I had the pleasure of hosting a salt dough workshop for the Goddess Festival this year. What a great turnout we had! It was so popular I may offer it again next year. So I made this little guide to help me along and remind me of what all I need to bring and do. Perhaps some of you will find it of use as well.
2 (5lb.) bags flour (plus a partial bag for dusting), 4 (26 oz.) boxes plain salt, dishpan, liquid measuring cup, pizza box lids (for trays), wax paper, aluminum foil, water cups (re-purposed applesauce cups), aprons, wash cloths, glass bottles, partially dried dough tile bases (optional), clay tools (such as: pizza cutters, knives, rolling pins, toothpicks/skewers, forks, garlic press, etc.), wooden spoons, push tacks, paper clips, clay molds, ink stamps, plastic rulers, templates for tiles, large spatula, paper & pencils (in case anyone wants to sketch out their design first), pictures/sacred source catalogs (for inspiration), quart size storage bags (to bag up leftover dough), recipe handouts (see below), add-ins (such as beads, tumbled glass, shells, etc.), a few washcloths, donation jar, and examples of finished projects (tree plaque, spiral/triskele plaque, earth momma, a bottle armature figure, and a cameo tile).
Have tables and chairs ready, with a sink nearby. Set up samples of salt dough creations. Set a dishpan in the middle of the work space. Offer aprons, hand out wooden spoons. Dust everyone’s work table space with flour, and set out little cups of water, tools, molds, stamps, templates, and pictures for inspiration. Set out cardboard lid trays for everyone and line with wax paper. Dampen washcloths and set a couple at each table. Have aluminum foil and glass bottles available for armatures, and decorative add-ins. (Basically, set out all the supplies listed above.)
“I started crafting with salt dough because I wanted to make deity images for my altar and I didn’t have a lot of money for supplies. I had worked with plasticized clay before, but was deterred from using it very often not only because of the expense, but also because of the health hazard and harm to the environment that plasticized clay may pose. Salt dough, also known as baker’s clay, is inexpensive, non-toxic, and biodegradable. There are three kinds of salt dough; soft, medium, and strong, referring to their hardness when dry. Soft salt dough has a consistency like bread dough. Strong salt dough is course and grainy and is very hard when dry. We’ll be working with the medium variety today, which has a consistency like clay, but is a bit easier to squish than clay. Salt dough recipes and glaze recipes are available for you to take home with you today. You will be bringing your projects home to either air dry or oven bake at a low temperature…”
working the dough:
“We’re going to make a large quantity of dough in this dishpan.” (Dump in 1 bag flour, and 2 boxes of salt. Double this if you have more than 8 people.) “Everyone, gather around and stir with your wooden spoons.” (After the salt and flour are mixed, add water, one cup at a time while they mix. Stop before it gets too sticky and wet.) “When this gets really thick, you’re going to need to abandon your spoons and dig in with your hands. Work your good energy into it. Now break off a chunk and take it to your table space. Knead the dough.” (If necessary, demonstrate how to knead dough.) “The more you knead it, the smoother it becomes, and easier to work with. While you are kneading, I will explain a few techniques and ideas…”
“The first kind of project I’m going to show you are ones with a tile back. You can roll out your dough flat and even and use a template and a pizza cutter to get the shape you want, or use the edge of a ruler to cut straight sides. Don’t get it too thin. You can flip it over momentarily and push the wide end of a raised tack an inch or two below the top back to create a hole for hanging. you could also press a paperclip into the top, for small projects like tree ornaments. If it slips out later,you can glue it back in with strong glue. You can immediately start crafting on a tile such as this, or let it dry a bit first to ensure is holds its shape.”
“As for what to put on it, there are a lot of things you can make with a simple rolled snake shape- several snakes can be put together to form a tree.” (Hold up tree example.) “Lightly wet the surface of the tile with your fingers to make the smaller dough objects you place on them stick. There are little water cups on the tables for this. Blend the snake shapes together at the trunk with lightly wet fingers. You can make bark texture with a knife or fork. You can also make a triskele or spiral plaque with a simple rolled snake.” (Hold up example.)
“Another technique I like to use on tile projects is something I call ‘drawing with a knife’. You will like this one if you like to draw. First, sketch a picture of what you want to make on paper. You can look up pictures for inspiration. When you are satisfied with your drawing, “draw” it again onto your dough tile. Then go back over your dough drawing and soften lines you want softened with fingers or a tool. Push back areas you want to recede into the background.” (Demonstrate or show areas of a finished cameo tile.) “A small ball of dough can be blended with wet fingers to form a cheekbone. A smaller ball of dough can be an eyeball inside a small hole you’ve made as an eye socket, with curved cuts on either side for lashes, and a toothpick poked dot for a pupil.”
“For figures, scrunched up aluminum foil or a glass bottle can be used as armature. Roll out sheets of dough and smooth around it, lightly wetting the ends to join and blend. Use balls of dough for breasts, snake shapes for arms. Make ovals for hands and cut lines for fingers. It’s best to have the arms snug to the body holding something, or to the sides. Small dough parts sticking out from a project tend to break off easily. You can experiment with the face molds you’ll find here, or use the technique I described for the cameo tile. You can also make a sitting earth mamma figure using a combination of dough balls and snake shapes. You may want to use an aluminum foil ball as armature to help it hold a round shape. Build it kind of like you were making a snowman.” (Show example, and/or demonstrate technique.)
(Spend the rest of the workshop answering questions, giving tips and pointers, and taking pictures.)
Medium Salt Dough
2 cups flour (3 for soft doughy salt dough)
1 cup salt
½ cup water or more
Mix dry ingredients. Add enough water to form a stiff dough. Stir and knead until well-mixed and pliable. For best results, air dry after forming into desired shape. For oven drying, test it out on a little unformed lump of dough first, at 250°F or less until dough looks and feels dry. Oven drying may cause puffing.
*For “strong” (extra hard when dry) salt dough, use just 1 cup of flour and add 1 teaspoon of alum to the dry mix. Adjust water as needed. Do not oven dry.
•Color add ins: for different shades of dough, add in spices, instant coffee, or cocoa to dry ingredients, or food coloring, or tempera paint to the water, before blending ingredients.
•Completely dry projects can be painted, and when the paint is completely dry, given a coat of waterproof sealant.
Natural Glazes for Salt Dough
An egg yolk or egg white can be beaten with a teaspoon of water and brushed on a salt dough project that is either dry or still moist. The egg white makes a golden or light brown glaze. An egg yolk glaze will turn out a darker golden brown. Color can be added to the egg yolk glaze, blend in: instant coffee/tea, food coloring, inks, or tempera paints in place of some of the water. Brush glaze over project and bake at 250°F or lower until glaze is hardened.