Blue Paper Towels for Paper Mache

Yesterday we received a comment on the paper mache halloween mask page that I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss. Diane sez:

An artist friend of mine introduced me to using blue “shop towels” on a roll for papier mache.
They’re great because they’re thick (so the work goes quicker and is stronger) and also because they’re quite supple and drapable while wet. The towels have usually been found in automotive depts and stores, but saw them the other day at my local Safeway right next to the regular paper towels. Might be fun to play around with anyway.

So naturally I had to run right to the hardware store and buy a roll. They’re a little more expensive than the cheap one-ply paper towels I’ve been using lately. However, they really are thicker, they soak up the paste in a very satisfying way, and they have no bumps like the paper towels used to sop up messes in the kitchen.

But that’s not what got me excited. The great thing (OK, two things) are that:

  • The edges blend in very well as long as you’re careful to not let the torn edges roll up, and
  • They stretch. Stretching is good because you can get them to mold around elbows and armpits, like in the photo below, without getting a lot of wrinkles. And that means you can use much bigger pieces of torn paper so your project goes faster.

I’m hooked.

This cat is still in progress, obviously. No face yet. The blue will need to be covered with gesso before the cat can get his spots or stripes (still haven’t decided) but I don’t think it will be an issue.

It was hard to find my camera to take this photo because I’ve been following my own cats around the house in the last two days, trying to convince them to do something cute so I could take their picture. And of course I set my camera down without thinking. I think I spend half my life looking for things I used just a few moments earlier and then left in some totally unreasonable spot.

All the cat photos are to help me get into the mood to create works for an art show that’s scheduled for the last week of November in Bellingham, WA. I’ll let you know more when things get finalized. If you live near B’ham I hope you can make it.

17 thoughts on “Blue Paper Towels for Paper Mache”

  1. Hi i cant find your blue towel water weight video. I believe it had a glue mix on it too. The glue was 1/2 cup glue, 1/2 pastier of pairs, 1 teaspoon vinegar and 1 tablespoon of water. what can i add to so it will not harden so fast before I use it all. Also what is the dry weight and wet weight of the blue shop towels. Thanks Mike

  2. I’ve not seen blue stretchy paper shop towels here in New Zealand, but we have baby wipes which look like they might be similar…..paper/cloth, thin, stretchy………. I use them for wiping hands and surfaces when I’m doing art projects (and they’re great, also, for removing flyspots from walls and ceilings). I’m going to wash some of the used ones and try them IN the craft projects!
    Thanks for the paper clay recipes – I’m really impatient, so they’ve made my life a lot more fun. BTW, if you use cooking oil, instead of linseed, you can dry urgent projects in a low oven (80 degrees Celcius, fanbake setting).

  3. I have a question for ya. I recently began using paper towels in addition to newspaper and postal wrapping paper in my paper mâché sculpting. I’m in the process of making a paper mâché pumpkin and the last two layers I wanted to try paper towels. I love using them. It saves so much time in applying the paper as opposed to the newspaper route. My only concern is that I applied a layer of the paper towels with glue and water paste but even after almost 24 hours the paper is still very soft. Does it ever really harden like newspaper does? I’m wondering if my paste was too thin or if I just need to wait another day or two. Any suggestions? Oh, my paste is just 2 parts glue to 1 part water and I even put the piece I’m working in in a well ventilated warm room with a fan on it. Any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance :^]

    • Hi Jeff. Since your paper towels are over some fairly robust papers, and the glue and water usually dries quite hard, it sounds like you just need to give the piece a bit more time to dry. When you add a new wet layer to dried paper mache, the water always soaks in and then has to day all the way through again. Keep an eye on it, and let us know what happens.

  4. Do you remove the armature once you’re done with mache? I’m making a doll/ marionette puppet and I’m wondering if I will need to cut it open and put it back in order to remove the center armature, or if it’s ok to leave it in.

    What do you think?

  5. Hi, Can anyone help? I’m an artist and using paper mache for the very first time. I’ve produced a male mould using timber which I’m covering in paper mache using newspaper and wall paper paste having first covered the sculpture in washing up liquid. The end result needs to be around 20mm thick. As you can imagine this is taking too long. Any ideas/suggestions please? I can’t use a pulp or clay!

    • Can you use the heavy brown paper that paper bags are made out of? I buy large rolls of it at the hardware store, and it is quite thick. Also, can you put your sculpture in front of a fan to help it dry faster? The thick paper and the fan together would help the process go more quickly.

  6. Let me tell you, I absolutely LOVE your website! I’ve been watching your videos for the past week now, and paper mache seems pretty easy! One concern. I am making a mask from the TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender called the Blue Spirit. (here is a link http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m5qjh68Peu1rw8494o1_400.jpg) Some of the crevices are very deep but are essential in keeping the detail of the mask. The crevices are between the “cheek bones” and the Eyes… When I poke the shop towels into the crevice, it seems to take up all of the space. Is there any solution? The first attempt, I think the eyes and “cheek bones” were just too close together. I was thinking of maybe using flour and water and newspaper for the first couple of layers, and then a layer or two of shop towel…? Also, would the basic flour and water recipe work well with the shop towel? Thanks!

    • Hi Tyler. What are you using for the form for your mask? If you’re using modeling clay, you can trim out some of the clay so the towels will have more room. If that isn’t possible, you could just put one layer over the crevices, if there’s room, and when the mask is dry you can reinforce those areas on the back. I’m sure the wheat paste will work with the paper towels, but I don’t know if it will be as strong as the glue and plaster paste I’ve been using for masks. By the way, did you have a chance to watch my video series about making a Pantalone mask? It might give you a few good ideas.

      • Thanks for replying, Jonni! Anyway, do you mean the face form? I am using one that I made myself. I went ahead and started and I am not having any problems with the eyes and the cheeks. I think it is very strong. I put a layer of craft foam down and used a heat gun to melt it into the form of the face, for comfort, and then I built up the cheeks and eyes and things with some extra light sculpey clay I had lying around. I cooked the clay and hot glued it to the foam and then started putting on the paper mache. And yes, I watched the Pantalone videos, thats actually how I found you in the first place. :) Also, there is a new problem I have run into. When I put down the towels, it kind of folds up and makes wrinkles all over the place. I sit and try to smooth them out, but I can never get all of them. I started sanding it, but it went through the towel and I started sanding through the craft foam… Can I make it smoother with gesso? I am not very good/familiar with paper mache.

        • Hi Tyler. I like to dampen the towels before laying them on the paste. The water helps to stretch the towels before they’re put on the form, and you end up with fewer wrinkles. Other than that, you just need to go really slowly, and tear the towels in appropriate places if they can’t lay flat.

          And yes, you can do a lot with gesso – it really helps to make paper mache smooth.

  7. Ooo! I want some! I’ll have to check this out. I, too, have been following my cats around with the camera. I’ve got quite a collection of fuzzy pictures of confused cats coming at me in a blur. Hm.

    • My cats seem to have little patience with weird human activities. Lots of irritated looks in my photos.

      One issue I’ve discovered with the blue paper towels – the thickness of them can cause lumpiness if you don’t carefully position them. But the good seems to outweigh the difficulties.

  8. Constantly looking misplaced things… I can relate!
    The kitty is looking good. I never knew about these paper towels and will check them out. Even though they are good for your work, I am thinking they might be good for cleaning up after art projects as well.


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