Years ago, my father (an art teacher) had us kids make and give away Christmas ornaments to people who were special to us. Over the years, we let the habit slide but I decided to bring the tradition back when I had children of my own. My kids have stopped helping me over the years, but I have not missed a year since my son was 5.
Every year, I make a whole pile of some particular ornament and share them with as many people as possible. When the boys were in elementary school, we made one for each student in the class plus the teacher and all the special people around the school--last year's teacher, the lunch ladies, the librarian, the principal, the principal's secretary. When the boys hit middle school, I started giving them out to all the teachers (a secretaries, maintenance people, security, and anyone else who just looked like they needed to feel special) in the high school where I taught.
This year, my son's senior year, he came home and asked if I was going to still do the 'ornament thing.' One of his teachers had mentioned how it was special to her and she wanted to know if I was still making them. The elementary school librarian lives down the street from us and I still try to remember to take her one each year. Last year, one of my calculus students told me that she still has all the ornaments from when she was in elementary school with my son. I retired last June but I will still be bringing them their ornaments. I did not realize that the tradition meant that much to anyone but me.
This year, I decided to try to downsize my arts and crafts mountain and when I found a barrel of crayons that my children have not used in more than 10 years, I knew just what this year's ornament was going to be.
Step 1: Materials:
- a whole lot of old crayons
- silicone baking mold--mine is gingerbread men
- paper clips
- wire cutters--or something strong enough to cut the paper clips
- candle--to heat the paper clip pieces
- pliers--to hold the hot paper clip pieces
Step 2: Preparing the Crayons
If you are lucky, you have young children who have already removed the wrappers from all their crayons and broken them into little pieces. This means that all you have to do is trade them a new box for all their old stuff. I was not so lucky. The vast majority of the crayons I had were still nearly full sized and all the wrappers were intact.
This was the most labor intensive step of this process. If you have kids helping you, this is a good time to put them to work. All that paper has to be pealed away. I worked for about a half an hour (by myself) before I realized that I am an adult and I am allowed to use a razor blade. The wrappers started coming off a lot easier but it still took a long time.
If you are working with children, do not use the razor blade method. There is too much risk of them getting hurt. I was being very careful and I still found myself wearing more bandages when I was done that when I started.
Once the wrappers are off, you need to break up the crayons into small pieces. Since my mold has relatively small wells and I wanted a lot of different colors in each ornament, I needed very small pieces. I could not break them with my fingers so I resorted to a strong pair of scissors (They were originally intended to cut the shells off crab and lobster. I think I used them more on this project that I every had on sea food.) I cut a full sized crayon into 10 to 12 pieces.
Step 3: Fill the Molds and Put Them in the Oven
Pour as many of the pieces as you can into each well of the mold--over filling is a good move. The crayon pieces will melt and sink in.
I put the mold on a cookie sheet--for easy transport to and from the oven. If I were a little smarter, I would have used an old cookie sheet since there were a few crayon crumbs that did fall onto the sheet. They did melt in the oven. Cleaning that up was not my favorite part of the project.
If you are working with young children, you can have them help you put them in the oven while it is still cold. I tried using 170 degrees F (the lowest my oven will go) but it too long to melt. I found that 200 degrees worked better for me--experiment with this part. How long it takes for your crayons to melt will depend on a lot of factors:
- your oven temperature
- the size of your mold wells
- the size of your crayon pieces
- the brand of crayons you use
Start checking after about 10 or 15 minutes. First the crayons will look wet. Then they will start to collapse into the mold. If you leave them in too long it will look like soup. I usually pull out the rack when the pieces are starting to collapse into the mold. I add a few more pieces to any well that looks like it needs more. Then I push the rack back in, close the oven, and turn it off.
At this point, you need to hope no one decides to bake something.
Let them cool until you can pull them out of the oven without an oven mitt. If you take them out while they are hot, you will be tempted to try to press down on the one piece that is sticking up. This will hurt because even though it looks like that piece is solid, it is liquid inside and liquid wax burns skin. Then you will be tempted to do one of 2 things which are both bad--put your finger in your mouth or wipe the hot wax on your pants. We will not get in to how I know that this will happen. Just leave them in the oven to cool.
Step 4: Un-molding and Adding the Hanger
The crayons will pop out of the mold very easily--isn't silicone wonderful. Press on them from the back. If anything breaks, set the pieces aside and remelt them with the next batch. I did 5 batches and did not break a single one.
I expected the hangers to be more trouble than they were. Both my son and I thought they might pull out easily but it worked amazingly well and I did not have to resort to glue. (What kind of glue would work on wax?)
First, I cut the paper clips--I tried using each of the 3 bends as a hanger but that made cutting them awkward since one of the ends always seemed to be too short. Using only the smallest bend and the largest bend worked well. (The middle bend just got thrown out.) Next, I bent the 2 sides in a little so that they were no longer parallel to each other--this means that it is less likely to pull out of the ornament. Finally, holding the paper clip piece with a pair of pliers, I warmed the 2 ends in the candle flame and pushed them as far as I could into the top of the ornament. I left each ornament standing up for a few minutes to let the drop of melted wax harden.
Step 5: Packaging Your Ornaments
I bought a package of the tiniest paper bags I could find several years ago. They are a size 1.
You can go over board on the packaging, but I usually go rather minimalistic. You could get the kids to decorate the bags for you ahead of time--crayons, stickers, paint, rubber stamps, etc.
I put them in the bag, slip in the note explaining about the whole family tradition thing (for the people who have never gotten an ornament from me) and fold the top of the bag down. Punch 2 holes through all the layers of paper bag--not too close or too far apart. Thread a length of ribbon through both holes and tie.
My mold makes 24 at a time and I had enough crayons for 5 batches. That is 120 ornaments! I was not thinking about that while I was working. Wrapping them took longer than making them.
Step 6: Other Uses
I have a flower mold--spring decorations???
I wonder if I can use the jello mold from the 4th of July last summer.