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Catholic Activity: Non-Edible Dough (for Ornaments and Sculptures)

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Here are some detailed instructions on making sculptures with the classic flour, water and salt dough recipe. The possibilities are endless on incorporating into your liturgical year in the home. One idea would be making Jesse tree symbols, another would be making ornaments that have the symbols for the O Antiphons. The dough could also be used to make a Nativity set, Passion figures, Easter garden figures, candelabra for the Stations of the Cross and Tenebrae.

DIRECTIONS

Combine flour and salt in a large flat-bottomed bowl, and mix well with spoon. Next add water (a little at a time), mixing as you pour to form a ball. Note: Additional water may be needed, depending on humidity. Take care not to add too much that dough becomes sticky.

Knead 7-10 minutes until dough has a smooth, yet firm, consistency.

Place dough in a plastic bag to prevent drying. And you're ready to begin.

A Few Hints:

Note: If dough becomes dried out, no need to make a new batch. Simply pat on a little more water and knead back to original consistency. If dough becomes sticky, just add more flour.

Variations: The basic recipe can be adapted for different purposes:

COLORING THE DOUGH

A few way to add color to your dough:

  1. Use different brands of flour (rye, whole wheat, etc.)
  2. Add spices, chocolate powder, coffee, etc.
  3. Add paint color, either gouache or oil paint (use gloves and knead long enough to get a uniform color).
  4. Add food color, kneading and working the color thoroughly into the dough.
  5. Of course, color can be added after the sculpting process, by baking the sculpture in the oven until golden brown, or painting after they have dried up. More on those methods below.

THE TOOLS

Most of the tools you'll need, you probably already have... but don't know it. All you have to do is learn how to recognize them when you see them.

Here are some common items to look for:

fork butter knife spoons pizza cutter garlic press or strainer melon ball shaper skewers and nails holiday cookie cutters candle, cake and candy molds cookie sheets basting brush tooth picks wax paper aluminum foil

If you want to get fancy, inexpensive clay modeling tools are also available at local hobby stores and craft stores.

(Please see that small children are always supervised when using sharp or pointed objects.)

BEFORE YOU BEGIN Before you begin, here are a few pointers to keep in mind.

  1. Always flour hands and work surfaces to keep dough from sticking.
  2. As much as possible, work on foil-covered cookie sheets for easier clean-up so pieces can later be moved without damage.
  3. When using cake, candle or gelatin molds, always wipe inner surfaces with a light coat of cooking oil before pressing in the dough. It prevents sticking and leaves a cleaner impression.
  4. To join any two pieces of dough together, simply moisten both edges with tap water, and press together. The water acts as a glue and keeps dough from separating during baking or drying.

HARDENING METHODS

Once you've put the last little details on your newly-formed creations, they're ready for hardening. Basically, there are only two ways to do it. Either let them dry in the air all by themselves. Or bake them in the oven. Either way, your sculpture must be hard and rigid before finishing.

THE AIR DRYING PROCESS It's slower (but easier for kids), and often gives interesting textures.

  1. For best results, place sculpture on a piece of screen, so both sides can dry out equally well.
  2. Allow to stand at least 48 hours until it has a rock-like hardness and is white and limestone in appearance. Then it's ready to finish.

THE BAKING PROCESS

It's faster, and allows the option of various finishing techniques.

  1. Set oven temp. at 325°-350° (never higher).
  2. Bake on foil-covered cookie sheet for easy clean-up.
  3. Allow to bake one-half hour for each 1/4" of dough thickness, or until surface turns light, golden brown.
  4. (See Finishing Techniques)

Tips for baking

FINISHING TECHNIQUES After your sculptures have been properly baked or dried, there are several ways to finish them.

You can paint them with several types of paints (including water colors, acrylics, enamels and spray paints). Add food coloring to the dough while kneading, to give a marbleized effect (or to the water to give uniform color). Or you can apply different types of finishes during the baking process.

Note: Be sure to always apply a good coat of lacquer, varnish, shellac, or acrylic sealer to both sides of all baked sculptures after finishing. This is very important, otherwise sculptures can be affected by moisture and humidity. Most paints, (except water colors) will provide sufficient seal by themselves.

Below are some examples of the more common types of finishes you can use.

  1. Natural finish. Piece was simply allowed to air-dry for 48 hours.
  2. Antique finish. Piece was first given two coats of acrylic lacquer, then stained with a commercial wood stain. After allowing to dry a few minutes, surface was rubbed with a soft cloth to give highlighted effect. Later, it was varnished. (For glossier finishes, try applying acrylic clear gloss.)
  3. Water color finish. This piece was painted with water colors, then varnished.
  4. Acrylic paint finish. First a base coat of white acrylic paint was applied, followed by a second coat of transparent yellow, and lastly, a coat of transparent orange. (Transparent paints can be made by applying small amounts of color to acrylic medium. The less color used, the more transparent the paint.) Since acrylic paint seals a sculpture, no final coat of varnish was needed.
  5. Baked finish. Piece was simply allowed to bake until brown, then shellacked.
  6. Metallic finish. First, the piece was painted dark metallic green, then highlighted with a rub-on metallic copper finish. (Gold, silver and bronze finishes can also be used to achieve similar effects.) Afterwards, it was varnished.
  7. Egg yolk finish. This is done during the baking process. After baking a piece about fifteen minutes, remove and baste with whole, beaten egg. Then return to oven and finish baking. (For darker finishes, rebaste every ten or fifteen minutes.) When cool, be sure to varnish.
  8. Note: Canned milk can also be used in place of egg yolk (or even mixed with the egg) to give similar dark brown finishes.

After finishing, neat effects can be obtained by gluing on sequins, buttons, rhinestones, seeds, bells, or even little bits of pasta. In fact, you can do just about anything you want to your dough sculpture, except eat it! Now, with all that settled, let's make something.

CREATING CHRISTMAS TREE ORNAMENTS

Let's start by making a few Christmas tree ornaments from basic cookie cutter shapes. They're simple to do, and readily available in most dime and department stores.

Here's a step-by-step procedure to help you make a gingerbread man ornament.

1. First, roll out the dough just like a pie crust, until it's about 1/4" thick.

2. Then with a gingerbread man cookie cutter, cut basic shape and place on foil-covered cookie sheet.

3. Next add the eyes, nose, cheeks and buttons, made by simply rolling small pieces of dough between your fingers until they form a small ball. Then moisten with water, and stick into place. Roll longer pieces of dough to about the thickness of spaghetti, and apply for hair, mouth, hat brim and coat fringe. Make the scarf by twisting two larger pieces of dough together, then wet and apply.

4. Use a fork to form the fingers, and a nail to make indentations for eyes and buttons. While you're at it, make a small hole at the top for the thread. Place on a cookie sheet and bake until light brown. Allow to cool, then varnish.

Voila! You've just made your first dough sculpture!

You can make other ornaments just as easily from cookie cutters or candy molds, (also available in most department stores, or gourmet shops). Try your hand at making them and remember: When using molds, inner surfaces must be coated with cooking oil before pressing in dough. This assures a clean impression and eliminates sticking.

Basic cookie cutter shapes and molds can also be used to make many other things besides Christmas tree ornaments. Paint names on them, and they become interesting table place cards for the holidays, or birthday parties... or use them as clever greeting cards, Valentine's Day cards, or maybe just to say "hello." Smaller shapes can be strung onto key rings, or mounted on pins and worn as broaches or lapel pins. Needless to say, the applications are boundless ... all you have to do is let your imagination go!

Activity Source: Dough-It-Yourself Handbook, The by Unknown, Morton-Norwich Products, Inc., 1975

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