Working with Paper Mache

Paper Mache is a great indoor or outdoor activity.  If working with mache indoors I would recommend a protective covering over your table such as a plastic tablecloth, or garbage bags.  Outdoors, may be a bit more forgiving, but keep in mind that the paste could drip.

If you are working with children I would recommend old t-shirts, and shorts or jeans that you dont mind them getting dirty. When I was studying in school I used to have a pile of old t-shirts and button ups for working with ceramics. It was a very messy medium to work in at times, but always fun!

Supplies you’ll need:

this could be newspapers, brown paper bags, newsprint, tissue paper (if you plan to use tissue paper with color keep in mind that the color may bleed from the paper, and could add a tint of color to your paste), toilet paper, and paper towels can also be used if you want to create soft wads for making shapes.  The paper you decide to use will have to be torn or cut into strips.  The strips can be thick, thin or even into small squares. 


Next decide on a paste recipe that will work best for you.  Recipes can be found in my Paper Mache Recipe article.  For the paste you will need bowls, a mixing tool, water, and your base for the paste which could be glue, flour, or starch. 

Molds or Structures

When working with paper mache you need something to adhere the paste and paper to, to create the object.  A very popular choice is the balloon.  Depending on what you want to make you can use many different things to create what you want.  I recommend cardboard, empty paper towel, and toilet paper rolls.  Use tape to hold structures together and be sure to use enough to keep the structures from falling apart while adding the mache.  Another idea is to create support structures out of newspapers or paper wads that can also be held together with tape.  For example if you want to make an organic shape like a sphere, or an animal head.

Once you have your structure built whether it be a single balloon, or an elaborate cardboard castle, you are ready to start applying your paste mixture and paper.

The next step is to take a strip of paper and dip it into the glue mixture and with your index and middle fingers gently pull the strip between them and remove excess paste.  Apply the strip to your structure and pat it down with your fingers, making sure the strip is flat.  Depending on the size of the strip, you may get a kink or two.  Thats not a bad thing unless you want a perfectly flat strip on your structure.  Do your best to smooth it out with your fingers.  Continue to apply the strips until your structure is completely covered.

As mentioned above, toilet paper or tissue paper can be dipped in paste and wadded up to form more organic shapes.  For example, if you are creating an animal or a face then you can wad the paper towels or toilet paper to make a nose, or a variety of curvy shapes.

After you are done let your structure dry in the open air.  If the temperature of the room is cold or cool it may take a few days to dry.  In our case, we are in the midst of a heat wave so I’ve placed structures in the garage.  If you decide to work with a paste that has flour out of the bag keep in mind that it may attract critters.  Leaving it in the house may be the best solution. 

Once your structure has completely dried you may want to add more layers of mache to give it more strength.  If you feel that it is strong enough then you are ready to paint. 

I would recommend painting your structure with a white base coat.  You may want to use latex house paint, but if you are working with small children then the fumes from the paint might be harmful.  Tempera paints might be the next best solution since they are non-toxic and safe for children to use.

Have fun with it, I know my kids do!!
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4 Responses to Working with Paper Mache

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  2. I love this post on papeier mache! Very well written. Keep up the good work!

  3. Tim Charles says:

    I love doing paper mache as craft items to sell online! Nice post! I like it.

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