I don’t make useful things very often, but I know I’ll be using this yarn bowl for years.
In fact, I’m going to make myself a few more yarn bowls, because I’m trying to learn how to do Tunisian crochet with multiple colors of yarn, and I keep getting yarn all tangled up.
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Every winter I decide that I’m going to teach myself how to knit. My hands really don’t want to knit, so I always give up – but only after buying a few more skeins of yarn.
When I decided to learn Tunisian crochet (my hands like that much better) I rounded up all my yarn and started playing with it. You can’t let your balls of yarn roll around on the floor for the cat to play with, so they had to go in a bowl.
Pretty soon every mixing bowl in the house was out in the living room, filled with yarn. It was time to make myself a yarn bowl or two.
Watch this video to see how easy it is to make a yarn bowl with plaster cloth and paper mache clay:
(Or scroll down to see screen-shots and written instructions.)
I left my yarn bowl white this time, but I’ll probably paint my next one.
If you know anyone who knits or crochets, this would make a lovely gift, especially if you personalize it by painting it with their favorite colors – or maybe add a drawing of a kitten chasing yarn? That would be fun. 😄
I mentioned quite a few things in the video when I was making my yarn bowl, so here are the links –
If I forgot any, please let me know:
- Silky-Smooth Air Dry Clay recipe
- Paper Mache Clay recipe
- Rex’s post about making the air dry clay smooth
- Jessie’s Oil Painting Workshop – if you enjoy painting, you’ll really want to check this out. I haven’t seen anything quite like it online.
- Charlie and Grok – a story for kids
Some products I used for the Yarn Bowl (affiliate links – thanks for your support!)
- Sargent Art Plastilina Modeling Clay (any modeling clay will work, this is just the kind I had in the studio)
- Plaster Cloth
- Small Sander
Be sure to show off your yarn bowl when it’s done. I really want to see how it comes out!
How to make your yarn bowl:
(For all the details, be sure to watch the video above.)
Step 1: Draw a pattern for the curlicue that the yarn goes through. Make sure it will fit your bowl, and that it is large enough for the thickest yarn you intend to use. You can see a lot of different designs yarn bowl designs here.
Or you can trace around the curlicue in this photo of my yarn bowl. Click on the image to see it in a larger size.
Then draw another line about 1/16th of an inch outside the first line. You need some extra room for the paper mache clay (or air dry clay) that you’ll be putting on around the edges of the plaster cloth.
Step 2: Cover your mixing bowl with plastic wrap. Do a better job of taping down the wrinkles than I did – it will make the job a lot easier.
Step 3: Tape your curlicue pattern over the plastic wrap. Tape down the bottom edge so it will follow the curve of the bowl. If you paper is too thick to lay down smoothly, you may need to cut closer to the curlicue pattern than I did.
Step 4: Put your modeling clay inside the lines on your curlicue pattern. Use the outside lines, so there will be plenty of room for the paper mache clay that will be added later.
I’m using Sargent Art Plastilina Modeling Clay, but use whatever clay you happen to have on hand.
Step 5: Use a tool to make the edges of the clay nice and crisp.
Step 6: Cut or tear strips of plaster cloth. One roll should be plenty. This is sometimes called plaster gauze or plaster bandages. If you don’t have any, you can find this product in any hobby store, or you can order some online.
Step 7: I use two strips of plaster cloth at a time, and warm water. You’ll need very narrow strips for the curlicue, so it won’t get too thick. Make sure you keep the water a long way away from the unused plaster cloth, to keep it from getting wet before you’re ready to use it.
Smooth down the plaster cloth with your fingers, so the wet plaster fills in all the holes in the gauze.
If you have sensitive hands, you may want to use gloves. Plaster can dry out your skin.
Be sure to complete all the plaster cloth at one time – new wet plaster doesn’t like to stick to plaster that has already hardened, and it will get hard quite fast.
Remember that you can’t let the plaster cloth wrap around the edge of your mixing bowl. That would trap your bowl inside the plaster cloth after it gets hard. Cutting plaster cloth often leaves little strings hanging loose, so you want to avoid that if you can.
Step 8: In about half an hour you’ll be able to handle the hardened plaster cloth. Pull out the modeling clay from the yarn bowl’s curlicue.
Step 9: Mix a batch of paper mache clay and apply it in a thin layer to the outside of your yarn bowl.
