Remember making salt dough ornaments for Christmas? Here’s how to do it again

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How to decorate the Christmas tree with salt dough ornaments - Tips from 1964

Christmas claybake: Making festive salt dough ornaments (1964)

In that magical and ever-quickening flurry of days and weeks before Christmas, when lists are drawn up, gifts cached away, parties and visits joyously planned, there are also, for most families, the wonderful, glowing hours spent together making something special for the holidays.

At artist Ruth Asawa Lanier’s house in San Francisco, the annual family get-together is a Christmas claybake. From a simple mixture of salt, flour and water (we call it baker’s clay), Ruth, her architect husband Albert, the six children, ranging from 5 to 14, and occasional guests of all ages make, bake and paint (or leave untouched in the burnished, oven-baked bisque color) delightful Christmas decorations like the ones shown here.

Everything used in the claybake is a household staple. To press designs into the clay, the Laniers use forks, bottle caps — anything that makes a good impression. On the next pages, we show a Lanier claybake in close-up, plus directions for staging your own.

Decorate the Christmas tree with salt dough ornaments (1)

Decorate the Christmas tree with salt dough ornaments (4)

Salt dough/baker’s clay ornaments

Christmas salt dough ornaments - 1964 craft guide (12)

Making the baker’s clay

To begin, Aiko, 14, measures out ingredients for baker’s clay: 4 cups unsifted flour, 1 cup salt, 1-1/2 cups water. Recipe should not be doubled or halved.

Aiko mixes the clay with her fingers. Aiko knows from experience that if the clay is too stiff, she should add a bit more water. It must be used up within four hours, or it gets too dry.

Measuring out ingredients for baker's clay

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One recipe makes 8 to 10 angels

When baker’s clay is thoroughly mixed, Aiko takes it out of the bowl and kneads it for four to five minutes. Sister Laurie, 6, helps with a small piece. brother Hudson, 12, watches.

Christmas salt dough ornaments - 1964 craft guide (3)

Christmas salt dough ornaments - 1964 craft guide (4)

How to make vintage-style Christmas salt dough ornaments - 1964

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Christmas salt dough ornaments - 1964 craft guide (11)

A Christmas claybake can cover a wide range of projects, from an intricate Christmas creche and a nativity scene which Ruth created, to an owl, a wide assortment of medallions hung on a Tinker-Toy tree, and a wreath.

Christmas salt dough ornaments - 1964 craft guide (7)

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Christmas salt dough ornaments - 1964 craft guide (1)

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Christmas from the cupboard: Salt dough recipe (1974)

Remember when Christmas was homemade ornaments and handmade gifts? Maybe this is the year for Christmas past.

All it takes is a batch of dough and a few cookie cutters… and watch the fun your family can have making stars, snowflakes and other unique tree ornaments, like the gingerbread boy shown here. While you’re at it, have the kids sign and date each ornament they do. Years from now, they’ll make interesting memories. It’s all that easy.

And besides Christmas tree ornaments, this recipe can also make inexpensive Christmas gifts like candleholders and breadbaskets. Or open flowers, grow mushrooms, and give shape to just about anything else you can imagine…

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Salt dough ornaments craft: To make the gingerbread boy

Decorate the Christmas tree with salt dough ornaments (4)

How to make salt dough Christmas ornaments

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Active Time: 1 hour
Additional Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 10 minutes


  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup water
  • Paint (if desired)
  • Varnish (if desired)
  • String for hanging


  • Cookie sheets
  • Oven
  • Cookie cutters
  • Other tools to make designs in the dough


  1. Mix salt and flour together. Then add water, a little at a time. Christmas salt dough ornaments - 1964 craft guide (3)
  2. Knead 7 to 10 minutes until dough is smooth and putty-like.
  3. Roll dough about 1/4" thick, then use a cookie cutter to cut the basic shape/s you want.
  4. To make a person shape, roll small pieces of dough for eyes, cheeks, etc. and simply moisten with water to attach to the basic shape. Poke hole at top of head for string or ribbon. Christmas salt dough ornaments - 1964 craft guide (9)
  5. Bake on a cookie sheet (325 F) till light brown (approximately 1 hour) or let air dry 48 hours indoors on a window screen until completely dry.
  6. When cool and completely dry, varnish to protect from moisture, or paint any color you like. Christmas salt dough ornaments - 1964 craft guide (5)
  7. When paint and/or varnish has dried, attach ribbon or string and hang up your ornament in your home or to decorate your Christmas tree.Christmas salt dough ornaments - 1964 craft guide (12)


Use all the dough within 3 to 4 hours, before it hardens too much. Keeping the bowl of dough covered with a damp cloth will keep it more moist.

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Holiday bake-fest (1981)

For years beyond telling, a favorite holiday craft project for parents and children has been making charming tree ornaments and centerpiece figures from magically simple Baker’s Clay. Lost the recipe? Never heard of it? Mix together:

Baked salt clay dough Christmas ornaments

4 cups unsifted flour
1 cup common table salt
1-1/2 cups water

Mix by hand in a bowl, adding a bit more if dry. Knead on floured surface for 4 to 5 minutes till ball holds shape. Break off pieces and shape as desired, or roll out a piece of dough between sheets of floured wax paper and cut with cookie cutters. (It’s more fun to shape by hand.)

Give figures shape and expressions with forks, spoons, toothpicks, whatever. To make arms and legs or other more complicated figures involving several pieces, moisten joints before attaching.

Salt dough ornaments

If making hanging ornaments, insert bent paper clips before baking. Bake figures on a cookie sheet in a 350 F oven for one hour or longer, until perfectly firm.

When cool, paint with poster paint or marking pens. Figures are most attractive if some of the natural bisque color shows. For permanence, spray items with clear fixative after they are baked and painted. If working with dough over a long period, keep it in an airtight container.

One last word: Baker’s Clay may look good to eat, but it isn’t.

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