Making your own clay Christmas ornaments is achievable, and oh so simple, thanks to air dry clay. Handmade clay Christmas ornaments are affordable to make and is the perfect craft project for any age.
Yes, even kids!
The magic of air clay is it doesn’t require heat or fire to dry or cure the clay. Air dry clay dries at room temperature, and you can paint and decorate the clay similar to traditional fire clay – minus the expensive must-have tools to work with traditional clay.
And that’s exactly why I love working with this type of clay – you do not need fancy or expensive equipment to create beautiful clay projects. In fact, all the tools you need are probably right at your fingertips (aka kitchen cupboards).
For this tutorial I’m using a premixed air dry clay by DAS. If you can’t find air dry clay locally, no worries – it’s so easy to make. The ingredients are simple and common pantry items. I’ve made my own air dry clay before, and it’s works just as wonderful as pre-mixed clay you buy.
These are a few of my favourite recipes:
What you’ll need
- Air dry clay – I used DAS brand in this tutorial
- 2 Depth guides – ruler, dowel, or popsicle sticks (optional)
- Rolling pin
- Non-stick paper – freezer, parchment or wax paper
- Cookie Cutter
- Stencil – I am using Stencil Revolution
- Round Icing Tip
- Water + Cloth – or non-alcohol baby wipes
- Cookie tray or ceramic tile to dry the ornaments
- Paints – any type of paint you’d like! (optional)
7 Tips for smooth clay Christmas ornaments every time
There are a few tips and tricks to working with air dry to clay to get a perfectly smooth finished ornament – so let’s dig into those first.
Use depth guides
This sounds fancy, but it’s not. Depth guides help roll the clay to an even thickness so you don’t have one side too thin and the other too thick.
I like to roll my clay ornaments anywhere between 1/4” – 1/2” – and you can use two rulers, two dowels, or even popsicle sticks.
The thicker the clay ornament is, the longer it will take to dry.
Don’t use your fingers!
Obviously you need to use your fingers, so I’ll clarify.
The clay sticks to any surface that it’s rolled on. After cutting the clay, you need to pick it up and transfer the clay to a cookie sheet (or a ceramic tile that I use) to dry. The clay will distort if you use your fingers to lift the ornament off the rolling surface – guaranteed.
So what do you do?
Roll and cut the clay on a piece of freezer, parchment, or wax paper. Then when you need to transfer the clay to the drying sheet, lift the paper on the side and gently peel the wet clay from the paper.
Don’t remove the cookie cutter too soon
The ornaments need a ribbon hole – and yes, you can use a drill – but who has time? It’s easier to cut the hole while the clay is wet. But 9 times out of 10 that will shift and distort the clay around the ribbon hole.
The trick is to keep the cookie cutter in the clay as you make the ribbon hole – and this prevents the clay from moving as you make the hole.
My secret tool for making a ribbon hole
Yes, you absolutely can use a skewer or a toothpick, but I have something better. A tool that makes the BEST ribbon hole.
A round icing tip! – The icing tip makes a nice wide (and clean) hole for the ribbon.
Baby wipes are your friend
I use non-alcohol baby wipes to smooth the very top surface of the clay. You don’t *have* to use a baby wipe, but the moisture consistency of the cloth should be like that of a baby wipe. A little water goes a long way, and if you use too much, the clay will go soggy.
The idea is to soften the very top layer of the clay so that you can get it super smooth.
Watch for air bubbles
Roll the clay out slow and steady. I turn and flip the piece of clay to get a smooth surface on the back and front of the clay.
And watch for air bubbles. You want to catch those before the clay rolled out so you have time to fix and smooth the clay.
But don’t fret. Air bubble will happen. If you see an air bubble lightly pop the surface of the clay with a needle to release the air and smooth over the clay with your fingers.
Smooth the edges before the air clay dries
I hate sanding with a passion. But sanding gives the clay Christmas ornament that beautiful smooth finish that takes it from homemade to handmade.
Take a few extra minutes to smooth out edges and rough spots while the clay is soft, so that at the sanding stage, it’s more of a refined buff than fixing and sanding down sharp edges.
Smooth out the edges using the tips of your fingers and finish if need be with a baby wipe or cloth.
How long do the clay Christmas ornaments take to dry?
Drying time depends on the type and brand of air clay – and how thick the piece of clay is. For these ornaments it can take 12-36 hours to dry completely. Half way through the dry time, I will flip the clay ornaments so the back side of the clay gets some air flow. And this helps slightly with the dry time.
Is there a way to speed up the dry time of the clay Christmas ornaments?
Sort of. If you do a Google search, the answers vary. Some say yes, and other say a big FAT NO.
It also depends on the type and brand of clay you are using. Air dry clay is not made to be used with heat. And so some brands of clay may be more flammable because some brands use paper in the mix.
You know what paper + heat equals, right?
