Long associated with Mexico, pinatas actually originated in Italy, where clay pots were filled with treats and slung high above the ground to be broken with sticks. Adopted by the Spanish, the custom arrived in Mexico with the explorers, who had since begun to add color and decoration. When tissue paper became widely available during the 20th century, the pinata evolved again, incorporating more colors and designs than ever before.
Papier-mache is a popular craft technique that involves covering a form -- like a balloon or a bowl -- with strips of newspaper drenched in a simple, often homemade, paste; the paper and paste bond as they dry, forming a hard shell around the form. Try using wheat-paste powder, available at hardware and art-supply stores, instead of ordinary flour -- the resulting paste will be less prone to cracking.
Tools and Materials
Newspaper, cut into 1-by-6-inch strips
Strong white paper (20-pound copy paper works well)
Tissue paper in several colors
Rotary cutter (optional)
Self-healing mat (optional)
Large needle or piece of wire
Candy, treats, and small prizes, for stuffing
1. Inflate the balloon, and coax it into a round shape by wrapping it with cloth tape. Set it aside.
2. Make paste: In a medium bowl, mix 1 cup wheat-paste powder with 4 1/2 cups water. Dip newspaper strips one at a time into the paste, and place them on the balloon, overlapping the strips slightly, until the balloon is completely covered. Let dry overnight. Repeat this process twice more for a total of three layers.
3. Our pinata design calls for six cones; to make them, cut six sheets of strong white paper into 7-inch squares. In a well-ventilated area, spray-mount different colors of tissue paper onto the squares. Place the point of a compass at the corner of one of the squares, and mark a 6 1/2-inch arc. Trim the paper around the edge of the arc. At 1/2-inch intervals, cut 1/2-inch-deep notches into the rounded edge. Roll the paper into a cone, and glue or tape the straight edges together where they meet. Cut 1/2 inch off the tip of the cone to create an opening for streamers. Fold the notches outward, and using craft glue, adhere the cone to the pinata. Repeat with the remaining cones, gluing the first two cones at opposite ends and spacing the remaining cones evenly around the sphere's center perimeter.
4. For the fringe decoration, begin by cutting tissue paper into narrow strips about 3 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. A rotary cutter and a self-healing mat will enable you to cut through several layers of tissue at one time. Fold each strip lengthwise, creating a 1 1/2-inch strip, and cut the strip down the center from the open side, up to within 1/2 inch of the folded edge. Each strip should yield four "fringes." Starting at the bottom of the pinata, glue the strips, fringed edge up, in a tight circle. Glue a second row above the first one (the circle will be slightly larger), tucking the glued portions of the second row behind the fringe of the first. Work your way up the pinata, gluing rows of fringe in circles of increasing size. Glue a couple of rounds of tissue paper over the fringe at the top and bottom of the pinata.
5. To complete the pinata, use a utility knife to cut a small trap door near the top. Make two vertical cuts 3 inches apart, and connect them with one horizontal cut at the top to create a flap; fold the flap back. Using a piece of wire or large needle with a length of strong cord attached, punch two holes at the top of the pinata, and pull the cord through the holes. Knot the cord above the pinata, leaving enough to use for hanging.
6. For a final touch, twist 10 streamers together for each cone; apply a dab of craft glue to the twisted end, and tuck it into the small hole at the end of the cone. Repeat this for each of the cones. Fill the pinata with a selection of candy, treats, or prizes; push the flap back into place, and hang your pinata.