Nine years ago, my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I started a crafty Christmas tradition with my future stepchildren in an effort to fill their father's bare tree.
Not only did we gain a substantial amount of handmade ornaments, chronicling the Christmases we spent together as a growing family, but also years of memories we uncover each year when we decorate our tree.
I'm the first to admit, I'm not a crafty-mom type. But when I decided part of our new family tradition should include DIY ornaments every year, I forced myself, and my stepchildren, to step up our creative game. We've had some misses — like the year I went old school with push-pin Styrofoam ball ornaments that required tedious hours of covering a medium-sized ball with tiny sequins pushed in with tiny pins.
And I've quickly learned that store-bought, pre-made ornament kits are not always worth the price of creative convenience. They never let me forget the year I bought ornament kits from a big-chain craft store that required them to push small pieces of tissue paper dipped in glue into cheap pieces of Styrofoam cut out in holiday shapes. In the end, we were left with tissue paper-stained fingers and ornaments that didn't survive their first off season packed away.
Our homemade ornaments finally benefited from the invention of Pinterest and the realization that truly homemade decorations were best. Here are a few of our favorites:
• Colorful wreaths: Cut a piece of craft or metal wire — the kind you would use for making jewelry — and string colorful beads of different shapes and sizes, covering the wire. Bring both ends of the wire together, carefully joining them by twisting together, then folding under so no sharp edges stick up. This should create a circle, or a wreath. Use colorful ribbon or string to add bows and hang the ornament. You can also use buttons instead of beads for this. If you're more of a traditionalist, go for all green beads or buttons with the occasional red to represent a holly wreath.
• Glass balls: One Christmas, I simply provided my stepchildren with clear glass balls and an array of craft supplies — ribbons, glitter, paint, sequin, beads — and told them to fill and decorate the bulbs any way they wanted to. A few of the balls ended up loaded with glitter and a knot of satin ribbons, but my stepson surprised us all with his snowman balls. He filled his with white ribbon and used black buttons to make coal eyes.
• Tie-dyed ornaments: Using glass balls again — they really are the unsung hero of DIY ornaments — we created colorful, artistic ornaments with acrylic paint. Using the squirt bottles, we put drops of different paint colors into the glass balls and shook them to spread the paint around the inside walls of the ball. The more colors and paint you add, the more funky the design. A word of caution: Don't use globs of paint, instead go light and work on spreading it by shaking the ball. If you use a lot of paint, it will just drip down and collect at the bottom of the ornament. Dry these upside down in paper cups, with the top off so any access paint can drip out.
• Santa Baby handprint: This, we all decided, is our favorite one so far. This Christmas, I had to come up with a special ornament to welcome the newest member of the family to the ornament club, incorporating our 5-month-old son into the fun with his older siblings.
Using salt dough, I made tiny handprints by pressing my baby's hand into the dough — warning: this is not as easy as all the crafty websites make it sound. This required both my husband and me wrestling our wriggling bundle of joy into cooperating. The good thing about salt dough is you can scrap it, re-roll it and try again when your little one is feeling more cooperative.
Once I had a perfect handprint, I cut out around it and used a pencil tip to make a small hole to hang the ornament and then put it out to dry on parchment paper. Instead of putting them in the oven, I dried the handprint dough disks in a cool, dry room for four days. Then we sprayed the dough with a clear acrylic spray sealer for a nice finish to paint.
Now, to make it look like Santa, turn the handprint upside down, with the fingers pointing to the floor. The fingers are painted white to look like Santa's beard, and the top of the palms and thumb red and white like his hat. The middle of the palm is painted a pale pink, with eyes and whiskers added in black.
Salt dough can be a great base for your homemade ornament creations.
Ingredients: 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup salt, 1/2 cup of lukewarm water
Directions: Mix the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl, and add the water. Use your hands to combine it all really well and begin forming "dough." Knead, knead and knead some more until you get the right consistency. You may have to keep adding a little water if the dough feels too dry. Use flour on your counter and rolling pin when rolling it out. Use this dough to make holiday cutouts to be painted, or for little foot or handprints.