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Project Difficulty Level: Challenging
Making one paper mache Christmas tree ornament is fairly easy – you simply use the techniques shown for other projects on this site. Each ornament you make with torn paper and paste will be a true original, and your family will treasure it for years. Or, you could use the paper mache clay recipe to make one ornament at a time.
However, sometimes you need a lot of ornaments, and making them one at a time would take too long. In this post I’ll show you how to set up a small ‘production line’ and create multiple versions of the same design. You can use this technique to make as many ornaments as you need – to fill a whole tree, to give away as gifts, or even to sell at a craft fair.
All the other projects on this site can be made using items you probably already have on hand. Very few additional materials need to be purchased to make ordinary paper mache sculptures. However, the ornaments shown here are made using products that you can find only in an art store. They are not terribly expensive, but there is a small investment in supplies for these ornaments.
I believe the casting product we’ll be using for our paper mache ornaments was originally developed for doll-makers. The things you’ll need are:
- Super Sculpey clay, to make the original designs. (Actually, you can use any kind of clay).
- Plaster of Paris, for the molds. (You can buy it at the hardware store).
- Activa Li-Qua-Che Pourable Papier Mache, a pourable paper mache casting compound.
To begin your project, you’ll need a small box to hold your plaster mold, and a board to hold your clay models. Cut or find two boards or pieces of cardboard that are the same size. They need to be at least 1 inch wider than your biggest finished ornament.
The first board will be the bottom of your box. Cut long strips of cardboard at least 4″ wide and long enough to go around the outside of your board. Use masking tape to attach the strips to your board, creating sides. Use extra masking tape to cover any cracks or seams so the plaster can’t leak out.
Cover your second board with a piece of plastic. I used a piece of plastic cut from a tall kitchen bag. You need the plastic to be large enough so it will extend out at least 4″ beyond the edges of the board. Tuck the extra edges of the plastic under your board (you can use a piece of tape to keep it from slipping around), and then use your clay to create you models on the plastic-covered board.
When I make small items like this, I use my small wax carving tools, but you can also use common items like knives and toothpicks to work your clay. When your models are cast, the mold will capture every fine detail that you put into your model.
You can copy favorite ornaments or toys, get inspiration from antique ornaments online, or just get creative. You could even use Christmas cookie cutters to create simple shapes. Just be sure that the clay is pressed firmly on to the plastic around the edges, so the models won’t ‘float’ when plaster is poured over them.
The only rule is that there must be no undercuts. Look at your model carefully to make sure there are no undercuts, especially around the edges where the clay meets the board. Undercuts make it difficult to remove the cast paper mache.
Once you are happy with your clay ornaments, carefully pick up the board and place it in the box you created, draping the extra plastic over the sides. Use a few pieces of masking tape to keep the plastic from slipping down into the box. Make sure each ornament model in the box is centered, and not touching the sides of the box.
Now mix up some Plaster of Paris, using the instructions on the container. (If you’ve never mixed plaster before, you can use the instructions shown on this site. Pour your dry plaster into the water, allowing it to soak for a few seconds before stirring. Mix completely so there are no lumps, and make enough so the clay models will be covered by at least one inch. Slowly pour the plaster over your models. Then tap the box gently on the table to dislodge any small bubbles that may form. (If you do end up with bubbles, don’t worry – they will show up as little bumps on your cast ornament and can be easily sanded off).
Now you wait until your plaster is set. It will firm up, and then begin to get hot. After it cools down again, it should be strong enough to remove you clay models. Tip the plaster out of the box and pull the clay out of the plaster. You may need to use a tool to carefully lift up the clay from the middle of the model – you will lose your original model, but an exact duplicate can now be created with the pourable casting compound, using the mold you’ve just created. Carefully inspect your mold to make sure you didn’t miss any undercuts that would make it difficult to pull the finished ornaments out of the mold. If you find any undercuts, carefully remove them with a knife.
Allow your new plaster mold to cure overnight before using. In the meantime, you can create another batch of Sculpey models, using the board and box you used before, and make another mold.