That being said, I have experimented with drying the clay faster in the oven. Instead of “baking” the clay, you want to “dehydrate” the clay.
You cannot leave the clay in the oven and walk away. It requires patience and most of all attention.
Speed up the dry time when pinched for time:
- Preheat the oven on the lowest setting.
- Turn the stove off.
- Place the drying tray in the oven and keep the door of the oven open just a little.
- Set a timer for 10-12 minutes.
- Take clay out of the oven and cool.
- Repeat the previous steps until the clay is dry to the touch.
You never want to “bake” the clay – otherwise it will burn, and clay that dries too fast will crack. And know, that results are not always consistent. Sometimes the clay will discolor or crack. It’s a risk, but for the most part, I’ve had good luck using the above method.
That being said…
For the best results, air dry the clay – but the oven trick may work if you need to speed up the dry time but it should be a last resort.
Decorating your clay Christmas ornament
Once the clay is dry, the ornament can be painted or decorated however you wish! The dry clay works beautiful with acrylic paint, or inks. You can even give the ornament a glossy shine by finishing off with a varnish.
I love the clean matte finish of these ornaments, so I skipped the painting/varnish. But I did paint the tree trunks with liquid gold leaf paint. It’s the gold paint I had on hand (you can use any gold paint), and oh my goodness. The liquid gold leaf STINKS – so if you choose to use something similar be sure to paint in a well ventilated area.
BUT oooooh there is nothing that matches the gorgeous gold shine of liquid gold leaf.
- Air Dry Clay - Das brand is the one used in this tutorial
- Non-stick paper - Freezer, Parchment, or Wax paper
- Rolling pin
- Stencils - I'm using stencils from Stencil Revolution in this tutorial.
- Cookie cutter
- Round icing tip - to create the ribbon hole, but a skewer or dowel will work too.
- Damp cloth - I'm use non-alcohol baby wipes
- Sand paper - I use 320 grit in this tutorial
- Drying sheet - cookie sheet lined with parchment, or a ceramic tile
- Paints to decorate the ornaments (optional)
- Cover the work table with non-stick paper.
- Condition the clay for 1-2 minutes by rolling the clay between palms to warm up and soften the clay before rolling.
- Roll the clay out slow - turn and flip the clay as you roll to get a nice smooth surface on both sides.
- As you are rolling keep an eye for air bubbles because you want to catch those before the clay is fully rolled out - so you can fix and smooth. Don't fret if you see one or two, they will happen. Grab a needle and pop the surface of the clay to release the air and smooth over the clay. Then, continue rolling!
- When the clay is fully rolled out, it's time to emboss the clay with stencils. I use and love stencil from Stencil Revolution, and any stencil pattern will work. Lay the stencil over the clay and lightly roll. You don't want to roll the clay out further with the stencil (creates a messy imprint), you just want the stencil to adhere to the surface of the clay to leave the texture.
- Cut ornaments shapes with a cookie cutter - but leave the cookie cutter in the clay for the next step!
- To make the ribbon hole, grab the round icing tip (or whatever tool you choose to use), and make the ribbon hole while the cookie cutter holds the clay in place. This helps the clay to not shift and distort.
- Turn the non-stick paper on its side, and slowly peel the ornament from the non-stick paper.
- Smooth the ornament edges with fingers and damp cloth to remove any sharp edges or indents in the clay - the more time you spend on this step, the less you will have to sand when the ornament is dry.
- Place ornament on drying sheet (cookie sheet lined with parchment or ceramic tile), and let it dry 12-36 hrs. Half way through the dry time, I will flip the ornament over to get air flow to the back of the ornament, and that helps speed up the dry time slightly.
- Once the ornament is dry, take a look and decide if you need to sand - I like to give every ornament a light sand to buff to create a more polished look.
- Wipe the clay with damp cloth to remove any clay dust from sanding the ornament.
- Decorate! Acrylic, inks, even gloss varnish work beautiful with air dry clay, and you can get some beautiful painted effects. But I love the soft matte look, so I chose to paint the tree stumps only - with gorgeous gold paint. Any paint will work, the gold leaf is just want I have in my craft stash.
- Add a ribbon or string to the ornament to finish off. Thread the ribbon from the back to the front of the ornament, then thread from the front to the back to create a loop on the front of the ornament. Pull the two free ends of the ribbon through the front loop, and tighten. Finish by knotting the two loose ends of the ribbon and voila! Admire your ornament.
Only use a small amount of clay at one time. The surface of the clay will dry out pretty fast, and that makes it hard to get a smooth clay surface. If this happens I have a trick for you!
- Mist of dab a few drops of water on the clay (a little water goes a LONG way, so don't use too much water or the clay will become unusable).
- Roll the clay to distribute the water and rehydrate the clay - you may need to add a bit more water.
- Wrap the clay in plastic wrap and wait 10-15 minutes.
- Unwrap the clay, and it will be good as new.