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Papier-Mâché : History and Technique

Guess what exquisite Palekh boxes, theatrical props, party Piñatas, and body armor of ancient Chinese warriors have in common?


Yes, all are prepared using a variety of paper and carton, and implementing different papier-mâché techniques.

Let’s learn to make masterpieces from recycled materials - while saving the world!


The first known manufactured products using the papier-mâché (french for “chewed paper”) technique are body armor of Chinese warriors of the Han Dynasty in about 220BC. Made from paper, though impregnated with resin or shellac, the helmets and breastplates were light, yet so rugged that they withstood the blows from swords and were a reliable protection from arrows.

First decor items made from papier-mâché can be traced back to Persia, and the first masks to Japan. And in medieval Europe, France commenced sculpting theater props, masks, dolls, etc. using the newly fashionable “chewed paper” method.


The plasticity of the material, the simplicity of the technique, and the durability and quality of the finished product allow for production beyond masks, theater props, and project models; this technique has resulted in striking lampshades, creative furniture, and intricate plasterwork. The technique's affordability makes it perfect for modelling and experimentation, and its' versatility surrenders to unique processes.


Under the umbrella name, papier-mâché, are hiding several techniques:

  • Pulp

  • Strip

  • Modelling and presswork

Despite the difference in approaches, the principle remains the same - paper and carton combined with a bonding component such as glue, starch, or gypsum (Plaster of Paris). Each approach has its own characteristics making it more, or less suitable for a particular product.


The main ingredient - paper or carton - can be sourced throughout the household. (This is what Recycle Heaven looks like!) The particular paper you will choose will depend on the desired end result.

  • newspaper and toilet paper can be used in production of smaller items

  • egg cartons turn into wonderful pulp and can be used in sculpting, detailing, and plaster design work.

  • heavy pages of glossy magazines can be added to the softer paper kinds in preparation of pulp mixture.

  • carton is an essential in creating the framework in modeling and pressing techniques

Basic Recipe

for Strip Technique:

You will need:

1 cup flour

2 cups water


Strips of paper

Mix flour with water slowly over low heat while stirring continuously until the mixture is well mixed and smooth. Use as glue over the strips of paper.

for Pulp Technique:

You will need:

10 Egg cartons

2 glossy magazines




Rip up the egg cartons and magazines, place in a bucket with water, and leave to soak for 24 hours. Mash, blend, or mix until a dough-like consistency is achieved. Strain the mass through a cheese-cloth just enough so as not to leave it too dry.

Use this mash, or pulp, to form the desired form and leave to dry.

Tip: You can prepare a larger than required mass and simply moisten to the desired consistency when needed.

Ready Made

You can, of course, skip the process of making the pulp or glue and purchase a ready made modelling mass here .


Once your papier-mâché has dried in the desired shape, it is time to decorate it! Acrylic paint (here) is one of the best to use here; it leaves a matt finish, and is water-based and waterproof. After completion, the layers of paint can be followed up with a varnish (here).

Some other things to have fun with:

- neons

- glue and glitter

I hope to have inspired a new project in your mind with the simplicity of this centuries old "Chewed Paper" technique.


Cathy Ray


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