Advent Calendar – Day 11 – DIY ornaments

Being cosy inside your house on cold winter nights is the perfect setting for making some festive arts and crafts. Whether you are by yourself or you have tiny humans in your life, making your own ornaments is a fun way to be creative. 

For many of us students, making a student budget stretch as far as possible is a survival skill. So buying decorations for holidays – especially if you’re not celebrating the actual day in your student accommodation – might not be high on the priority list. But decorations don’t have to be expensive! Plus home-made and individualised ornaments show off your style much better than store-bought baubles ever could.

So here are a few ideas.

Wooden ornaments

Some arts and crafts stores offer flat, wooden discs which are shaped like baubles and already have a little hole in the top for the string so you can hang them up. If you have access to a small drill, though, you can get any type of wooden disc.

With these discs, possibilities are endless. Acrylic paints work well on the wood, and you can even write messages on them with acrylic pens. 

You can cover them in glue and sprinkle glitter all over them.

You can cut out colourful paper, or photos or home-printed vinyl stickers and cover your ornament that way. 

My own ornaments are all travel-themed. The first time I used these, I painted the top of the bauble in bronze and silver metallic and then proceeded to paint beach scenes and skylines with my acrylic pens. I also just wrote “Merry Christmas” in various languages on some of them. Then I covered the thin edge in glue and sprinkled glitter on them. 

For others, I cut out photos of places I’d been to and stuck them on one side of the disc, and wrote the place and date on the back. I first printed them on photo paper, until I discovered that my printer lets me print on vinyl sticker sheets without smudging!  I also cut out maps from damaged atlases.

No matter what you are into, there’s a creative way to display it. Dried flowers under some clear varnish, a découpage of your favourite napkin pattern, or sun made of glued-on wine corks – you can work with whatever you have at hand.

Clear plastic baubles

Like the wooden discs, these clear, fillable plastic baubles come in various sizes. Just be careful, as some open at the top, and some split open right down the middle.

As with the discs, there are many decorating possibilities here. The easiest is to draw on them from the inside or outside. You can also cover either the inside or outside in glue and glitter for some easy DIY. Pro tip: add the glitter on the INSIDE, to prevent getting glitter absolutely everywhere for the next 15 Christmases. We all know that glitter is essentially the herpes of the arts and crafts world – one slight touch and you find it in unexpected places even several days later.

You can fill them with cotton for snow on the ground, or hole-punch confetti for falling snow. 

These baubles can also hold small souvenirs, leaves, acorns, flower petals, figurines or photos. 

Salt dough ornaments

Making salt dough is easy and fun. You mix flour, salt and water in a 2:1:1 ratio, just like you would any regular cookie dough. The dough would be smooth by the end and not sticky. To make it easier to form, you can add up to 2 tablespoons of oil to the dough. You’re looking to get a Play-Doh consistency.

Roll the dough out on a  flat surface, until it is about 5mm thick. If you just want discs to hang in your tree, simply use the rim of a glass or cup to cut out your circles. For other shapes, you can use cookie cutters. Obviously, you’re free to form, braid, or sculpt your own shapes as well, like doughnuts or wreaths. Just be aware, the thicker your dough, the longer it will take to dry and harden.

Salt dough is also perfect for hand prints, foot prints, and paw print keepsakes. You can also try to write in the dough with a toothpick.

Once you’ve cut out your shapes, take a straw or a toothpick and make a hole for the string. Be careful not to make the hole too small.

For drying your salt dough you have two options: leave the dough near a radiator (NOT directly on top) for a few days, or oven-dry it. Salt dough doesn’t like high heat and can crack, so put your dough shapes in for 30 minutes at 60°C. After that, bake it for another 30 minutes at 100°C. Finally, bake the dough for 2 more hours at 120°C. The dough is dry throughout when the centre of the underside is hard.

Once the dough is dry you can get to decorating! Watercolour works, though you should use just a small amount of water and lots of colour. Acrylic paints are also an option. You can glue glitter on your shapes or add other small things like cotton or petals.

Let the finished “cookies” dry for a while so you don’t transfer any paint. Consider covering them with a clear, glossy varnish to make sure they last for years to come.

Dried fruit slices

This option makes your whole house smell delicious!

Cut the oranges, apples, or lemons in slices that are between 2mm and 5mm thick. 

Lay the slices out on an oven grid, but put a (tin-foil covered) dripping pan underneath the grid. The fruits have to lose all their juices and moisture, so save yourself some messy clean-up and use the pan. Dry the slices for 2-3 hours on 100°C. If you have access to a dehydrator, you can also use that.

Once dry, you can pierce the slices with a needle and thread if you want to hang them in your tree. You can also glue or tie these slices to other decorations, fill a bauble with them, or leave them in a potpourri bowl along with some star anise, cloves, and cinnamon sticks for that mulled wine Christmas smell. 

Paper crafts

Make paper-chains or garlands by cutting 2cm thick and 10cm long stripes of paper or cardboard. This is an excellent opportunity to use up those wrapping paper scraps! 

Form the first stripe into a ring and glue the ends together. Then loop the second stripe through that ring and glue the ends together again. Continue to link paper rings until you run out of paper. 

You can also cut your stripes longer or thinner, depending on your preference. These paper chains can be used as garlands in your tree or strung up like bunting. Whether you make them all one colour or you use a different pattern of paper for each ring is up to you.

Next to these garlands, you can also make paper candles. Unlike electric lights or real candles, these don’t come with a potential fire hazard. 

You need some cardboard for this one. 1 piece of yellow cardboard for the flame, the other colour is up to your preference.

Cut two equally long, 2cm thick stripes of cardboard and glue them together so they form a right angle or L-shape. The two ends should be neatly on top of each other. Now take the bottom stripe and fold it tightly across the top one. Take the stripe that’s now at the bottom and fold this one tightly across the one on top. Repeat these steps until you’re out of cardboard and glue the end together at the top. Then cut out a flame from the yellow cardboard and glue it on top. Pierce the top of the flame with needle and thread to hand the candle in your tree. 

Let your imagination run wild. For most of these DIYs you don’t need anything fancy or expensive. You can usually repurpose things you already own or you can include things you find outside. It also won’t hurt your cinnamon or star anise at all if you use them in mulled wine before you dry them out and use them as decoration. 

And in case your DIY doesn’t turn out how you wanted, or your budget just doesn’t stretch any further, you can always deck the halls with boughs of holly.

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