After you cut out your shape, you’ll have a rough edge on the back of your ornament. You can smooth this out by gently rubbing your finger over the clay. Just remember not to press too hard, especially if you decorated the top before you cut out your shape. If you’re using Sculpey clay, you can also sand it with regular old sandpaper after it has been baked.
For Sculpey Clay, you’ll want to bake it at 275ºF for 15 minutes per 1/4″ thickness. I’m not sure about other brands of oven-bake clay, so be sure to follow label instructions. When they first come out of the oven, they may feel a tiiiiiny bit flexible (handle with oven mitts—they will be hot), but don’t let that fool you into putting them back in for longer. They will harden up as they cool. It’s really important to not overbake the clay, as it tends to get discolored and can become brittle.
Also, if you’re using a cookie sheet that you also use for… well, cookies, be sure to line your sheet with tin foil or parchment paper before using it for clay.
I like to prime my ornaments before I paint them using a simple acrylic Gesso. It’s not strictly necessary, but clay can pick up little particles of dust as you work it and I like the perfect white finish that primer gives to any unpainted surfaces.
Last but not least, paint your ornaments however you’d like. Use colors that complement your style, or try something a little outside of your comfort zone. Make a series of ornaments that match. Finish the backs and edges—or don’t. Experiment. Don’t be afraid to mess up–if you do, just let the paint dry, paint another layer of the base color over your mistake, and start again. I have a fair bit of painting experience, and I still started some of these over several times. Just have fun, and don’t worry too much about making it perfect. (See that gingerbread house? It’s my favorite ornament, even though the dots on one side of the door don’t match the dots on the other side. And it bugs me that the gingerbread man’s bow tie isn’t centered, but I love him anyways!)
Hang It Up!
All you need now is to attach your ribbon or wire, and voila! You’ve got yourself some Christmas tree ornaments that are unique to you and your family.
Show off Your Mad skillz
I’d love to see what you make! Tag photos of your ornaments (or your ornament making party!) on social media with #jestkeptsecret so we can cheer you on!
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Jess is a Canadian-American who’s always ready for the next adventure. She loves all things living, always has a million creative projects in progress, and polishes her nerd badge daily. She is passionate about helping families make and preserve treasured memories that strengthen bonds across generations. You can read more posts by Jess here.