It’s messy! I lay down a cheap plastic tablecloth first, and always have a couple sheets of moist paper towel on hand. There are many different recipes for papier mâché. Some boil the flour and water mixture, some use white glue instead of flour, and some even use laundry starch. I just mix flour and water and don’t heat it.
Most online papier mâché recipes say to mix the flour and water in a one-to-one ratio, but I like to use slightly more flour than water – a little less than 1¼ cups of flour for every cup of water. But I don’t measure exactly, I just keep adding flour until I like the consistency. Some people also add a few tablespoons of salt to the mix to help keep bugs away. I recently started adding salt to my papier mâché mix after I had a couple piñatas get infested with drugstore beetles, but it’s too early for me to say how effective the salt is at keeping them out.
Pour the water into a bowl with gently sloping sides – bowls with steep sides are harder to work in – then mix in the flour a little at a time. I use a whisk to mix it.
When the lumps are all gone, you’re good to go. The mixture should have a consistency about like pancake batter.
The newspaper strips are all torn and ready to go. I usually tear my newspaper strips about 1½ to 2 inches wide, but will use wider or narrower strips depending on the size and shape of the piñata. The newspaper-wrapped balloon is sitting on a bowl to prevent it from rolling around.
Dip one side of the newspaper strip into the papier mâché…
…then turn it over and wet the other side as well.
Wipe off the excess papier mâché by pulling the strip between your first and second finger.
Lay the newspaper strip across your balloon…
…and smooth it down. Now you’re ready for the next one.
To make wet papier mâché dry faster, set up a small fan blowing on it. Even outside in the 100 degree heat of a Texas summer, wet papier mâché dries a lot faster with a fan blowing on it.
If you wrap your balloons in newspaper first, it usually takes two layers of papier mâché before the walls are thick enough that the balloon can be removed. Depending on the ages of the kids who will be breaking it, two or three layers of papier mâché altogether is usually about right.
If you don’t wrap the balloons first it takes three or four layers of papier mâché before the walls can support themselves. Large punch balls require more layers before they can support their weight. Wrapping the balloon in newspaper first gives you a bumpier surface, but if you’re decorating with crepe paper, it gets covered up. If you’re going to paint your piñata, you’ll get a smoother surface by laying the papier mâché strips directly on the balloon.
If you accidentally make the walls of the piñata too thick for the kids to break through, just weaken the walls by stabbing or scoring them with a knife before decorating. This almost always happens with large piñatas because it takes so many layers just to get a punch ball to hold its shape.
When I have extra papier mâché mix that I plan to use later, I put it in the refrigerator to prevent it from fermenting.
For everything you ever wanted to know about papier mâché, visit Jonni Good’s web site Ultimate Paper Mache.