Unless you have been sleeping under a rock like our little gnome friends, you have probably noticed that gnomes are everywhere! People are absolutely loving these little guys with their pointy hats. Whenever I see a gnome, I can’t help but smile. So today we are bringing one of our favourite science experiments, growing crystals, and using it to make the most beautiful and unique DIY Gnome Ornaments!
Gnome Christmas Ornaments with Crystal Beards
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What is a Gnome?
First let’s learn a little bit about these fascinating little creatures known as gnomes.
Gnomes are mythical creatures that have been a part of various cultures for centuries. These whimsical beings are typically depicted as small, bearded, and often wear colorful, pointy hats. Gnomes are known for their love of nature and their roles as guardians of the earth. While they may not be as famous as Santa Claus, they have a special place in holiday traditions, especially during the Christmas season.
In many cultures, gnomes are believed to live underground or in gardens, where they protect the earth’s treasures and ensure the growth of plants and flowers. This is why you often see garden gnomes (little statues) in people’s gardens.
Whether it is Christmas gnomes or garden gnomes, they are known for their mischievous but friendly nature, and they often appear in stories as helpful creatures who bring good luck and joy.
In recent years, the Christmas gnome has become a popular holiday symbol, and crafting gnome-themed ornaments can add a little magical, joy-filled touch to your Christmas decorations. Since gnomes are so magical and special, we decided that we wanted to STEAM Power our gnomes and give our gnome ornaments a crystal beard.
The Science of Growing Crystals
Growing crystals is a chemistry experiment that is always such a huge hit with kids.
One technique used by chemists in their work is called crystallization (and recrystallization) which is the formation for crystals from a solution. This is where a super-saturated solution cools to form crystals from a mixture.
Crystals are a solid with flat sides and a symmetrical shape because its molecules are arranged in a unique, repeating pattern. When you have finished growing your crystals, look closely with a magnifying glass to see how all the crystals have the same shape.
There are a number of different ingredients you can use to make a super-saturated solution for growing crystals. The most popular options with kids are Salt Crystals, Alum Crystals and Borax Crystals.
The process is fairly similar for each type of crystal, but the results will vary based on the compound you chose to use.
To make a super-saturated solution, you want to dissolve your ingredient in hot water until no more can be dissolved.
Why do we need hot water? As water is heated, the water molecules move farther apart, making room for more of the salt, alum or borax to dissolve.
As the solution cools, the minerals and compounds become less soluble and fall out of the solution and onto the pipe cleaners where it forms crystals.
Now let’s make some crystal bearded Gnome ornaments!
DIY Gnome Ornaments with Crystal Beards Video Tutorial
When creating this video I simply turned on the camera as we did this experiment, trialed, tested and learned all about what worked well, what didn’t and adapted as we went to make adorable gnomes.
How to Make a Gnome Ornament
Making a gnome ornament is very simple, even making the crystal beard is not hard, it just takes a little bit of time. In our design we have the traditional oversized gnome hat, with the crystal beard, and a nose peeking out. You can encourage the kids to get creative and let those imaginations run wild with colors and designs, making each gnome ornament unique.
Felt Squares or Construction Paper in Christmas colours
Small pom pom balls (optional)
Glue Gun or White glue could work too
Pipe cleaners or jute twine
Borax, Salt or Alum for crystals
Kettle (or a pot on the stove, you just need to be able to heat water)
Chopstick or pencil or any old stick
Fishing line or string
A heat proof glass jar that is large enough to hold your beard without it touching the sides or bottom. We used large mason jars.
Small towel (optional but will give you bigger crystals)
How to Grow a Crystal Beard
The first step is to make the crystal beard. This will take about 6 hours hours in total, so you may want to do this with your kids over two days. Make the crystal beards the first day, then assemble your gnomes the next day.
First, prepare your beard. You can make it out of pipe cleaners or a jute twine. We normally use pipe cleaners for our crystal growing projects, but I had some jute and gave it a try. Pipe cleaners gave us a gnome that could stand on its own, while jute gave us a very bushy beard. I actually really liked the result with the jute, but you can use whatever you have.
Pipe Cleaner Beard Directions
For the pipe cleaners, I used 2 pipe cleaners. For each one, I folded them in half, then in half again. Then attached them together by twisting the top and fanning the “beard” out. Tie a piece of fishing line to the top, making sure it will hang down just low enough to fit in the middle of the jar without touching the sides or bottom. This style created a gnome that could stand up for a really nice table top decor piece.
We also made some flat style pieces with the pipe cleaners, we used these for the salt crystals and the alum crystals. This approach is really good for younger kids and if you are doing salt crystals in particular.
Twine or String Beard Directions
Cut about 8 pieces of the jute twine, all about the same length, then tie the end together with some fishing line, make sure you have a longer piece of fishing line so you can tie off a loop to hang it from the stick across the top of the jar. It should hang at about the middle of the jar without touching the sides or bottom.
