Are you interested in learning what is paper mache and creating something exciting? This is an easy craft that can be made by adults and children alike. It creates a firm material that can be used to cover surfaces or can be molded to form three-dimensional sculptures. You can use it to create bowls, masks, dolls, puppets, or any type of sculpture you wish to make!
What is Paper Mache? Definition
Paper mache is made of pulped or torn paper strips mixed with adhesive and pressed together. The shapes are molded when moist, then become strong and hard when dry. Its name originates from the French ‘Papier Mache ‘, which is translated as ‘chewed up paper’. Learn how to make paper mache for beginners.
What Does Paper Mache Mean & Other Names
As well as often going by its original French name, it is also referred to by any of these names: paper pulp, paper clay pulp, pulpwood, rag paper or rag pulp.
The name paper mache is generally used specifically for the craft where strips of paper are coated in adhesive and then layered over a mold or structure of some sort. Paper clay is a mixture of paper pulp with an adhesive, then used to mold or sculpture objects like a clay structure.
History Of Paper Mache
Paper mache originally came from China, where it was used to make protective helmets for warfare. From there, the technique spread to Japan and Persia. Interest then spread to the rest of the world.
Even though it has a French name, it did not emerge in France until the mid 17th century. It developed in England as a technique for making furniture, reinforced with lacquer. It was even used as a building material.
Large-scale production in Europe lasted about a hundred years, but began to decline around 1870. Even though mass production has ceased, it remains a very popular craft all over the world.
What is Paper Mache Uses
This versatile craft has many uses. It can be used to create masks, both for children and in theater. It is also used to make puppets. Paper mache is often used for carnival floats, molded over wire mesh.
As a crafter, you can use it to make things such as seedling pots; bowls; pinata; large 3-d letters and numbers; decorations such as lanterns, hearts or eggs; fake plants; vases; even chunky jewelry such as bracelets and large beads.
It can also make any form of sculpture you wish to create.
What is Paper Mache Supplies
- Basic paper - You can choose from almost any type of paper- newspaper, roller towels, crepe paper, toilet paper, tissue paper, printer paper, craft paper and so on.
- Adhesive - There are so many types of adhesive to choose from! Flour and water mix, wood glue, white or school glue, mod podge, wallpaper paste or PVA glue.
- Some Form of Base to Mold Around - For example a balloon, wire mesh, or a silicon mold. Of course, if you are making a sculpture, this is unnecessary.
- Mixing Bowl - To mix the glue.
- Whisk - To ensure a smooth adhesive.
- Salt - To prevent mold and preserve the glue mixture.
- Airtight Container - To store any excess glue or paper pulp.
Making Paper Mache
The method you choose for how to make paper mache will depend on the final use of your object. You can make it with flour, which is cheap and easy for beginners or for kid’s crafts, or with glue, which is more expensive, but stronger.
Step 1: Make The Glue
- 1 part flour, 2 parts water, Salt
- Mix flour and water until you have a smooth paste. It should be a similar consistency to pancake batter.
- Add 2 tablespoons salt, mix using a whisk. Be sure to eliminate all lumps!
- Refrigerate in a sealed container until you are ready to use it.
- 1 part white glue and 1 part water
- Mix until smooth.
- This will not stay wet as long as the flour recipe, so it should be used as quickly as possible. The objects you make with this mix will be stronger once dry than those made with flour.
Step 2: Make Strips
You can use any type of paper. Newspaper, brown kraft paper, construction paper, printer paper, paper towels, toilet paper or crepe paper.
Tear or cut your paper into strips around 1” (2.5cm) wide. This is simply an easy width to work with, they don’t have to be precise!
Step 3: Glue The Strips
Once your glue is smoothly blended, dip the strips into the adhesive. They must be completely covered with glue, but not over saturated. Slide your fingers along the paper strip to help excess glue to drip off.
Step 4: Finishing And Painting
- Place the glued strips around your mold of choice, covering the mold completely. Use multiple layers of paper, allowing it to dry between each layer. The number of layers will depend upon the strength needed in your finished object. It can be anything from around 3 layers up to around 15 layers.
- Smooth it all out carefully, and allow to dry for approximately 24 hours.
- If you want a smooth finish, gently sand it down. One it is completely dry and sanded, you can paint your object. You can use any paint that can be used on paper. Remove the dried creation carefully from its base mold.
- To finish it off and make it last longer, apply a coat of varnish or mod podge to seal it.
What is Paper Mache Projects
If you want to try this craft out, here are some simple ideas of projects to make with paper mache.
Paper Mache Volcano
Almost all of our children have needed to make a paper mache volcano as a science project at some point in their school career! You could also make a volcano as table décor for a party meal featuring hot chillis or curry!
Paper Mache Balloons
You can easily make paper mache balloons as party décor. They last a lot longer than ordinary balloons! You can also use a balloon as a mold to make anything spherical with paper mache.
