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.
Salt dough/baker’s clay ornaments
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.
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.
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 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…
Salt dough ornaments craft: To make the gingerbread boy
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.
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.