If you’d like to use the air dry clay instead, be sure to read Rex’s post that shows us how to make air dry clay really smooth.
Remember to put your paper mache clay on the edges of the curlicue, too.
Step 10: When the paper mache clay has been added and you have it as smooth as you can get it, set it aside to dry.
I put mine in front of a furnace vent, and then balanced a cardboard box over it to turn the vent into a mini-convection oven. My bowl was dry enough to handle in just a few hours.
If your furnace isn’t running, just leave the bowl out on the counter overnight. It may not be dry all the way through, but it should be stiff enough to handle, so you can go on to finish the inside.
Step 11: When the bowl is dry, remove the mixing bowl, plastic wrap and curlicue pattern, and add either paper mache clay or the air dry clay to the inside.
I added more Elmer’s Glue-All to my left-over paper mache clay to make it thinner, and then use a rubber spatula to spread it over the inside of the yarn bowl. Make it as smooth as possible so you won’t have to sand it later.
I had to go back and add more paper mache clay to the edges after the inside was dry. It would save a lot of time if you do it now. I used the paper mache clay without the extra glue to clean up the top edge.
When your yarn bowl is nice and smooth and you’re happy with the way it looks, put it back in front of your furnace vent and leave it overnight. If your furnace isn’t on, a fan will help it dry. You need it to be dry all the way through, so don’t rush it.
Step 12 (optional): If needed, you can sand your bowl to make it nice and smooth. Remember to use a mask whenever sanding paper mache clay (or anything else).
Sanding will make a real mess, so do this outside or in the garage, if you can.
I used a sanding sponge for the upper edge of my bowl. I was going to use it on all of the bowl, but I remembered that my little electric sander gets the job done a lot faster.
I used this little Black and Decker detail sander the the outside and along the top edge. I used 120 grit paper. If you use an electric sander, go very slow and use a light touch. It could easily sand right down to the plaster cloth, especially if you’ve used a very thin layer of paper mache clay, like I did.
For the edges of the curlicue I used thin strips of sandpaper. Run your finger along the edge to feel for any sharp areas that might snag the yarn.
Step 13: Use two or more coats of a good artists’ varnish over the inside and outside of the bowl.
If you’d like to paint your bowl instead of leaving it the natural white, use an acrylic gesso first. When that’s dry, paint your bowl and then protect the paint with two or three coats of varnish.
Your yarn bowl is now finished. 🙂
Remember to come back and show off your yarn bowl when it’s done. We really do want to see how it comes out.
Also, if you have any ideas for how we can use this technique to make other useful items, please let us know in the comments below.
15 thoughts on “Make a Yarn Bowl with Plaster Cloth and Paper Mache Clay”
Hi Mrs Jonni, I have been watching your videos all week, looking for help with a project I’m working on. I made my own farm truck decoration out of cardboard. I then covered it with the titebond 3 mixed w/ water but then I thought that maybe I would use your paper maché clay recipe over the top of that before painting it, so that hopefully it will last for years to come. Do you think that’s a good idea or should I use the air dry clay recipe? Please help me ?
Hi Annie. The original paper mache clay has slightly more texture than the smooth air dry clay recipe, and it’s stickier. They both use the same ingredients, so it’s really up to you. I like to use a paper-thin layer of the original recipe first, let it dry, and then add fine details, if needed with the smooth air dry clay.
Hi Jonni — I’ve slowly been gathering my materials to attempt the yarn bowl. Two questions:
(1) I would happily purchase a pdf pattern for the curlique. I’m not happy with shape of curve I’ve been able to sketch out with french curve. I’m using a mixing bowl base which looks to be about the same size as yours.
(2) Would it work to pencil mark plaster cloth with the pattern of the curlique and then cut to correct shape, instead of trying to use small strips of plaster cloth to approximate the tight curves? How many layers of plastercloth should there be to form the curlique shape? Maybe 2 layers?
I did purchase your cat mask pattern but haven’t tried it yet.
Thanks for everything you do!!
Hi Carol. I didn’t keep a copy of the curlicue drawing, but that was a good idea – I wish I’d thought of it! 🙂
I updated the post to include a photo of the bowl in Step 1. If you click on the image it will come up larger, and if you right-click you can save the image to your device and then trace around the curlicue.
