Papier-mâché is one of those classic crafts that shows up everywhere–even all the way back to ancient Egypt. It takes a little extra preparation beforehand and a little patience afterwards, but the results are often worth it.
Two main methods are used to prepare papier-mâché; one makes use of paper strips glued together with adhesive, and the other method uses paper pulp obtained by soaking or boiling paper to which adhesive is then added. We’ll focus on the paper strips method, since that’s the one we used. For this method, a form for support is needed on which to glue the paper strips. Reinforcements with wire, chicken wire, lightweight shapes, balloons or textiles may be needed. In our case, we used balloons to make roughly head-shaped forms.
The traditional method of making papier-mâché adhesive is to use a mixture of water and flour or other starch, mixed to the consistency of heavy cream. Other adhesives can be used if thinned to a similar texture, such as polyvinyl acetate-based glues (wood glue or, in the United States, white Elmer’s glue). Adding oil of cloves or other additives such as salt to the mixture reduces the chances of the product developing mold.
The paper is cut or torn into strips, and soaked in the paste until saturated. The saturated pieces are then placed onto the surface and allowed to dry slowly. The strips may be placed on an armature, or skeleton, often of wire mesh over a structural frame, or they can be placed on an object to create a cast. Oil or grease can be used as a release agent if needed. Once dried, the resulting material can be cut, sanded and/or painted, and waterproofed by painting with a suitable water-repelling paint. Before painting any product of papier-mâché, the glue must be fully dried, otherwise mold will form and the product will rot from the inside out.