Years ago I used to make goddess figurines and such with plasticized clay (like fimo or sculpey). This time around getting into crafting again, I don’t really have much of a budget for craft supplies. I also don’t like the idea of the permanence (plasticized clay is non-bio-degradable) and the artificial feel. (I don’t know if they still have them, but there used to be a warning label on the packages of some brands that said they could possibly cause cancer.)
Since I don’t have access to cheap clay, nor a kiln to fire it in, salt dough came to mind as a cheap and natural alternative. At first I thought it wouldn’t be strong and durable enough to make things to hang on the wall and last a while, but then I remembered a special recipe I had jotted down from a library book (sorry, I don’t remember the title). The book called the recipe “alum dough”. It’s a salt dough recipe with less than the usual amount of flour (1 cup instead of 2), and some alum thrown in. I call it “Strong Salt Dough”.
Strong Salt Dough
1 cup flour
1 cup salt
1 teaspoon alum
½ cup water or more
Mix dry ingredients. (Alum can be found in the baking isle with the spices.) Add enough water to form a stiff dough. Stir and knead until well-mixed and pliable. This dough has a coarser texture than regular salt dough, because of the 1:1 salt to four ratio. For best results, air dry after forming into desired shape. (I’ve tried baking this kind of dough; it puffed out a lot and browned on top.) If you do want to try oven drying, test it out on a little unformed lump of dough first at 200°F or less.
When completely dry, this dough is pretty strong. I’ve made wall plaques from it, poked a hole in the back with a tack before drying (for hanging), and they stay on the wall. I’m sure some day, the things I’ve made with this kind of salt dough will deteriorate, but that’s a good thing.
The kinds of tools I use for working with the dough are a pizza-cutter (sometimes using a knife will pull and drag the dough instead of making a clean cut), toothpicks, skewers, rolling pin, and I’ve also used the face molds that I used to use for making goddess figurines. I’ve made molds with strong salt dough too; from a Greenman plaque and various thrift store figurines, to get a better variety of face molds. Rubber stamps have also been useful.
As far as I can tell, you can make nearly anything with “strong salt dough” that you could make with the regular kind. I’ve gotten a couple of craft books at the library that had pretty good ideas in them. I’ve been searching thrift stores and used book stores for more. All the best ones seem to be from the 1970’s. I found one that can be read online (PDF); “Morton’s Dough It Yourself Handbook”. That one has some awesomely funky projects in it, a good idea book.
So coming up, I’ll be sharing pictures and processes for various things I’ve made lately from salt dough; goddess figurines, wall plaques for my shrine, ritual beads… Stay tuned, I’ve spaced them out to post at various times throughout the year.
2015 UPDATE: I have found that “regular” salt dough can be just as strong as “strong” salt dough when baked instead of air-dried. For a regular batch, use 2 cups flour, 1 cup salt, and about a cup of water (no alum). Bake at 250°F until completely dry. You can paint completely dried projects with acrylic craft paints. Seal your best projects with clear acrylic sealant if you want them to last longer. See all my salt dough articles here.