“Papier-mâché? What is pah-pee-ay mah-shay?” –George Costanza
How to Make Paper Mache
Paper mache is a crafting material made from simple ingredients most people have lying around the house. Paper mache is an easily molded, air drying, paper based material that can be used to make all kinds of cool stuff. It’s been used in many cultures for hundreds of years. You can use paper mache to make masks, piñatas, small decorative items, and bowls or plates.
Types of Paper Mache
The two main types of paper mache have different uses, but they’re made from the same basic materials.
The first type of paper mache is “layering” or “strip” paper mache, which is better for building large objects that may be hollow, or items that need more structural integrity.
The second type of paper mache is “pulp” paper mache, which can be pressed in a mold or hand shaped. Pulp paper mache is weaker and should only be used for small, solid objects. Pulp paper mache can be quicker to use and offers more details than strip paper mache, but it takes longer to dry and is more prone to crumbling or cracking.
Making Stip Paper Mache Items
To make an item from strip paper mache, such as a mask or decorative bowl, start by combining one part flour with three parts water. Stir until completely smooth. This is the paper mache paste, which is the adhesive that will hold the paper together. For a stronger bond, you can heat the paste on a stove top on very low heat until boiling, stirring constantly. Add a drop of bleach, wintergreen oil, or clove oil to keep bacteria and mold from developing.
You will also need a lot of old paper to tear up. Newspaper is the best choice, due to the length of the paper fibers, but you can use any non-glossy paper. Tear your paper into strips in a variety of lengths, between 3 inches and 8 inches long, and about an inch wide. If you are making a small or large item, alter the size of the strips accordingly.
Do not cut the paper, even if it would take less time. The torn edges of the strips are key in creating a strong bond in your paper mache creation.
A frame or support is needed for most paper mache items. If you are making a mask, you can use your face or a friend’s face as the base, or a fully inflated balloon. Cans, cardboard boxes, and other discarded materials all make perfect frames for a paper mache item, and are easily removed once the item is dry.
If you have a specific design in mind, you may want to buy a sheet of armature mesh, which is a fine mesh that is used for making frames for molded items. It can be shaped in any way you please, and will hold that shape as you apply the paper mache.
Remember that not every detail has to be present in the frame you are using. It is easy to add specific details or designs with extra paper mache, instead of trying to make an overly complicated frame.
Making Pulp Paper Mache
To make paper mache pulp, you need to soak your newspaper until it’s melted into a smooth pulp. Start by tearing the paper into small pieces, and placing them in a large bowl. Fill the bowl with warm water and let it stand overnight. By morning, the paper should be saturated enough to be squeezed and mixed by hand into a smooth pulp. If it still has lumps, let it soak a few more hours. If you don’t want to wait, you can boil the water and paper mixer until it is nearly broken down, and then run it through a food processor or blender.
Once the mixture is smooth, strain out as much water as possible, and add a small amount of white glue or paper mache paste. Mix, and add more adhesive until the mixture is the consistency of soft clay. Now the paper mache pulp can be molded by hand, pressed in a preexisting mold, or shaped onto a frame. You can also use paper mache pulp to add details, such as a nose or lips to a mask, on a paper mache item made using the layering method.
Paper mache is a fun crafting material and is safe enough for everyone to use. Children love making masks or small objects from it, and it’s easy to make using materials you already have at home. Finished objects can be painted with any craft paint, and sealed with a simple acrylic sealant. Paper mache is durable and holds up to years of gentle use.