Top 5 Things around the House to Make an Original Christmas Ornament

By: Eleanor Duse

Store-bought Christmas ornaments like these are pretty, but they can be pricey, too. Homemade ornaments can be inexpensive and fun to create.
Store-bought Christmas ornaments like these are pretty, but they can be pricey, too. Homemade ornaments can be inexpensive and fun to create.

It's all too easy to spend a lot of money during the holiday season. There's always some other gift to buy, some last-minute party, some friend who surprises you with a gift and thereby obligates you to reciprocate.

One of the easiest ways to save money during the holidays is on home decorations. That doesn't mean you have to forego having a brilliant, colorful tree. It just means you don't have to cover the tree with store-bought baubles and knickknacks. With a little ingenuity, you can create charming ornaments of your own.


Learning how to create original Christmas ornaments is highly rewarding. You can be confident of having a tree that looks like no other, and you're contributing to -- perhaps even starting -- family traditions. As you get more comfortable with crafting, you may discover that you also have a handy way of creating memorable, one-of-a-kind gifts for your loved ones.

Plus, when the winter wind is howling, ornament crafting is a fun, cozy way to spend an evening. Get the family together for a craft night. Or invite a few friends over, turn up the holiday music, fire up the glue gun and get creative. Split a bottle of wine, or mull some cider. You could turn your ornament-making party into an annual event.

To craft ornaments, start early. Though homemade ornaments are usually inexpensive, they can take a lot of time to make.

In this article, we'll look at ways to create ornaments from materials you probably already have around the house -- old magazines, paper, cards and envelopes, scraps of ribbon, snapshots, old clothes, even food. You might need to purchase a simple tool or two, but most of these projects require little more than scissors, glue, paint and varnish.

We'll start with a project that not only gives you ornaments -- it also helps you get rid of that outdated stack of magazines. Read on.

5: Old Magazines

Old magazines are full of color, and the paper is often a useful combination of lightweight and glossy -- perfect for crafts. Just as vintage advertising posters create a sense of warmth and nostalgia, old magazine ads can become a source of holiday color and character.

Use origami -- the Japanese tradition of creating three-dimensional paper sculpture -- to populate your Christmas tree with miniature animals. You can make cranes, frogs, fish, dragonflies, and crabs -- almost any animal you can think of. Paper is so light that you can put it anywhere on the tree -- even perch a paper bird on a delicate branch, or drape an orchid among the pine needles. You can also use a needle and thread to hang the ornaments.


You don't need many tools to create origami, which traditionally uses techniques of folding but not cutting. Use the back of a clean wooden spoon to score your folds so they'll lie flatter. If you want to give the ornaments some permanence, coat them with varnish or polyurethane. A spray can will give you a lighter finish; a sponge brush makes for a thicker, heavier finish.

At the holidays, one of the loveliest ways to use origami is to create many-pointed stars. Some designs interlock up to six different pieces of paper. The individual folds are relatively simple, but you may want to watch a video or check a diagram to see how the pieces interrelate [sources: Barbour, Metacafe].

On the next page, we'll look at a different way to repurpose some old paper you may have around the house.

4: Last Year's Christmas Cards

With a few adjustments, an old Christmas card can become a beautiful ornament for your tree.
With a few adjustments, an old Christmas card can become a beautiful ornament for your tree.
iStockphoto/Adele De Witte

Christmas cards brighten the holidays, particularly if you're among the few people in the world whose friends and family mail their cards on time. Perhaps nothing makes you feel quite so loved -- quite so connected to a larger group -- as a mantel piled high with messages of good cheer.

Old Christmas cards also happen to provide a large, readily available stash of holiday images and colors. With a few other supplies and little work, they can easily be turned into decorations.


