Mending Damaged Papier Mache

Posted by on Mar 15, 2013

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The Problem

A few days ago CraftFoxes' member Nickie Moss-Gibbons queried us about how to fix a damaged papier mache apple that had been a treasured family home decor. She writes, "I have a paper mache apple which is an exact copy of the largest apple produced on my late father-in-law's farm. Unfortunately a couple of chips came off in my recent move and I need an expert to mend it. Any ideas please? I live in South Oxfordshire but would travel to get a good job done."

The Solution

Ready to help, we reached out to former CraftFoxes' expert Carol Endler Sterbenz, author of "Homemade: The Heart and Science of Handcrafts," to solve the problem. Immediately, Carol jumped to the challenge. She writes, "Foremost, it is clear that your member's paper mache apple has a lot of sentimental value; hence, treating it oneself is probably a measure I would not advise at this time.

Paint to the Rescue

"Depending on the member's experience and skill level, it may be possible to make small repairs that camouflage the damaged areas. However, there is much that is unclear about the overall condition of the apple's surface: do the surface chips expose the underlying layer of paint, the actual raw paper, or do they expose the actual interior of the apple?

"If the missing layer is only the finishing layer (i.e. acrylic varnish), it can be touched up with a liquid finishing product that replicates the luster of the surrounding areas (i.e. high gloss or matte). If the painted layer is degraded also, fresh paint of the same shade (or as closely similar as possible) can be mixed first on a separate pallet; the test color splotches should be allowed to dry to ensure a match with the original color on the apple. (I am assuming a water-based paint, but it is possible that the original apple was painted using oil-based products.) After the paint is tested and found to match in color, it can be applied carefully with a soft-bristle watercolor brush with particular attention paid to the edges of the newly applied paint that meet the edges of the original painted surface. This may be tedious, but it is well worth the time invested.

Integral Damage

"All this said, the member's reference to 'mending' the apple, raises the question of more serious damage. Has the 'chip' exposed the hollow interior of the apple? Is there a hole? If so, this reconstruction would require re-paving the gap in the surface with new paper mache, probably narrow strips of newsprint paper (no ink) using a water-soluble glue (i.e. Elmer's), which would to cover the hole. It is essential that the glue be allowed to dry between application of paper layers before advancing to the paint and finish stages, and that the depth of the layers be even with the surrounding surface."

She also advises Nickie to reach out to university art students who might be able to help.

Do you have a craft question? Reach out to CraftFoxes by emailing us at, and we'll be happy to track down an answer.

Image credit (from top): Tammy Ward

cover of "Homemade"
Carol Endler Sterbenz is the author of "Homemade: The Heart and Science of Handcraft," published by Scribner.

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