Papier-mâché – Home artisanal crafts on a budget

A few weeks into responsibly self-isolating, cooking’s become a bore and that box of wine has lost its shine. The kids are asking for access to video games or to go outside to play. The television may hold less charm than it once did, yet it’s time to turn to a classic television show for inspiration.

The BBC’s children’s show ‘Blue Peter’ inspired children to invent, play, and make. With the line, “And here’s one I made earlier,” presenters produced decorative handicrafts while viewers followed the steps to create their own.

The segment encouraged parents and children to get creative with common household goods like toilet rolls or washing-up liquid bottles. A low-cost craft in this ilk is papier mâché. French for ‘chewed paper’, it’s a mix of paper pieces or pulp mixed with an adhesive, like glue, starch, or wallpaper paste.

While the craft traditionally builds up layers of glue-soaked paper over a frame, you needn’t stop at paper. Craftsters use leftover brightly coloured materials, autumn leaves, fine artisanal paper, doilies, prints, and even wool to create playful or decorative objects for their home.

Without further ado, what do you need to begin? First, decide what you want to make. If you’ve never done this before, keep your design simple.

Once decided on your design, create the base. This is the shape or skeleton that you’ll build your papier mâché layers over. Chicken or garden wire are perfect for more complex shapes.

With your base set up, it’s time to make the paste. There are plenty of recipes online, but one of the most straightforward is to use wallpaper paste or PVA glue mixed with water.

Newspaper is absorbent and the best kind of paper to use. Tear sheets of newspaper into strips of about one to two centimetres wide (remember, you needn’t stop at newspaper. If you have old pieces of fabric lying around, can you transform them into something else?). Assuming you’re using newspaper, dip a single strip of newspaper into the paste until it becomes saturated.

Before applying the strip onto your base shape, run the glue-soaked newspaper strip across the edge of the bowl to scrape off the excess. Apply the layer to the base and smooth it into place. Completely cover the base shape in this way. Be sure to overlap the layers and criss-cross them, as this adds strength to the final form.

Leave to dry, then apply an additional layer. After each layer, let it dry until the piece is as strong as you need it to be. For the more ambitious pieces, try a papier mâché pulp recipe. It’s like working with clay, which allows for greater detail.

Once you’ve built up your layers, and it’s dry, it’s time to paint. Varnishing the finished product adds additional strength and longevity.

By Anna Loewy