This is a Guest Post by the super amazing One Hundred Dollars a Month reader Mel. We LOVE you Mel! Thank you for all your wonderful posts.
You know how we sometimes say we wish everyone who reads this blog could be neighbors? Well, welcome to my house, everyone! It’s a little small, but we like it.
Okay, so that obviously is not my actual house, but it is a cute little Christmas ornament replica of my house. As it happens, I needed Christmas gifts for a few friends who bought new houses this year, so I made a bunch of these little custom polymer clay house ornaments (and then I naturally made one for myself while I was at it).
I initially looked into buying from Etsy instead, but the price point seemed high for something that I thought I could do myself. In fact, the cost of all the supplies for a bunch of ornaments (not counting some supplies I already had on hand, like paint) totaled less than a single Etsy ornament.
The homemade ornaments turned out great, and they’re such fun little keepsakes, so I thought I’d share a basic tutorial for how to make them in case anyone wanted to make their own.
Polymer clay comes in a variety of colors, and it stays soft and pliable until you bake it in your oven (so you can work on a project over several days without it drying out). You can work with individual colors or mix different colors together to make marble effects or create new colors.
You don’t have to paint or seal it, but I usually paint and then also seal to add depth of color and shine. Polymer clay is also pretty clean to work with, but it does sometimes leave a bit of residue on surfaces, so I work with it on a ceramic tile. Here are some general tips for working with it:
- When trying to get one piece to adhere to another, it helps to score the surfaces where the two pieces will touch with one of your tools so the clay can kind of grab the other piece (picture the way Velcro sticks together). In the picture above, I’m scoring the place where I will attach my window “glass.”
- Try to make things a fairly uniform thickness. The baking time is based on thickness, so it helps to make it generally even.
- The clay will get lots of nicks and scratches as you work with it. That’s normal. Periodically use your finger or a tool to gently smooth out those areas.
- In general, you’ll want to work from big details to small details.
- Before making anything, grab a piece of clay in a color you don’t really care about and practice working with it so you get a feel for the material and how the tools work.
Tools and Materials:
Polymer Clay (you can also buy individual colors, which might be cheaper if you only need a few)
Polymer Clay Tools (I use ones similar to these, and this, and this)
Ceramic tile (like a floor tile) or some other surface to work on
Ribbon, yarn, wire, or twine (for hanging)
Pictures of your house (possibly printed to the size you want your ornament so you can use it to judge scale)
Glass or metal pan for baking
Acrylic paint (optional, but I like DecoArt Patio Paint)
How to Make a Polymer Clay House Ornament:
Note: The steps for this vary a bit based on the type of house you’re trying to make, so these are kind of general guidelines instead of an exact approach.
Focus on the façade of the house. You can make larger, 3D figures from polymer clay, but it’s trickier (think about how hard it is to get the walls of a gingerbread house to stay upright). So, focus on just the front of the house. This might include some 3d elements (like the columns on our house), but the ornament will basically be flat, making it easier to assemble and bake.
Make the basic shape. For most houses, this will probably be a square or rectangle, so you can start with that in mind by rolling out a fairly big chunk of clay to the thickness you want and then cutting it with your tools. Our house was sort of two rectangles at different depths, so I made one larger rectangle and then added another one on top (I didn’t have enough of any one color left to make it, so I just used a mix of random colors).
To make the roof, you can either run a cutting tool at an angle across the top of your rectangle/square (shown on the lavender/pink clay) or attaching a roof-shaped piece (shown on the brown clay). It’s pretty easy to start over at this point, so you can take a few tries to get the basic shape right. If you’re using a photo the size of your planned ornament, you can actually place the clay pieces you have over it to see if they are the right size and shape.
Add larger details, like the roof. Roll and cut a fairly thin sheet of clay in whatever color you want the roof to be, cut it to size with your tools, and attach it to the roof area of your ornament. Since I made my house in weird colors (and we also have kind of odd recessed windows and brick), I also added a layer of white across the rest of my ornament, and then added strips of tan to act as kind of a “mortar” background for my brickwork. I also added some white trim to my roof.
After the big details are done, work on smaller details like doors, porches, windows, and snow.
For windows, I like to mix blue, gray, and white together to create kind of a marbled effect that resembles the reflection on window glass. I mix bits of those colors together, roll it thin, and then cut out rectangles or squares (or whatever shape window you have). Since I had a layer of white under the tan brick “mortar,” I just attached my “glass” on top of the exposed white areas I left for the windows, but you could just cut slightly larger white pieces, attach them to the house, and then add the “glass” on top.
For doors, I like to cut out small pieces of white and add them to create the kind of paneled look of the door. (In writing this, I realized I forgot to add our doorknob, so I guess I’ll eventually paint that on. Sigh.)
