Clay Ornaments and Gift Tags

December 13, 2012

by Margaret Cabaniss

I loved Ann’s tips for thrifty gift wrapping — particularly her idea about finding unique items to dress up otherwise simple packages. I had pinned this inspiration for clay ornaments a while back, and suddenly I knew just what I wanted to do with them: snowflake gift tags.

The ornaments use a homemade clay recipe that’s a simple mix of baking soda, cornstarch, and water; you heat it until it thickens, form it into a ball, and it’s ready to use. So quick and simple (not to mention cheap!), and the recipe makes a beautifully pure, white dough — something you can’t get with regular salt dough recipes. Then you just roll, cut, and bake at a low heat to make your ornaments.

Well, in theory, anyway — in practice, I found the dough could be a little finicky to work with. Somehow it manages to be both damp and brittle at the same time, so you have to play around with it a bit – using a little more or less cornstarch when you’re rolling it out, kneading the dough together a little longer, etc. Some ornaments cracked while they were baking, and others would wait until I was decorating them to fall apart in my hands. That was…not awesome.

But in spite of all that, I still recommend the recipe; even with the occasional setbacks, I was able to get plenty of beautiful and usable ornaments out of the project. The full instructions can be found at the Woodside Kitchen, but I have a few extra tips of my own:

Roll your dough out on a clean counter sprinkled with cornstarch (trust me, it’ll drive you crazy if you pick up a piece of dust in that bright-white dough), making sure not to roll it too thin, then cut and transfer your shapes to your baking sheet (using a bench scraper, if you have one). When you make the hole for your string, be sure not to put it too close to the edge, otherwise the brittle edges may crack.

The ornaments may want to curl a bit while they’re drying in the oven, but just give them a gentle press while you’re flipping them over and they should lie flat. I had better luck using smaller cookie cutters, and shapes that weren’t too intricate: Too many nooks and crannies, and the cutters didn’t want to release as cleanly (and just gave the ornaments more flimsy parts that could break later).

For all that preamble, though, the whole process really is dead easy. I cranked out a fleet of snowflakes using just half a batch of dough; once they had fully hardened on a cooling rack, I brushed on a layer of Mod Podge and topped with clear glitter (doing the other side once the first had dried).

They are so darn cute, I just want to put them everywhere. Some of them will definitely be topping gifts this year (friends and family, just act surprised when you see these later):

They make cute ornaments, of course, but I also like the idea of stringing a bunch together to make a delicate garland.

My nephews got in on the action, too, coloring their own (slightly larger and less elaborate) ornaments. Their regular Crayola markers worked a treat on these and kept them occupied while I assembled my own. Since they’re still a bit fragile, I don’t know if these will hold up as keepsakes forever (though a coat or two of sealant might help there), but they’d make sweet gifts or tags for family and friends:

I see a ton of uses for these guys. If you try it, let me know how it goes!

Images: Margaret Cabaniss

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1 emptynester December 13, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Margaret, do you remember how we cut out the gingerbread pieces by NOT picking them up off the cookie sheet, but picking up the trimmings? Seems to me this would work here as well.

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Margaret Cabaniss 2 Margaret Cabaniss December 13, 2012 at 2:21 pm

I actually tried that with my first batch — rolling the dough out on the parchment paper, then lifting out the scraps — but because the dough was a little damp, the paper started curling underneath, which made the ornaments a little wavy when baked. Maybe you wouldn’t have that problem with, say, tinfoil… Just something else to play with and see what works best for you.

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3 John December 13, 2012 at 5:51 pm

If they were edible then they’d be perfect gift toppings.

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