It might be possible to cut the plaster cloth instead of using small pieces. You may need to use some small wire cutters, because it isn’t easy to cut. If it cracks in the narrow parts, the paper mache should reinforce it reasonably well. I haven’t actually tried it that way, though. Two layers of plaster cloth should be plenty if you’re using the paper mache clay recipe to cover it.
Have fun with both your bowl and your cat. 🙂
I am not sure if this is the correct place for asking this question but here goes. I am making baby doll cradles out of cardboard and glue and paper paper mache but can’t seem to get a smooth finish. Would you suggest something I could use that would be sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of play from two and four year old grand daughters?
That’s a tough question! I use drywall joint compound to make sculptures smooth, but they’re never used as toys. I don’t think it would survive some active playtimes, and you wouldn’t want a small child to eat it, either. I do have a video about making paper strips and paste smooth. Maybe it would help.
That is a great yarn bowl. I definitely will make 1 or more. Thanks for all your generous information, it really helps me to see how to make one myself. Your are awesome Joni.
Have fun, Tracy!
I bought a porcelain boy and girl about 5” long. They are a pair, but I dropped the boy one snd broke his arm. They both are lying down on their tummies with their head on the little hand.Like babies do. Does this make since? Will I need to glue it. Or will the paper mache stick to the body while the paper mache’ is wet. . Iadopted my baby boy 54years ago and I’ve held on to them all this time. And then we adopted a little girl. If this works I will paint it with acryllic paint. I guess I would need to gesso it.
Hi Mary. I think you’ll need something like a two-part epoxy glue or super glue to put your porcelain figure back together. There is probably a way to cover the join so it doesn’t show and so it matches the glaze on the rest of the piece, but I don’t work with porcelain. You might want to do a Google search for ‘repair porcelain figurine’ to see if you can find someone who could help. Good luck with it!
Your work is so wonderful – thanks for sharing. I also have a cat, and this is a good solution to a bad problem.
As I often work with several balls of yarn at the same time, maybe it will be a good idea to create 2 or 3 curlicues to separate the yarn inside the bowl, and even create a sort of a low “partition” so that the yarn stays in place and not get entangled.
Do you think it can be done?
That’s an interesting idea! To make the partition you’d need a form of some kind. I’m trying to think of something that would work, but I haven’t come up with anything yet. If you try it, be sure to let us know how you did it. Someone on YouTube mentioned that it helps if the bottom of the yarn bowl is weighted. I think that would be easy – before adding the paper mache clay to the inside of the bowl, mix up some plaster of Paris, lay some plastic wrap in the bottom of the bowl and pour in the plaster. When it gets hard and dry the extra plastic could be cut off and the inside paper mache clay could be put right on over it. In theory, of course – I haven’t tried it yet. But it would help keep the yarn in the bowl when the cat is playing with it. 🙂
You come up with the most clever ideas! I’ve seen yarn bowls in ceramic but wondered if they ever got pulled to the floor, hence breaking it. Paper mache most likely won’t do that. Clever, clever, clever!
How did you learn of Tunisian crochet? I had to google it even though I have crocheted in the past. I agree that it is easier on the hands than knitting. Have fun and show us your finished project!( even though it is not a yarn blog!)
I’ve been binge-watching YouTube videos to learn how to do it. And I bought a couple of books. It’s easy, in theory. I tend to let my mind wander, and then I have to rip things out and start over. It’s really good exercise for the brain, though. and it’s slightly addictive! So far, the only thing I’ve made that I’m willing to keep is this hat, made with this pattern. It keeps my ears nice and warm. 🙂 The afghan in the background was made by my grandmother. BTW, are you going to get hit with the storm that’s due at the end of the week? It’s supposed to get down to -20° here. Brrrr!
That is pretty, looks warm and toasty! It better be with -20 degrees! I like the fuzzy brim.
We have been socked with snow in the past few weeks, nothing like you guys get but a lot for us. We just had a nor’easter that lasted for 3 days, then 2 days later got hit with another 8”. We are due for more starting Wednesday night, then more over the weekend. It should be fun. Last year we only got 1/2” of snow for the whole winter. It is great for my son, he does plowing. I no longer do shoveling because of the herniated discs so I feel bad for my husband who does it all. It can’t be plowed because of high stone walls. I need to save my pennies and get him a snow blower!