A quick note about the twine, when submersed, the jute opened and untwisted so we ended up with a very full beard. Make sure you consider this when deciding how many pieces to include in your beard.
Set aside the beards.
Prepare the Solution
NOTE: I am going to share the directions for how to make the crystal beards using borax first as we found that gave the nicest crystal formations for our beards. Below I will also share how to make crystals using Alum or Salt.
Measure out enough water to fill your jar about 3/4 full. Write down how many cups of water your jar needs. Mine needed 6 cups.
Making the Super-Saturated Solution
Now we need to make the super-saturated solution. There are two ways you can do this. Using a kettle or on the stove-top. Both of these processes involve very hot water that can burn. Adult supervision is a must. In some cases, it may be best to have an adult only do this step.
If you are using a kettle, transfer your water into the kettle and boil it. Once boiled, carefully pour it into the jar. Now for each cup of water add three tablespoons of Borax powder. I prefer to add it slowly, mixing as I go until it is all added. The water will become cloudy, then become clear again. Mix until there is no borax visible.
If you are making the super-saturated solution on the stove-top, pour the water into a pot. Then turn the stove to medium high heat. As it starts to simmer, turn down the heat to keep it at a simmer. Begin carefully adding the borax powder and mixing it in until it is all dissolved. Once it is all added, carefully transfer the super-saturated solution to the jar.
Growing the Borax Crystals
Now hang the beard from the chopstick, and place the chopstick across the top of the jar so the beard is fully submersed in the super-saturated solution but is not touching the sides.
Let sit for about 6 hours while the crystals form. If you are not happy with your crystals after 6 hours, you can leave them longer.
Pro Tip! For really big, well formed crystals, you want the solution to cool very slowly. You can place your jar in a warm place, perhaps near a heater, or cover it with a towel to slow the cooling process. Learn more about growing really big crystals from this experiment.
Once your crystals have finished growing, which will take about 6 to 8 hours, carefully remove it from the solution and place it on a towel to dry. If you don’t see crystals for the first few hours, don’t panic! Once the crystallization process starts, it moves very quickly with borax crystals.
Growing Alum Crystals
One of our favourite crystal growing projects ever was growing our own Crystal Geodes with Alum. The process is almost identical to how we grew borax crystals, you just need to add one more step to the beard preparation. We forgot this step, but we made the best of it!
To get really even crystal growth on the beard, use a tiny bit of white glue and a paint brush to brush a thin layer on the beard, then dust it with a bit of the alum powder. Once the glue is dry, then make your super-saturated solution and proceed the same as we did with the borax process. Just like with our geodes, we found we needed to seed the crystals to get even crystal growth the alum. If you don’t do this, you will end up with a few really big crystals instead of the nice even crystals we were looking for.
Pro Tip!! With alum powder, make sure you are buying pure Alum, if it has additives, your crystals may not grow.
Our alum ended up growing a massive, gorgeous crystal in the bottom of the jar. It was really neat to see the really large, triangular shaped crystals.
Growing Salt Crystals
If you want to grow salt crystals for your beards, I recommend making the super-saturated solution by adding salt (we used regular coarse salt) to the hot water until no more will dissolve. Then lay the beard down in a shallow tray with a lip. Sprinkle some salt on the beard. Then pour the super-saturated solution into the tray (not directly over the beard) until the water just covers it. Wait for the water to evaporate. We found salt crystals were very small, but if you use coloured pipe cleaners they look like snow on the beard which was a fun twist.
Assembling the DIY Gnome Ornaments
Once all the crystal growing it done, it is time to finish of our adorable gnome ornaments!
First, we need that iconic gnome hat. Remember gnome hats are extra large and hide the face with just their little round nose peeking out! We found it easiest to measure the top of your gnome beard, then add a bit when we were estimating the size to make our hats.
Take a piece of square felt and fold it in half. Starting at the open bottom corner, cut it in a large oblong ending at the opposite top side.
Open it and lay it flat.
Using a glue gun, add glue along the side you just cut (don’t glue the bottom!), then fold it back over. Let it dry completely.
Now turn it inside out. Glue a pom pom on the top and the hat is done.
As an alterative, you can make a flat ornament and just cut out a triangle shape like we did with our salt crystal ornament. Or make a cone hat out of construction paper. It is really up to your kids!
Now glue the crystal beard inside the hat so it hangs down nicely.
Add a little circle nose that is either cut from felt/construction paper, or you can use another pom pom.
Attach a ribbon to the top to hang it from the tree.
Look at our adorable gnome ornaments with their magical, sparkling beards!!!
Remember to encourage your kids to get creative and let those imaginations go wild! They can make their gnomes with faces, they can give them bodies, they can make the beards extra big, they can add designs or stickers to the hats. This project is all about science, magic and joy for the holidays, so let your kids create and have fun!
Enjoy your magical crystal gnome ornament this Christmas season!
Want more gnomes? Try making our Gnome Snow Globe project.