Paper Mache Masks
Historically paper mache masks, were among the first paper mache creations. Make elegant eye cover type masks for a costume party or frightening Halloween masks. Masks can be made as theatrical props or simply to 'dress up'.
Paper Mache Globe
We return to school projects! Or you may want to make a paper mache globe together simply to teach your children yourself, a wonderful combination of art and geography activities.
Paper Mache Bowls
Paper mache bowls are a wonderful craft for beginners and can be made by covering a balloon.
Paper Mache Pumpkin
These paper mache pumpkins are super to make as fall décor items or to decorate your home for Halloween. They last a lot longer than fresh pumpkins too!
Paper Mache Pinata
Learn how to make a paper mache pinata with this easy tutorial. Great for home decor and kid's parties.
Trouble Shooting With Paper Mache
If you make a mistake with paper mache, it can be very unforgiving. Thin spots on your project, (which cause the object to cave in or collapse), insufficient adhesive, and painting before your creation is dry are all things to avoid. Before painting, check to see if there is any ‘give’ to the layers. If there is, it may mean that moisture is still trapped inside, so let it dry for another day or two.
If your creation breaks, and a part of the shape is damaged, fill in the space with some crumpled paper and then cover over with more strips of paper and glue.
What is Paper Mache FAQs
Can paper mache be painted?
Most certainly! To make your paper mache creation look realistic, you will need to paint it. You can use any paint that can be used to paint on paper, but acrylic paint is probably your best choice.
Can paper mache be made waterproof?
If you want your paper mache to last in an outdoor setting, you will need to take extra steps to waterproof it. You can use a waterproof glue when constructing the item, to hold the layers of paper together. You can choose a waterproof acrylic paint when painting your structure, or you can use a sealant such as varnish over your paint layer to protect it.
Can paper mache Go outside?
Just by itself, or with water based glue and paints, no. But if you make it waterproof (as explained above), it will survive outdoors. If you really want it to survive outside on a long term basis, you will need to re-apply the sealant every year.
How strong is paper mache?
It will be as strong as you care to make it! If you want a really sturdy structure, it can be made extra strong by using the following methods:
- Use a glue paste instead of flour to make the paper mache.
- Use many layers of paper to construct your item. Up to 15 layers, instead of the usual 3-4 layers.
- Paint or spray a layer of starch in between each paper layer.
- A layer of varnish over the top will also strengthen your structure.
What is the difference between paper mache and papier mache?
They are the same thing. This craft has a French name, which then evolved into the English name for ease of writing , pronunciation and spelling for English speakers.
Is paper mache just water and flour?
The glue of paper mache can be made from water and flour, but of course, you need to have the strips of paper as well!
What is the benefit of paper mache in art?
As an art medium, paper mache is inexpensive, non toxic and non hazardous. It is environmentally friendly and can be created from recycled materials and kitchen ingredients. It is also beneficial to your well being, in that as a craft it can help you relax, improve your creativity and mental agility. As a craft for children, it does all of the above as well as improving motor and sensory skills.
Is glue or flour better for making paper mache?
Generally speaking, glue is the better adhesive, as it creates a stronger, more permanent bond than flour does. It also dries clear and makes a better base for painting. Glue is also less likely to rot or grow mold over time. However, if you are wanting a quick, easy and economical craft, especially for children, flour is convenient and simple to use.
Who invented paper mache?
Paper was invented around the second century AD in China. The Chinese began using paper mache as a good way to re-use paper, which was expensive and difficult to obtain. It was introduced to Morocco and Samarkand as trade spread, and by the tenth century, it was known throughout most of Europe. The French were the first to recognize the potential of paper mache and to use it on a large scale.
Why is it called paper mache?
Paper mache literally translates to "chewed paper," "mashed paper," or "pulped paper." It derives from the French papier mache. It is thought to have received this name from French workers in London who literally chewed on paper to make pulp, but no one knows for sure!
What was paper mache used for?
It started off as a good way to make helmets. Once the French discovered it, it was ideal for making cups and snuff boxes, as well as imitating stucco and plaster work. By the late eighteenth century, it was being used to make furniture with lacquer reinforcement. It has even been used to construct boats. It was used to construct a church in Norway that stood for 37 years!
What is Paper Mache - In Conclusion
As you can see from this summary, paper mache is an extremely versatile craft, which can be used by everyone from young children all the way up to sculptural artists. It is a wonderful craft to pursue, from beginner to advanced fine artist.
You can start making it from basic kitchen ingredients, and if you enjoy it and wish to pursue it as an art form, or to make items to sell, you can move on to the more professional recipes for making paper mache. This article has only touched on the basics of this craft and what is paper mache. I hope you have fun exploring the many variations of paper mache which are available.