Monday, December 2, 2013

Papier-Mâché Christmas Birds

Hi, it's Carla here, first up in the 12-day Holiday Hooplah of crafts and a prize drawing! I’m sitting here with my favorite coffee mug, the one I only break out for the holiday season.  Our Christmas decorations aren’t up yet, but I’m having fun crafting some new ones!

This year I decided to try my hand at papier-mâché ornaments — birds, to be specific.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember doing papier-mâché as a kid.  After this project, though, I can see why it’s a kid-friendly craft!  Whether you spell it “paper mache,” or, like the French, “papier-mâché,” it’s a messy, fun way to spend a wintry day.

Here's a peek at what I made!

After researching various techniques for papier-mâché, I found that some required ingredients, like joint compound and clove oil (clove oil?!), that I don't happen to have lying around the house.  I chose a technique that didn’t require a special trip to the hardware store or even the craft store (on second thought, I’m not sure I *need* a special reason for the latter!).

By the way, my apologies for the wonky formatting below.  I've done my best, but now I want to make sure I share this project with you!

Papier-Mâché Christmas Birds

You will need:

To make birds:
  • Newspaper
  • Masking tape
  • Wooden skewers
  • Flour
  • Water
  • Decoupage glue
To decorate birds:
  • Acrylic paint 
  • Foam brush
  • Patterned paper
  • Small buttons
  • Newspaper
  • Black glitter glue
  • Ribbon
  • Craft wire
For each bird, wad up a piece of newspaper for the body, and a smaller piece for the head.  The size of the newspaper depends on the size you’d like your bird to be.  Try half a page for the body, and a quarter of a page for the head.  Wrap each piece in masking tape, then tape the two pieces together for the bird form.  Make sure the tape completely covers the newspaper.  Mold the bird to the shape you like, adding more newspaper as desired and covering with tape.  Create tail and beak forms with additional folded tape.  

Insert a skewer into the bottom of the bird and up through the top.  This will make the bird easier to work with.  (This can also be done after applying the papier-mâché.)  

By the way, I think “skewers” is one of those words like “drawers.”  Some people just say it really funny (coughcoughLenoreBremner coughcough)!

I used two methods for my papier-mâché.  Both worked equally well and yielded similar results.

Option 1.  Mix flour and water in about a 2:1 ratio.  This is not an exact science, so don’t worry about measuring.  I find mixing is easiest if you add the flour and water to a jar, cover it securely with a lid, and shake it.  That’s how I make a slurry for thickening sauces when cooking, and it works like a charm.  Adjust the mixture until it's a thick liquid, about the consistency of heavy cream.  Adding a bit of salt to this mixture is supposed to reduce the chances of mold.  The mixture dries quickly enough when applied, but I figured the salt couldn’t hurt.  Some recipes also call for adding white glue, but my project worked fine without it.

Option 2.  Skip the flour mixture and use decoupage glue or diluted white Elmer’s glue (PVA glue) instead.

Tear newspaper into strips.  Working one strip at a time, coat the strip with the flour mixture or glue and adhere to the bird form.  Continue until bird is completely covered.  Fill out any indentations by pressing a folded strip of glue-coated newspaper into the divot, then adhering another strip over it.  

If you haven't already inserted the skewer, do so now.  Stand up skewer in a jar filled with beans, marbles, or something similar.  Allow to dry overnight.

Now comes the fun part — decorating your bird!  The options are pretty much endless, but here are three examples of what you can do.

1. Paint.  If you choose to paint your bird, first apply a layer of gesso.  This will keep your colors bright and prevent the paint from soaking into the newspaper, especially if you used the flour mixture.  Apply the gesso like paint, using a foam or bristle brush.  When it’s dry (maybe 15 minutes later), you’re ready to paint.  I added polka dots with a rounded brush, and a contrasting ribbon around the neck.  Tip:  Remove wrinkles from ribbon with a curling iron.  I keep one in my craft room for this purpose.

2. Decoupage with patterned paper.  Tear holiday-themed patterned paper into pieces, roughly 1in square.  Coat each piece with decoupage glue and adhere to bird, pressing firmly around the edges so they lie flat.  Tear additional pieces for wings and glue them on.  I added small buttons for eyes, and adhesive crochet trim to the tail and wings.

3. Decoupage with book pages.  Old books are great fun to work with.  Here I punched lots of squares from a few pages, then decoupaged the pieces as in option 2 above.  For the wings and beak, dilute a small amount of paint in water to create a color wash.  Brush the wash onto a torn-out book page.  Draw a pattern for the wings.  When the page is dry, cut two wings, plus a small strip for the beak.  Decoupage the wings to the bird.  Wrap the small strip around the beak, trim as necessary, and then decoupage it on.  Tie a thin metallic ribbon around the neck.  Add tiny dots of black glitter glue for the eyes, and allow to dry.

What can you do with these birds?  Here are a few ideas:
  • Make a hanging ornament, as I did with the patterned-paper bird.  Tape a piece of craft wire to the wooden skewer before inserting it into the bird.  Loop the top and tape it firmly to the bird before adding papier-mâché. From the wire dangling below the bird, add a papier-mâché charm or a bead.
  • Use as a pick.  Add it to a poinsettia plant and present as a hostess gift.
  • Add as the final touch to a gift wrap.
  • String them on a garland.
  • Sit one on top of a topiary for a partridge in a pear tree.
How would you decorate the birds?  How would you use them?

Happy Holidays!  Don’t forget to leave a note below and read the details at this link to enter our drawing for a box jam-packed full of crafty treats



  1. these are adorable! perhaps...maybe...a touch of glitter!

  2. Your birds are lovely, and I love your alternative use for the curling iron.

  3. Wow!! You really took on a hard project here! Now it makes me want to try! Thanks for the inspiration and tutorial! ;)

  4. Those are adorable. A cute project to do this Christmas break

  5. Thanks for your kind comments! I agree with Teresa, a touch of glitter would be great on these birds.

  6. This project really brought me back... I remember covering balloons with paper mache back in junior high. My sister and I would make decorations for Halloween and birthday parties this way. I remember the fun of popping the balloon after the glue had dried. Sometimes we would make pinatas this way. Until now I had forgotten about this method. Thanks!

  7. beautiful, we make pinatas with baloons and the flower glue and newspapers, this reminded me of our festive pinatas we made as a family when I was a kid. thanks for bringing back memories with such a cute bird project.

  8. Cute birds - I might add a little glitter or bling and put them on the Christmas tree.
    isoscia at aol dot com

  9. I remember doing paper mache w/ my daughter when she was young. It certainly didn't look as gorgeous as your li'l birds, tho! TFS and bringing those memories back for me!! :-)

  10. Mess but very cute, makes great decoration for a shower or garden party too. Thanks for sharing and have a blessed day,
    ♥ Scrapbook Blessings Club DT ♥
    ♥ A Working Mom's Joy ♥

  11. OMG That´s so cute!! i love the birds and the technique is so cool! =D

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