During the summer, you may be looking for easy, budget-friendly crafts. Salt dough is simple to make and uses only 3 ingredients that you’ll already have on hand. It can be used for sculpting, making jewelry and ornaments, and tons of other ideas! For today, we’ll be making leaf impressions and decorating them. This activity will first take you outside to enjoy the weather, and then into the kitchen to craft.
Supplies: leaves from your yard, all-purpose flour, table salt, tap water, measuring cup, non-stick surface, nonstick baking pan, oven, paint or colored pencils, paintbrush
First, collect some interesting objects from nature—leaves and twigs are a good place to start, but if the weather is bad and you’re stuck inside, handprints, pawprints, and shells (if you have them) will work and are easy for beginners. Be sure to experiment with different objects! For this project, we’ll be working with leaves.
Next, it’s time to make the dough. Preheat your oven to 250°F. The salt dough recipe is simple: 1 part salt, 2 parts flour, and 1 part water. You can use any size of cup to measure these parts out, depending on how much you want to make. For this tutorial, standard measuring cups were used with a recipe of 1 cup salt, 2 cups flour, and 1 cup water. Combine ingredients in a bowl and knead until the dough is smooth.
Tips: You can color the dough by dropping food coloring or paint into the water. Otherwise, once the dough is dried, you can paint or color over it. To prepare a space to work with your dough, place a plastic mat or similar surface covered with a thin layer of flour for when you roll your dough out so that it doesn’t stick.
Once your dough is prepared, flatten out a piece a little bigger than the leaf you are pressing into it. You can use a rolling pin or pat it down with your palms. Thinner dough will take less time to dry out in the oven. This example ends up about ¼ of an inch thick, but you can make it as thick as you want. Place the leaf on the dough where you want it, and then press firmly with your fingers along the entire leaf, especially the edges, to make sure all the details are captured. Don’t press so hard you go all the way through the dough!
Tips: When pressing down, letting some of the dough overlap the edges of the leaf. When you pull the leaf off of the dough, the impression will be more detailed. If your impression isn’t as clear as you want, you can always re-roll the dough and retry! Be careful when peeling the dough off of the mat so it doesn’t fall apart.
More ideas: To make a neat presentation, use a butter knife to cut the dough into a rectangular or oval shape or cut around the leaf to make the impression the same shape. For a nice present for a parent or grandparent, poke holes at the top of the dough using a paper clip or other similar tool, and string twine, yarn, or wire through to make a wall or window hanging.
After you’ve made as many impressions as you want, place them on a cookie sheet in the oven at 250°F. The amount of time it takes them to dry depends on their size and thickness. Thicker dough will take longer, but this example took about 3 hours. Check the oven about every 15 minutes to make sure they aren’t getting too brown, though if you’re painting the entire thing, it’s alright if they change color.
Finally, it’s time to decorate! You can see the impressions above in different states of being decorated. Once the dough is cool to touch, use paint or colored pencils to color in your impression. This example I used watercolor pencils—once colored, water was brushed over the pencil to create a watercolor effect (see the large green leaf). Experiment with different techniques!
Not sure what those leaves are? Look at the free Trees of Ohio Field Guide from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, or check out Trees of Ohio by Stan Tekiela, available here at the library for curbside pickup!
Other Crafts with Salt Dough:
Here are just a few more ideas for salt dough arts and crafts. Be sure to search the Internet for picture tutorials and other ideas!
- Sculpt and paint animal or other figurines (snakes are great for young artists!)
- Use cookie cutters to cut shapes, then poke holes and string yarn through them to make ornaments for holidays
- Roll into small balls and paint them to make beads, poking holes all the way through to string them together