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Papier-Mache Decorations

Martha Stewart Living, October 2001

On the evening of October 31st, the encroaching darkness is traditionally held at bay by the light of glimmering jack-o'-lanterns. While they illuminate the night's festivities, they do little to stave off the chill in the autumn air. More often, they enhance the chills that run down our spines.

This year, we've assembled a host of glowing forms that blend Halloween's enduring emblems -- grinning "jacks," black cats, ghastly specters, grim skulls -- with the ethereal qualities of paper lanterns. These diaphanous decorations are made by using simple papier-mache and decoupage techniques. Inflated balloons serve as forms for translucent layers of tissue paper bound together with wheat paste. For most of these projects we used 1/4-inch-wide strips of the tissue paper and several sizes of balloons, from the large birthday-party variety to the smaller ones sometimes sold for use as water balloons. To prevent the tissue from discoloring the work surface or sticking to it, we suggest resting balloons on the mouth of a jar as you work. When the tissue dries, the balloons are popped and the results "carved." Begin by penciling in any guidelines. Next, use a utility knife to start cutting out the features and then switch to small manicure or sewing scissors, which work well within the tight curves of the rounded forms.

The jack-o'-lanterns' lights are battery-powered and are secured to the display surface with a walnut-size piece of modeling clay; these decorations, which have holes in their bases, are lowered over the lights. For the smallest lamps, we used votive candles. If you use candles, make sure the opening at the top of the lantern is wide enough so that paper cannot come into contact with the flame. Keep a close watch on candles and on children. To make the projects on the next few pages, follow the basic steps outlined at right.

The stairway in an entry hall is an appropriate spot to display graduated sizes of handmade paper jack-o'-lanterns. For safety, these beaming faces are lit from within by battery-powered lights. A single sheet of tissue pasted inside diffuses the light and hides the working parts.

Papier-Mache Decorations: Tools and Materials
Papier-Mache Decorations: Shaping and Pasting
Papier-Mache Decorations: Drying
Papier-Mache Decorations: Finishing Touches
Papier-Mache Decorations: Chandelier Shades and Party Favors
Papier-Mache Decorations: Glowing Skull
Papier-Mache Decorations: Floating Ghosts
Papier-Mache Decorations: Black Cats

Comments (7)

  • 8 Oct, 2008

    An alturnitive to wheat paste that's not milky is potatoe starch it dries clear and works the same way. just you would mix it 4-6 parts water to 1 part starch and cook the same {use moreor less starch depending on how thick you want it...it works best when still very warm, it won't be jell like than} I have used corn starch but its not as clear but still far beter than a wheat paste. The starch paste dries faster as well.

  • 2 Oct, 2008

    A 1/4 inch is a little small, maybe they mean 1 1/4 in. I used crepe paper streamers instead of tissue paper, and it worked just fine. Although, the wheat paste made them look really milky, so when they dried, I used orange spray paint on them.

  • 20 Sep, 2008

    What is wheat paste? And where do you find it?

  • 10 Sep, 2008

    I'm so excited, I'm definately going to do this project with my kids for halloween this year. Can't wait.

  • 31 Aug, 2008

    I think this is a really great idea. You could also use the pumpkins to decorate for fall. Just turn them around so the face is towards the wall and do not illuminate it. They are sure to perk up any little spot in your home.

  • 17 Jan, 2008

    They remind me of the papier-mache jack-o-lanterns my brother and I had as children. I'm going to make them for next Halloween, for sure.

  • 7 Nov, 2007

    These jack-o-lanterns were so much fun to make. I felt like I was in grade school again! :) And best of all, if you look after them you can reuse them year after year. I had them scattered throughout my apartment for my last Halloween party and it created a great ambience.