To turn a card into an ornament, you'll need the following:

  • Craft knife
  • Cutting surface, such as a cutting mat or a clean plastic kitchen cutting board
  • Backing, such as colorful card stock or a heavy wallpaper sample
  • Spray adhesive or a glue stick (cleaner and safer, but less permanent)
  • Varnish
  • Sponge brush
  • Hole punch
  • Narrow ribbon

You may also want to include decorative touches such as glitter, leafing, metallic ink and paint, beads and other edging.

With the craft knife, trim the image from the card. Trim out a larger piece of backing. Place the backing on your work surface with its colorful side facing down. Put adhesive on the image and position it on the backing so that the edges of the backing frame the image. You can paint or decorate this border, or you can cut out a frame from the backing material. Punch a hole through the top center of the ornament.

Working in a well-ventilated place, coat the front and back of the ornament with varnish. You may want to add several coats to give the paper a thick, glossy, enameled feel. When the varnish is dry, thread the ribbon through the hole and make a loop for hanging the ornament.

On the next page, we'll look at a way to fill the holiday with friendly faces.

3: Photos of Family and Friends

Homemade photo ornaments add a personal touch to any holiday tree.
Homemade photo ornaments add a personal touch to any holiday tree.
©iStockphoto/Eileen Hart

Along with those holiday cards, you probably have dozens if not hundreds of photos of friends and family: snapshots from a ski trip, the kids sitting on Santa's lap, the last Thanksgiving with Grandma and so on. Decorate the tree with those images, for a colorful reminder of what the season is really about.

This doesn't mean you need to go out and buy a bunch of hanging picture frames. As long as you're repurposing your decorations, you can create the frames too.


Almost anything can be turned into a photo frame. The bottom of an aluminum beverage can provides a lightweight circular frame for a wallet-size photo. (See How Recycled Aluminum Can Crafts Work for instructions on how to take apart a beverage can.) And the cardstock method described on the previous page works as well for photos as it does for cards.

For an unusual, reflective ornament, use an old CD to set off your photo. You may want to paint the CD first. Spray paint and acrylics will work. But the original CD art can also provide a colorful -- and sometimes appropriate -- background for your photo. Trim the photo into a circle or a diamond and position it on the CD. Use a hot glue gun to fasten it in place.

If you have some time, and some leftover tissue paper from a gift, you can create your own frame with papier-mâché. This method is useful for creating fanciful, knotty, free-form shapes and curlicues. Use a square or rectangle of cardboard as a backing. Make a thin paste of flour and water. Dredge small bits of tissue paper in the paste, and stick them to the cardboard. Work in layers, allowing each layer to dry before proceeding; use a hairdryer set on low to speed up the process. When you're done, paint and varnish the frame. Only then should you place the photo within it.

Up next -- how to turn beloved old clothes into holiday decorations.

2: Fabric

Almost anyone can turn worn-out pieces of fabric into a festive Christmas ornament.
Almost anyone can turn worn-out pieces of fabric into a festive Christmas ornament.

For centuries, quilters have known how to take cherished but worn-out pieces of fabric and turn them into functional art. Now you can do the same -- even if you're hopeless with a needle and thread.

To make holiday ornaments out of fabric, you'll need the following items:


  • Cookie cutters in holiday shapes
  • A pencil or tailor's chalk
  • Scissors, a rotor fabric cutter or pinking shears
  • Hot glue gun
  • Ribbon
  • Pins
  • Safety pins or a needle and thread
  • A variety of decorations and trimmings
  • Stuffing
  • Fabric -- either the clothing you never wear but can't bring yourself to get rid of, or scraps of holiday fabric or felt left over from previous crafting projects [source: Betzina]

Fold a piece of fabric so you have two layers, with the wrong side facing out. Use the cookie cutter to trace a shape on the fabric. Cut around the line you have traced, allowing a little extra room -- perhaps ¼ inch (5 mm). If you're using pinking shears, give yourself a little more leeway.

If you're handy with a sewing machine, keep the fabric wrong side out and stitch the two pieces together, leaving an opening on one side. Pull the ornament right side out, stuff it and hand-stitch the opening.

