Make a Derbyshire Well Dressing

Originating in Derbyshire well dressings are pictures made from natural materials that were created to celebrate water springs. Make your own well dressing at home in this 3 part activity combining a walk in the outdoors, messy play and a creative session. There are elements of this activity suitable for children 18 months to 10 years.

What you'll need
  • a box or tin for collecting items
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of salt
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of mud or soil
  • a piece of card or wooden board
Time required
  • Collecting items: up to an hour
  • Making the salt dough: 10 minutes
  • Pressing in: 15-30 mins
  • Drying time: 1-2 days

1. Get outside and collect

Head out for a walk into the countryside if you can however if that's not possible the back garden or your local park is fine.

Spend an hour or so collecting as many different stones, twigs, leaves, seeds and petals as you can. The more diverse in shape and texture the better.


2. Make the salt dough

If you have natural clay in your garden then just use that. If that’s not possible now it's time to get messy making some salt dough.

The children will probably find this part the most fun as they get a chance to do some messy play with the ingredients.

Simply mix the flour, salt, water and soil together in a bowl letting the children help with the measuring and mixing.


3. Create a canvas

Take the wooden board or card and run it under the tap. This helps the salt dough or clay to stick to the surface.

Now spread the clay or salt dough onto the moistened surface with a spatula or knife. Flatten it out to a thickness of about half an inch (about 12mm).


4. Press in the items you collected

Now it's time to get creative. Start pressing in the natural items you collected earlier into the clay or dough. There are no rules here, make your pattern as simple or complex as you like.

Once the Well Dressing is finished you'll need to let it dry. This can take anything from a few hours to a few days depending on the weather and the water content of the clay of salt dough.

What is a Well Dressing?

Well dressings are a rural tradition in England thought to have started in the late 18th century. Seeing one in real life is a treat with Well Dressings in the Peak District and Derbyshire being some of the finest on offer.

Extra information
  • Try adding lavender or mint to your well dressing to give it an extra dimension.
  • During drying you can use a spatula to separate the well dressing from the card or wood.

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