Mosaic Christmas Ornaments by Phyllis Kempter

How To Efficiently Make Mosaic Christmas Ornaments

Artist Phyllis Kempter emailed me some photos of the ornaments she made using our kits for 3-inch spherical mosaic Christmas ornaments and our 12mm recycled glass tile (plus a few other sizes of tile), and her ornaments caught my eye for two reasons:

First, she used green in the patterns for her ornaments, which is good to do if you think the ornament might by hung on something other than a Christmas tree, at least some of the time. Green might not help the ornament stand out on the tree as well as red would, but it goes a long way toward suggesting Christmas when the ornament is not on a tree, especially when used with red.

Second, one of her photos was of her well-organized work space, and it illustrates several methods and tips for making the tiling process easier and faster.

Phyllis Kempter's studio workspace for making mosaic Christmas ornaments.
Phyllis Kempter’s studio workspace for making mosaic Christmas ornaments.

Fast and Efficient Tiling

Heavy Glass for Cradle

Phyllis used wine glasses with heavy stems for her cradle, which allowed her to rotate the sphere and always be working on the top surface. A tall glass is ok, provided it has a heavy base to keep it from falling over as the ornament gets heavier. I prefer a ceramic coffee mug.

Weldbond for Base Coat

When you glue tile to the sphere, it will dry faster if the sphere is already covered in a base coat of glue that is already thoroughly dry. To give your sphere a good base coat of Weldbond, simply hang it up and brush on the glue and allow to dry, preferably for 12+ hours.

Straight Edge for Tile

For laying out grid patterns of tile, any straight edge can be used to quickly arrange and space tile, but a ruler is best because you will often need to measure things, especially when laying out repetitive geometric patterns.

Patterns Laid Out

Lay out your patterns in advance of gluing on the tile, just as Phyllis shows in her photo. You will still need to keep your eye on the ornament as you tile and make slight adjustments to maintain uniform-ish grout spacing (instead of trusting the pattern blindly only to discover that the last tile doesn’t quite fit or fits with an awkward final gap).

Start at Equator

Start at the equator and tile one row all the way around. If you get this row straight, all other rows are likely to be straight. Start with any row, and things are likely to be lopsided at the other pole.


Assuming a standard grout gap of 1/16 inch, it takes 17.5 of the 12mm (1/2-inch) tiles to go around the equator. With no grout gap, it would take 19.9 tiles. The logical thing to do is use 18 tiles and make the grout gap slightly less than 1/16 inch.


Assuming a standard grout gap of 1/32 inch, it takes 27.2 of the 8mm (5/16-inch) tiles to go around the equator. With no grout gap, it would take 29.9 tiles. The logical thing to do is use 28 tiles and make the grout gap slightly more than 1/32 inch.

Pencil and Pad

Sometimes you have to figure out how many tiles fit in a space of certain width, especially when you deviate from your patterns or things get a little “ad hoc” at one of the poles because you didn’t keep things perfectly straight or evenly spaced.

Which Size Tile?

Which size tile is best for use on our 3-inch mosaic ornament bases?

The 12mm (1/2-inch) size and 10mm (3/8-inch) size are best if you are making a bold repeating pattern. Just look at the photos of Phyllis’s ornaments if you have doubts about that and are thinking of using something larger. Much larger than 12mm, and the tiles are too wide to easily sit flat on the curved surface of the 3-inch sphere.

For making a simple bold figure on the sphere using uncut tile (something like a smiley face or an initial), the 8mm is probably the best size.

For rendering a more detailed image using cut pieces ranging in size, go with the 12mm recycled glass tile.


7 responses to “How To Efficiently Make Mosaic Christmas Ornaments”

  1. christine jeffson Avatar
    christine jeffson

    thank you for posting! i’m making ornaments using your bases as well, and i’m finding it to be an exercise in frustration (i’m new to making mosaics, however, and certainly don’t call myself an artist). i usually have more glue on my hands than on the base, the tiles slide all over the place and nothing ends up looking quite like i imagined it. hopefully phyllis’s (and your) suggestions will make ,my next attempt a little more satisfying!

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar
      Joe Moorman

      It sounds like you might be trying to re-position the ornament before things are dry enough, possibly applying too much glue.

  2. Phyllis Avatar

    I found rubbing a very light Weldbond base coat on the ornaments using my finger then allowing it to dry for 24 hours allowed the ‘base’ layer to thoroughly dry. By working on multiple ornaments, I was able to position a few tiles then move to the next ornament. By the time I got back to the first one, enough time had passed to allow the glue to set up and I didn’t have too much slip problem. Of course, if you look (not even too closely) you’ll see several of my tiles have slipped just a bit out of position. I also live in the high desert (NM) and we have very low humidity so things here do tend to dry very quickly (which can also create positioning problems). Reduce the glue on each tile just a bit and let time be your friend. Good luck and keep at it!

  3. Elaine Mellenbruch Avatar
    Elaine Mellenbruch

    I am actually going to try a 2-dimensional ornament so the light can shine through on the tree. It will also be easier to apply to the glass will not slide while glueing.

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar
      Joe Moorman

      It’s fairly easy to glue tiles to a round ornament without slipping. If you ever have trouble with slipping, merely allow the glue to get slightly tacky before pressing on the tile.

  4. Frankie Avatar

    Hi there. Lovely ornaments! !! What is the color number / brand of the larger blue tiles in the middle ornament? I recognize the smaller blue but am not sure of the larger. Tyvm frankie some what regular customer who loves your blogs and the education I have received from them.

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar
      Joe Moorman

      Hi Frankie,

      I am not sure if that photo has been color calibrated, and blues and green are notoriously difficult to photograph reliably.
      I would guess that it is this color.

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