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Crafting With Kids Tutorial: Cheat's Papier Mache

22 January 2009

School holidays. What to do when it's too hot to do anything but stay indoors where it's cool? Or, conversely if it's too cold or wet to play outside? Craft!

This is a great technique that can be used by any child over about 4 - with some help for the younger ones from an adult. I call it cheat's papier mache because you don't have to build up layers and layers which can get tedious and boring. You skip pretty quickly to the fun part: decorating. Using fabric for the outer layer gives you lots of options with colour and pattern - especially if you have a big stash of fabric scraps like I do.

You'll need:
- Newspaper
- Fabric scraps
- Scissors
- Sticky tape
- PVA glue or glitter glue
- Paint brush

1. Start by cutting your fabric into small pieces - roughly about 2-3cm (I inch) square. If your child is making something quite small like a mouse, the size of the fabric pieces will have to be smaller too. Decide what shape you wish to make. It can be anything: an animal, a mushroom, cupcake, car, etc. Of course the younger your child the simpler the shape should be. Roxy made her first one at 4 and a simple mouse made from a single ball was perfect. This time she chose to make a heart, and I made a matryoshka doll.

2. Cut a tabloid newspaper page in quarters. (The size of your paper will depend on the size you'd like your finished piece to be.) Take one of the quarter pages and scrunch it up in a ball. Flatten it out again and then scrunch it up again. Do this a number of times until your paper softens. Finish with it rolled up in a ball. Decide how many balls to make and what size they should be to suit your project. For Roxy's heart she needed two large balls and one smaller one.

3. Cut a piece of newspaper that is big enough to wrap one of the balls up. Soften it by scrunching and flattening as before. Wrap your ball up in this piece of newspaper, squeeze the ball tightly as you are wrapping so it's pretty solid. Your aim is to have a smooth round ball, so wrap fairly neatly.

4. Use the sticky tape to secure your wrapped ball so it is smooth. Repeat steps 3 & 4 for all your balls/shapes. For the heart we made the 3rd (smaller) ball into a cone shape when it was wrapped. It will form the bottom of the heart.

5. Join all your wrapped pieces together with sticky tape to form the shape of your object.

6. Decide whether you need to fill any gaps in your shape. For the heart we wrapped a long piece of scrunched newspaper around the middle and secured it with tape.

7. Cut a piece of newspaper large enough to cover your finished shape and repeat the scrunching and flattening, wrapping and securing process (as per step 3). Now all your original pieces should be combined to form the finished shape ready for decorating.

8. Stop for lunch... It's hard work this crafting!

9. Cover your table with newspaper or a plastic sheet. Paint one side of your shape with lots of glue. Place the fabric pieces on, overlapping them and painting glue over the top. The glue dries clear and the finished piece is stronger if it has more glue on it. Roxy wanted to use glitter glue, which really added something extra (lots of sparkles!) to her finished heart. Let one side dry before you flip it over. Time for a snack now mum!

You can add detail like I did with mine by cutting shapes out of fabric - face, hair, eyes, etc - and adding them last. Set your finished piece aside to dry completely.

I love doing this as much as children seem to! It's so much fun and the results are only limited by your imagination. But start off with a simple shape and graduate to something more complicated after you've had some practice. As part of my handmade Christmas plan for this year I want to make some decorations using this method. A loop of ribbon for hanging the decoration could be secured to the newspaper shape before you stick on the fabric. Handmade hearts would also be nice for Valentine's Day, or smaller ones would be lovely for an extra personal touch when wrapping birthday presents.

If you try this tutorial I'd love to see photos of your finished masterpieces!