According to Wikipedia, paper mache, or papier-mâché, (French for chewed paper), is a composite material consisting of paper pieces or pulp, sometimes reinforced with textiles, bound with an adhesive, such as glue, starch, or wallpaper paste.
I learned how to paper mache when I was little, around 5 years old, when my oldest sister showed us how to make puppets. She took a balloon, strips of newspaper, and a flour and water mixtures.
She saturated the strips and wrapped them around a balloon she had blown up. SHe let them dry and reapplied the paper mache until the blob was thick enough to stand alone when she deflated the balloon.
She then went to work cutting out fabric and sewing the two sides together, while us kids painted the faces on the paper mache. She added yarn for hair and viola! We had puppets!
I don’t remember if we ever had a puppet show, but as a 5-year-old, I thought the idea was pretty awesome.
I brought the idea up to my 10-year-old granddaughter, Isabelle, who agreed to help me. First, we asked the rest of the grandkids what character they would like to be. The answers ranged from a ninja, to a princess, to a baby elephant (a challenge in itself).
Then we made a list of things we’d need. We bought bits of fabric and googly eyes from Create Exchange and went to work on the paper mache. We found step-by-step instructions to make paper mache online.
The process was slow and the paper strips might have been too long and wide, and maybe the balloons were too big (lesson learned), but we got the first layer on. We let it dry for a few days and applied another layer.
While the heads dried, we found a pattern online for the bodies and cut out the fabric. I showed Isabelle how to pin the two pieces together so they would be easier to sew. (She ended up putting a lot of pins in, so it took her longer to prepare the fabric than actually sew it.) She finished one set and decided that was enough for her.
The day came when it was finally time to decorate the puppets. I glued the heads to the fabric bodies with a glue gun, and used Elmer’s glue for the yarn/hair, smearing it around the head exactly where we wanted it.
After the hair dried a little, I let the kids put on the eyes and the mouths and whatever else they wanted, using Elmer’s glue. The elephant took a little more time, with the pink felt floppy ears Natalie wanted. Lennox’s ninja required a headband and mask, and Gianna’s princess needed a tiara.
After we were finished, we had to think of a story we could tell with our puppets; short and sweet, and easy to remember. All the puppets had a part, even the baby elephant, who carried the ninja to the tower where the princess was held captive by the evil “other-mother” (according to Natalie).
Everyone had a lot of fun, and though it was a lot of work, the memories we made will last a lifetime.