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Papier-Mache Decorations

Photography: Jose Manuel Picayo Rivera

Source: 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 drying, use clothespins to hang balloons from the clothesline by their knots; let them dry. When they are dry, pop each balloon with a snip of a scissors as you hold the knot. Remove the balloon through the hole around the knot. 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: 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


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