Now mix some water and Activa Li-Qua-Che Pourable Papier Mache according to the instructions on the container. The casting compound should be about the same consistency as cream. If it’s too thick, just add water. Carefully pour it into your mold, filling each one completely. In the photo below I am pouring Li-Qua-Che into one mold, and another mold has been filled.
You will now wait for about 15 to 30 minutes while the water from the casting compound is sucked into the plaster mold, creating a ‘skin’ around the edges. You want this skin to be from 1/16th to 1/8 inch thick. If the plaster is quite dry, this process will go much faster, so be sure to check often.
Now turn the mold upside down and drain the liquid compound into the original container. If it would be easier, you can drain the compound onto a baking sheet, and then pour it into the original container. This is a little messy. Use your fingers to push all the extra compound that collects on the top of the mold back into the container – you can see in the photo below that it will collect on the mold during the pouring process, but it can be easily pushed off into the container or baking sheet.
Once the extra compound has been drained from the mold, turn the mold upside down and allow it to dry for at least 30 minutes. The amount of time it takes will depend on how dry your mold was when you started and the temperature of your room. When the compound is ready to be removed from the mold, it will shrink away from the sides of the mold, and will be firm, but still fragile. You can now pull the ornaments out of the mold and allow them to dry completely. As soon as the first batch of ornaments has been removed from the mold you can begin again.
This next step may not be needed. When the Li-Qua-Che is completely dry it is remarkably sturdy, but I still reinforce the area where I’ll be drilling a small hole for the hanger. I do this with very small bits of brown Kraft paper stuck to the back of the ornament with carpenter’s glue. You should do some experimenting on your own to see if this step is actuall needed.
You can now drill a small hole for a hanger. I used a small clay sculpting tool for this, but a toothpick might have worked, too. Just be very gentle so you don’t crack the paper mache, which is probably still rather fragile.
I painted the back of all my ornaments black, so you can’t see them when the ornaments turn around backwards on the tree. Dark green might have been better. This is entirely up to you.
And now we’re ready for the fun part! You can paint your ornaments with acrylic craft paints. Let the paint dry completely. I like to add a protective finish coat of water-based urathane varnish, or you could use a spray can of clear varnish.
The Completed Paper Mache Ornaments:
26 thoughts on “How to Make Paper Mache Ornaments – Lots of them!”
Super late comment on this article, but I wondered if you’d ever found any paper-mache slip recipe that works in the same way as Li Qua Che? I’ve not been able to find any in the uk at all, and it’d be satisfying to make it all from scratch!
Sorry, but no. I’ve tried, but I haven’t found anything that won’t stick to the bare walls of a plaster mold. I love playing with the product, though – it’s too bad they don’t sell smaller containers so people could try it out without spending so much. If you can figure it out, let us know! (I think it might have some latex in it, but that’s just a guess. Latex costs as much as the Li Qua Che, so even if that’s the secret ingredient it wouldn’t help us much.)
I tried to make the originals in Clay but didn’t work for me, now I do have originals in your Paper mache Clay, can I use that to pour the mold in Plaster of Paris? Can I reuse the Plaster of Paris mold for several copies using your paper mache clay?
The plaster will stick to the paper mache clay unless the pm clay is very well sealed, and you use a release. If there are any undercuts, you may have a hard time getting the paper mache clay out of the mold.
A plaster mold that’s sealed and used with care can make many copies before wearing out.
I have some good news, first my project looked like a failure. I had drawn the shape on card-board, sealed the holes in the cardboard just with flour and water that no plaster would seep into it. I build up the forms with your paper-mache clay since the clay didn’t get soft enough for me to work the details. When I made the plaster of paris I must have used to much water because it would not dry forever. When it was almost dry I tried to get the original out of the plaster but only the cardboard would come out because it was wet. I had sprayed the originals with Acrylic Polyurethane Varnish spray and then with Spam as Release Agent. Since I am stubborn and do not give up easily I put the form into the sun and SURPRISE, I was able to eventually pull the originals out of the form. The plaster of Paris still (after 24 hours) seems to be not hard enough and is now still baking in the Sun – I am so HAPPY!!!!!!
