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​How To Make Paper Mache Like A pro

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With the popularity of DIY party decorating on the rise, it’s handy to know how to make paper mache like a boss. When we speak of paper mache and parties, the project that comes to mind is the ever-popular pinata. While a candy filled orb floating in the sky is exciting enough, the uses of paper mache reach much further.

Paper mache is much bigger than you may realize

Paper mache mask

You might be tempted to think that this economical craft is just a trendy way to create a death star pinata for your son’s birthday party. As useful as it is to us modern folk, mache has a lot more history than one might think.

Paper mache is French for “chewed paper”. I suppose this is what my bored Labrador was up to when he found several hundred dollar bills in my pants pocket while I slept in one Saturday morning.

In antiquity, mache was used to make Egyptian coffins, death masks and even a modern canoe, which was used to paddle from New York to Florida in 1874.

This paper and glue concoction has even seen combat in WW2. The British would employ paper mache figures made to look like soldiers to draw sniper fire. The bullet holes in these unwilling decoys were analyzed to zero in on the position of enemy snipers.

On the lighter side of things, most of us know that mache finds its way into our celebrations in the form of carnival floats and pinatas.

Making mache

Let’s dive right into the fine art of making paper mache by first dividing it into two broad categories: The paper strip method and paper pulp method. Everything else is a variation of the two.

The paper strip method

The paper strip method of making paper mache

It is safe to say that using paper strips is often better for children who are making mache. Using paper strips is pretty simple:

  • Make your paste of choice (more on that in a minute).
  • Cut or tear paper into strips.
  • Soak them in your paste until they are saturated.
  • Place the strips on your backing structure.
  • Allow it to dry thoroughly.

The paper pulp method

For a little more effort and time invested, the paper pulp method brings your mache creations to a whole new level:

  • Soak your paper in water overnight or boil it in plenty of water until it dissolves into a pulp.
  • Drain the excess water.
  • Add your adhesive paste and mix it all together.
  • Apply the pulp mache to your backing structure or form and sculpt to your liking.

Making paper mache pulp

Making standard paste

Make paper mache paste

Of course, paper mache without the gooey paste that binds it together is not paper mache at all; That’s just called confetti or spit-wads. There are quite a few different methods for making this paste. Let’s look at a few different handy recipes.

  • Use one part flour to five parts water. Boil this mixture for three minutes. This method is pretty inexpensive.
  • For a no-boil paste, use one part flour and one part water stirred together until the consistency is smooth.
  • Take it up a notch by using three parts white glue to one part water. This is a bit more expensive but pretty simple.
  • Topping the list in the “Easy like Sunday morning” department: Run down to your local department store and buy a tub of liquid starch. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Make fast setting mache paste

Plaster of Paris

If the idea of being standard or typical does not sit well with you, then good for you. Roll up your sleeves and mix up this mache paste that is perfect for the impatient at heart.

  • ¼ cup of Elmer’s Glue-All
  • 1 tablespoon of cold water
  • 1 teaspoon of vinegar to give you a bit more working time before the plaster hardens.
  • ¼ cup of Plaster of Paris

Mix these ingredients and then get to crafting. You won’t have much time to wait before this mache paste hardens.

Show your skills with paper mache clay

This recipe comes from the paper mache guru at ultimatepapermache.com. This stuff is for making masterpieces at a whole new level.

  • Begin with a large bowl with warm water for mixing in.
  • Place 1 ¼ cups of cheap toilet paper into the warm water. Saturate the toilet paper and then remove it and squeeze the water out. At first, you will need to do an experiment to see if one standard roll is equal to 1 ¼ cups when it is wet. When performing this test, measure the toilet paper wet but squeezed out.
  • Discard the water from the bowl.
  • Place the wet paper back into the mixing bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, prepare your paste with the following ingredients: 1 cup of drywall joint compound (Do not use the DAP brand), ¾ cup of Elmer’s Glue-All, ½ cup of white flour and 2 tablespoons of mineral oil (baby oil).
  • After mixing the paste thoroughly with an electric mixer, combine it with the wet toilet paper and continue to mix it enthusiastically until it has the consistency of cookie dough.

This will make one quart of paper mache clay. You will find this recipe suitable for serious craft work. Get down with your bad self!

What to use for base materials

Using a balloon as a base shape

Since no awards are given for the heaviest craft creations, you will need to find a structure that is roughly the shape of your desired craft and add layers of paper mache on top of this base material. With a little creativity, nearly anything can be used as a base material:

  • Balloons
  • Plastic soda bottles (2 liter, 1 liter etc.)
  • Crumpled aluminum foil
  • Chicken wire
  • Crumpled newspaper
  • Small boxes
  • A cheap, inflatable bouncy ball

Get creative with these base shapes before moving to the mache application phase. Plastic soda bottles can be cut and taped into a number of different shapes that will already resemble your craft. Crumple aluminum foil and apply it to the pop bottles to perfect the shape of your base. A little effort here will significantly reduce the amount of paper mache that you will need to use.

Tips and tricks of the pros

Once you have a firm grasp on the recipe and method that you would like to make your mache with, dive into these tips to save you time, money and frustration:

  • Sometimes mache can have an odd smell to it. Add a bit of cinnamon to your mix to ensure that it does not smell bad.
  • Mold is the enemy of paper mache. To side step this common problem, keep a few things in mind:
    • Adding tea tree oil, salt or oil of cloves may help fight off mold formation.
    • Be certain that each layer of mache is allowed to dry thoroughly before applying the next one.
    • Keep in mind that new layers will slightly wet previous layers. Factor this into drying time as the combined skin gets progressively thicker.
    • As soon as the mache is completely dry, seal it with acrylic varnish.
  • If you live in a humid climate, consider adding less water to your paste mix.
  • Go to the trouble of preparing your work space with drop cloths and plastic sheeting on your craft table. Paper mache is a messy endeavor. Good preparation will make cleanup easier.
  • Tear your paper rather than cutting it. Torn edges will lie down and blend better.
  • For a stronger completed project, apply your paper strips in all directions.
  • If you boiled newspaper strips to prepare them and wound up with newspaper ink stuck to the inside of your pot, use vegetable oil to easily remove the ink.
  • Although whole wheat flour may be healthier when your Doberman eats your crafts, be sure to use white flour for mache paste. The resulting paste is much stickier.
  • Apply a maximum of four layers of mache paper at a time and let these layers dry completely before the next one is added.
  • Elmer's wood glueCreative painting can really add to you paper mache craft. Consider the following:
    • Rather than using newspaper, use white paper on the last layer of mache. This will aid in achieving a smooth looking color when you paint.
    • Paint in light coats so that the mache is not over saturated with moisture.
    • Use “crackle medium” to achieve an aged, distressed look on your crafts.
    • Why not add some tempera paint powder in with the paste intended for the last layer of mache? You will find the painting stage to be much easier.
  • Paper mache is sometimes reinforced with textiles. If the Egyptians did it, why can’t you?
  • If a rough texture is needed on your craft, mix in some sand with the paste.
  • Although more expensive, Elmer’s wood glue is better for paper mache than standard white glue. Mix standard and wood glue on larger projects to find a balance between better glue and lower cost.
  • Don’t add too many layers of paper mache to your pinata. Too many layers will certainly make for a durable pinata, but I doubt that a pinata really needs to be bulletproof.

Child breaking pinata

Now that you have been schooled in the ancient art of paper mache. Create something that is original, daring and fun! Express yourself in paper and goo and see if your audience agrees with your creative side!

Paper ache elephant


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