Our porch is a concrete slab, so I just rolled a thicker sheet of tan clay, trimmed it to fit the area in front of the door, and stuck it on. The thin edge is the only part adhered to the house, but the snow base holds the rest in place.
For snow, I kind of just attach chunks or strips of white clay across the bottom (after attaching any porches or stairs) and then trim and smooth them together with the tools and my fingertips. The snow sort of creates a base for the ornament, so as you’re shaping it, you can imagine it as a kind of foot that the house sits on.
Deal with the brick (if your house is brick). You could simply make your ornament the color of whatever kind of building material you need (brick, siding, etc.) and add some texture a bit later in the process, but I wanted little tiny individual bricks on my tan “mortar,” so I mixed some red and brown to create a sort of brick color, rolled it out, cut it in strips, and then cut itty bitty bricks.
I attached them, one brick at a time, in rows so that they would stay level. This did take some time because I had to use one of the tools to pick up and attach each tiny brick, but it really wasn’t hard. I just worked on a few rows of brick at a time in between other details. And the tool kind of left a brick-like texture when I used it to press each brick in place, so I like the effect it created.
Keep working your way to smaller details, like wreathes, bushes, window panes, and columns.
For wreaths, roll green clay into a thin rope, cut into equal lengths, and then bend them into circles and attach to windows or doors. Use a pointy tool to create texture on the wreaths. You can also add bows or ribbons with red clay.
For bushes, roll small balls of green clay. If you want them to be snow-topped, you can add a bit of white clay on top and smooth it with a tool to look like snow. Use a pointy tool to create texture on the bushes as pictured above for the wreaths.
For window panes, I used the edge of a tool to press indentations across the windows where the panes go (you can see those indentations on the windows in the photo above). Our window panes are white, so I painted across those indentations after baking.
If your house has siding, you can use one of your tools to gently etch parallel lines across the ornament to give the appearance of siding.
For the columns, I rolled white clay fairly thick and then cut strips from it (our columns are square). I then rolled green clay into ropes like I did for the wreaths, but I wrapped each one around a column to create garlands instead. I textured them with a pointy tool as with the wreaths and bushes and then attached them. The columns kind of gave me a run for my money because they are only attached at the ends, so they tend to sag in the middle. I ended up propping them up with tiny pieces of toothpicks to bake, so that’s an option, but you’ll definitely want to add things like columns as late in the process as possible.
Feel free to add other personal details. On one friend’s ornament, I added her pets to the yard. For another friend, I carved their initials into the sidewalk. For our ornament, I etched some mini pawprints into the porch to represent our dog and cat. You can also do cars, garden features (if you’re doing a lawn instead of snow), a snowman, a cute little sled in the yard—whatever you want.
Attach ornament hooks. I slid the hooks into the top of the roof of my ornament and then pressed down on the clay to make sure they were snug.
Bake. Preheat your oven to the temperature on your clay packaging (usually 275 F) and transfer your ornament to your glass or metal pan. Smooth out any nicks or imperfections and fix any remaining details. Bake for the recommended amount of time (usually 15 minutes per ¼ inch of thickness) and then let cool.
Paint (optional, but I usually do since colors bake up duller). I typically paint the snow since the white clay often gets dingy. I also paint the wreaths, garlands, and bushes with a few different colors of green (just kind of dabbed on and layered until it looks like greenery). I also painted the roof, dabbed a little brown paint on the brick, gave the porch a coat of lighter paint to resemble concrete, and painted over the lines I etched on the windows as panes.
Seal with Verathane after the paint dries (also optional, but I do it). I only dabbed a little on the bricks because I didn’t want it to pool between them, but I gave everything else a coat with a paintbrush and let it dry.
Tie a ribbon or string to each ornament hook.
At this point, you might be thinking that I am insane to have made not just one but several of these ornaments. And you’re not necessarily wrong on that. So, if you like the sound of polymer clay ornaments but want a simpler option, keep in mind that you could buy some wood ornament blanks add glue on your own little baked polymer clay accents.
For example, I made this produce-themed polymer clay ornament for the person who runs our CSA. I think a garden-themed one could be super cute as well.
Or you could make ornaments to represent other hobbies, like baking or picnicking.
In the past, I’ve made sets of wine glass charms, charms for charm bracelets, refrigerator magnets—even my husband’s boutonniere for our wedding, so the sky is really the limit!
In case you missed them, here are a few more of Mel’s guest posts:
- A Freezer Meal Menu Plan for Four Month’s Worth of Meals
- Big List of Freezer Meal Recipes and Freezer Meal Cooking Tips
- How to Make Reusable Fabric Gift Bags
- Mel’s Mini Sewing Room Makeover
- DIY Lemonade Concentrate
- Super Simple Summer Tomato Pasta
- Mel’s Experience Joining a CSA and Eating More Vegetables