I have rubber molds for candies, can I use them to make paper mache ornaments and if should I first spray the mold with Cooking spray for the paper mache to not stick into the mold? Thanks!
Your rubber molds should work well with the air dry clay recipe, but they won’t work with the Li-Qua-Che product that I used for these ornaments. (I developed the air dry clay recipe several years after writing this post). If the molds are made out of silicone, you might not need oil to keep them from sticking, but do a small test first, just to make sure.
Thank you very much. Yes I am going to use your paper mache clay. Looking forward to have it all done! Love your website, getting so much inspiration and ideas from it 🙂
I don’t know if you are still interested or already know, but Li-Que-Che is currently available on Amazon.
Excellent. I really like that stuff. Hmmm – that reminds me that I have some down in the basement, and I have some plaster. Maybe I’ll make some more ornaments. 🙂
That has to be fun! I used to work in a ceramic shop when
I lived in Houston, Texas. I had access to literally thousands of molds, but I had never heard of Li-Que-Chi. If you make more, I hope you share the results with us. 😉
I will – for sure. 🙂
I would info on paper mache dolls any info will be great thank you
I’ve never made paper mache dolls, but there’s lots of information online. And there are some fabulous books about the subject, too.
what if you cant afford it? or what if you dont have clay and stuff shouldent you have other stuff than that? if so i just came to this im not done surching thogh.
thx any way.
I was wondering if you could skip the plaster of paris step? I already have plastic molds and wanted to know if you have tried that or know if it would work? I am also hopeing to reuse them if possible. Thanks! Great work by the way.
The material I used, the liquid paper mache stuff, only works in plaster of Paris molds. But you might be able to use the paper mache clay recipe with your molds, instead. It takes a bit of work to get a nice smooth finish, but you might want to try it. Then you wouldn’t have to make new molds – but I can’t guarantee that it will work, because I haven’t tried it.
these are so great my kids absolutely loved doing this and being able to paint them afterwards, thanks for the great idea and more then that sharing it.
Fantastic tutorial! I didn’t even know there was such a thing as pourable papier mache.
I love your result
Thanks, Nicole. Sadly, the Liquiche is sometimes difficult to find. Someone told me there was a fire in their factory last year, and it held up production. But if you can find it, it’s a great product when used with plaster molds.
Hi Paula. The pourable paper mache product needs to be used in plaster molds. The product is intended (I think) to replace porcelain in the making of dolls, and it hardens when the water is sucked out of the product into the plaster.
You can use regular, home-made paper mache in plastic molds, though. Just make sure to use a release so it doesn’t stick. Some people put in a layer of wet newsprint first, with no paste, to make sure it will come out when it dries.
If you try making something in a mold, let us know, OK? We’d love to see it. And you might want to watch this video of large figures being made on plaster molds – it’s quite involved, but does show the potential of this material in sculptures of all kinds.
Hi Jonni…just a note, I tried to go to your video via the link provided in your message but it goes to You Tube, indicating the video isn’t available. Yes? No? I didn’t look to see how old this post is.
oh, wow! I just now realized this post is from 2009. Sorry! The instructions are still available so thank you SO much!
Oh yes – I see now that the video is no longer online. That’s too bad, because it showed a sculptor in Mexico making big Day of the Dead statues, using plaster forms and, I think, paper and boiled wheat paste. Maybe it was cardboard. I can’t imaging why he would take it down.
great project. Have you ever used this pourable product in plastic molds? like candy molds?
Hi Jonni! Thanks for visiting me over at Surfside Serenity. Your paper mache is much different than what I will be making with the children at school. Even so you are so right it will be quite the process. I’m sure I’ll be covered in paste by the end of the afternoon. I don’t mind though as I love messy projects. Thanks for the step by step instructions you have shared for your ornaments. Maybe I’ll give it a try over winter vacation.