If, on the other hand, you can't sew at all, take one of your cutouts and place it wrong side up on your work surface. Use the glue gun to apply glue around the edges. Then, working quickly, place a small bit of stuffing in the center, and position the other cutout on top, right side up.

Use the glue gun to attach decorations as desired. Attach a loop of ribbon to the top. It's fairly easy to sew the ribbon on with a few stitches, but if you're truly needle-phobic, use a tiny safety pin -- the sort that attaches spare buttons to new clothes.

These ornaments can also be a lovely gift for someone with whom you've shared an experience. The jeans you tore when you were hiking together, or the T-shirt you got when you finally limped across the finish line, can become a special holiday keepsake.

On the next page, we'll explore an unorthodox holiday recipe.

1: Dough

Dough ornaments, like the one pictured here, are fun and easy to make.
Dough ornaments, like the one pictured here, are fun and easy to make.
iStockphoto/Jasna Hrovatin

You have a simple artistic medium right in your pantry. All you need is flour, salt and water to create inexpensive, fast-drying sculpting clay.

There are literally hundreds of variations on the salt-clay theme, some with additional ingredients such as alum and cornstarch [source: Cooks]. You can experiment with proportions and additives to find the consistency and maneuverability that suits you. What most salt-clay recipes have in common is that you can dry them in the sun or in your oven.


Clear a workspace in your kitchen, and mix flour, salt and water in a mixing bowl. Spread aluminum foil on a cookie sheet. Sculpt the dough into wreaths, stars or any other holiday shapes you like. Make your sculptures on the foil; this way, you can easily transport them to the oven without destroying the shapes.

You can build color into the sculpting process. Separate the dough into smaller bowls, and add a different food coloring to each bowl. For intense colors, you will need more pigment than you are accustomed to using for baking. Before the dough hardens, you can press glitter and other small decorations into its surface.

Don't forget to make a hole for the hanger. It's much easier to do this before the dough dries. Use a small drinking straw to punch an even hole through the top.

If you don't mix color into the dough, you can use acrylic paints to decorate your creation after it's come out of the oven. Metallic paints and metal leaf can add reflectivity and richness. Let the paint dry thoroughly.

Whether you painted your dough or dyed it with food coloring, you'll need to seal it with a strong layer of varnish. Several coats of spray polyurethane will also do the job. Just make sure the seal is solid. You don't want your ornaments to attract bugs. Properly sealed, a salt-clay ornament will last for years.

This year, start your own tradition.

To learn more, visit the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Links

  • Barbour, Anita. "Anita's Origami." Nature Walk. 2002. (Accessed 4/23/09)
  • Betzina, Sandra. "Sewn Christmas Ornaments." DIY Network. (Accessed 4/23/09),,diy_13889_2269673,00.html
  • "Salt Clay Recipes." (Accessed 4/23/09),1-0,salt_clay,FF.html
  • eSSORTMENT. Make an Origami Christmas Ornament. eSSORTMENT: Do It Yourself: Crafts. (Accessed 4/23/09)
  • HGTV. "Quilted Fabric Ball Ornaments." My HGTV. (Accessed 4/23/09)
  • Hanson, Terry. "Microwave Salt Dough Ornaments." All Free Crafts. (Accessed 4/23/2009)
  • Make Stuff. "Quilted Ball Ornament." (Accessed 4/23/09)
  • Making Friends. "What Can I Make Out of All Those AOL CDs That Are Sent to Me in the Mail?" Making Friends: Changing the World One Craft at a Time. February 18, 2007. (Accessed 4/23/09)
  • MetaCafe. "3D Paper Star: Video." (Accessed 4/23/09)
  • Paxton, Rachel. "Recycling Christmas Cards. Staiden Home School. (Accessed 4/23/2009).
  • Ralph, LeAnn R. "New Ways to Use Old Christmas Cards." Staiden Home school. (Accessed 4/23/2009)