Halloween is upon us, and that means it’s time to get the kids’ costumes ready. Maybe some of you are struggling with how to create the perfect costume that can’t be bought in stores. Maybe you need to make a full-headed mask or a large prop. Perhaps I can help. What you need is papier mache–but not the drippy, tedious kind you did in school. What you need is DIY papier mache clay.
Let’s back up a couple months to when a friend volunteered me to make a giant Horton the elephant head for a Dr. Seuss show our daughters’ dance studio was performing. The head had to be really big–large enough that it would look appropriate on a two-person elephant. One of the instructors suggested that I use papier mache and chicken wire, but the thought of cutting and sculpting chicken wire really didn’t appeal to me. I saw no way to get around the papier mache, though.
So I went to Five Below and bought a few different inflatable balls. I blew them up and decided that a small exercise ball was the way to go. But then I started the papier mache process. If you ever did this in school, you probably remember tearing up strips of newspaper, dipping them in a mixture of flour and water (or something like that) and layering it on. That works fine for something small, but I quickly realized it was going to take FOREVER to make a head as large and as sturdy as I needed, especially since you’re supposed to let the layers dry completely before adding more.
In desperation, I turned to the internet for help. That’s when I discovered the site Ultimate Paper Mache and a recipe for do-it-yourself papier mache clay. (This woman makes adorable papier mache animals—I might need to take that up as a new hobby.)
It’s really simple to make. You just need a roll of toilet paper, 1/2 cup of flour, 3/4 cup of all-purpose glue, and 1 cup of joint compound. (The recipe also calls for linseed or mineral oil, but the site says it’s optional so I didn’t use it.) You take the toilet paper off the roll and soak it in warm water, then squeeze it out. You should end up with 1 1/4 cups of toilet paper pulp. If you have more, just discard it. I used a Costco roll that gave me about double that, so I doubled the other ingredients, too, and made a jumbo batch. Tear the pulp up into 1-inch-ish pieces, add the other ingredients, and mix (I used a hand mixer). When you’re done, you’ll have a mixture the consistency of cookie dough or very thick canned frosting.
It spreads like frosting, too. I used my hands to glump some onto my existing layer of newspapers on the exercise ball, then used a frosting spreader to spread it out. Here’s the beautiful thing about the clay: Because it’s so light and airy, you can spread it up to 1/4″ thick. Do you know how long it would take to properly apply an equal amount of newspapers??? FOREVER.
The nature of the clay also makes it really easy to attach other parts. Just make sure those are made of light-weight things, too. I used a cut-up-and-repositioned heart-shaped styrofoam wreath to form the tops of Horton’s ears, and some taped up newspaper to make the trunk. To attach them, I set them in place over my existing (dried) clay, then just used more clay to hold the base of each appendage in place. I let the base dry before I finished covering the rest of the ears and trunk, just so they wouldn’t get too heavy and fall off before everything was dry.
I wound up needing several batches of clay to finish the elephant head. That included two layers plus the clay I needed to join other parts. You can keep the unused clay in the fridge, so that was handy for times when I needed a break or had to wait for things to dry. (Leave at least 24 hours for drying between layers.)
This stuff dries HARD, too. I needed to cut around the opening a little, so it wasn’t so rough, and also needed to cut a mouth opening so the person inside could see out. My husband had to use a jig saw, and it was a bit terrifying, but luckily he knew what he was doing.
I added some fabric, a little yarn, lots of paint, and a pink poofy thing, and then my elephant head was done. For as big and solid as it is, it was remarkably light. I tried the head on several times and wore it around the house a bit (because I thought it was funny) and didn’t get uncomfortable despite the size.
The clay would be fantastic for making lots of different Halloween masks or costume accessories. Heck, why not make some pumpkins to decorate your house, or a cauldron for candy? It’s not Halloween-rleated, but one of the commenters on that site’s blog was making toadstools for preschoolers to sit on. How cute would that be?
If you want your items to last, you’ll want to shellack them. Even though they dry rock-solid, they’re still mainly paper and flour. Those can break down over time, and bugs sometimes eat stuff like that. Yuck. It’s also important to note that the clay is supposed to go over a form, just like regular papier mache. It’s not intended to be used like modeling clay, although I suppose if you model in 1/4″ layers, it could work.
So go grab yourself some toilet paper and joint compound, and whip up something cool!