Elegant Paper Mache with Kayte Terry

Posted by on Aug 21, 2012

Print this Post


Paper mache boasts a long history of helping us complete school projects and Halloween costumes, but this classic technique deserves more than the backwater attention the craft world seems to give it. Kayte Terry, author of "Paper Made: 101 Exceptional Projects to Make Out of Everyday Paper," (Workman) helps us transform this kid-friendly craft into something a little more high end.

paper mache wrapping paper bowls
Some might remember paper mache from kindergarten and think "childish." What do you say to that?

Did you know that a lot of Mardi Gras floats are made with paper mache? Paper mache was also a popular and less expensive alternative to plaster in the 1700s, used for chair backs, trays and ornamental molding in homes! For a store display, I once covered an entire room in a layer of paper mache!

I think there are a lot of basic techniques we learn as children, like origami, paper cutting and yes, paper mache, that can also be used to make incredibly complex art and craft. That's why I like paper craft so much! You can be a complete beginner or an expert and still enjoy making something.

What's your favorite paper mache recipe?

I am very happy with the simple recipe of  "1 part flour, 2 parts water, mixed well so there are no lumps." I always have flour and water!

What trends are you seeing in paper mache crafts?

I've noticed a lot of "taxidermy" style paper mache heads lately. I love these and they are so much fun to make. And pinatas. So many pinatas!
paper mache cow
Which tools are essential to make paper mache, and which ones are just nice to have?

There are so few tools for making paper mache, that's why it's such a fun craft for everyone to try. All you really need is a form for whatever you are building (balloons, balled-up newspaper and tape, chicken wire and Styrofoam make great forms), paper (newsprint, old book pages or tissue paper are great for paper mache), and paste!

After your form is dry, you can paint on it, cover it with other papers or leave your form as is. A "nice-to-have" supply for pieces that will get more wear and tear is gesso or mod podge. All you need to do is paint a couple of coats onto your form and your paper mache piece will last forever! Another fun trick to try is mixing glitter into your paste for a little sparkle.

Any common mistakes people make with paper mache?

I think patience is a major virtue with paper mache. You really need to wait for each layer to dry before moving on to the next one! Also, if you are making a large paper mache piece, make sure your structure is sound. Larger, 3-D pieces like animals, puppets and sculptures might need dowels or pipe to stand the test of time. These are pretty advanced techniques, but if you're going to go there, you certainly want all your hard work to pay off!

And one last thing that I can't stress enough: paper mache is a messy job so please protect your work surface and your clothing. It's a completely non-toxic job, so no need to worry about that but you will get dirty!
cover of Paper Made
Kayte Terry is the author of "Paper Made: 101 Exceptional Projects to Make Out of Everyday Paper," published by Workman Publishing.

Image credits (from top): Kayte Terry, Kayte Terry and Flickr.com/bacondog

kayte terry
Do you have a question for Kayte?

You can ask here in the comments or via Facebook or Twitter. If you have a question about a specific item, you can email us an image at info@craftfoxes.com.

Log-in to Post a Comment: Craftfoxes shadow Google shadow


(1 comment)
  • by andrew dewar
    User profile
    andrew dewar

    I used to make puppets with papier mache -- heads and hands of paper, and simple sewn robes to join them. Then an cardboard box for a theatre, and a family audience. Lots of fun. Definitely an interesting medium with lots of possibilities. Thanks for reminding me!