Making crafts is a delightful pastime, and many people appreciate the opportunity to make art from the comfort of their own home. One of the easiest crafts to make is paper mache, which has a history that dates back thousands of years, and you can make it with ingredients you already have on hand!
So, what’s the difference between using glue or flour with paper mache? The biggest differences are that flour based paper mache paste may mold, and it goes on white, rather than clear. Glue based paste tends to be stronger, more durable, and can sometimes dry clear.
It can be hard to decide what to make paper mache out of, but this craft can be quite inexpensive to try. Why not whip up a batch of paste out of both flour and Elmer’s glue and see which you prefer.
A Brief History of Paper Mache
The history of paper mache is a long and fascinating one. Paper mache, also known by the French term papier mache, probably originated in China, thousands of years ago.
One of the earliest examples of paper mache was during the Han Dynasty, when the art of paper mache was used to make helmets. These were hardened with lacquer to solidify the material and create a rather difficult to destroy object.
Over time, paper mache based items were imported elsewhere in the world, first to Japan and Persia and later to Europe. As interest in these items grew, Europeans began to make their own items.
French papier mache work in the 17th and 18th centuries helped to popularize the craft in Europe and elsewhere in more modern times, and this is where we get the name in English.
Some of the items created with paper mache or paper mache-like methods were:
- Caskets in ancient Egypt
- Masks in Italy
- Lacquer pots from Japan (and later Europe)
Today paper mache is commonly used for theatre pieces when not a part of children’s art curricula. While you are able to construct pieces such as rocks and trees out of paper mache, they are much lighter and easier to move than the real thing. Paper mache also adds a layer of interest to masks.
Working With Paper Mache
Regardless of which type of paste material you use to create your paper mache projects, you will need to utilize a paper product.
The most commonly used paper is newspaper. This has the distinct advantages of being inexpensive, porous, and flexible, while still remaining strong.
Other papers you can use include floral tissue paper and rice paper. Some people even use blue shop towels as their medium of choice.
You are going to want to avoid using regular printer paper, which features fibers that are packed too closely together. Magazine paper has a shiny finish, which also makes this a less than ideal choice. These papers may produce a lumpy shape and cause your project to lack structural integrity.
You will also need an object to paper mache over. This can be as simple as a balloon or a household object such as a bowl. Wrap a layer of plastic wrap around the object to make your paper mache easier to remove when you are done and the project has dried.
Glue Based Paper Mache Paste
Glue is commonly used as a base for paper mache. People use a variety of glue adhesives, even including wallpaper paste. The best glues for paper mache, however, are wood glue or all purpose white glue, such as Elmer’s.
For many people, this is one of the easiest ways to mix up paper mache paste. It has the added advantage of being stable for long periods of time.
While you can mix it up immediately before working on it, if you are planning on making a lot of paper mache, you can mix up a batch of glue based paste, and it will keep for days.
To make your glue based paper mache paste, follow the easy steps below:
- Take a container such as a clean bowl. You might consider a disposable dish because if the paste dries in the container, it will be incredibly difficult to remove.
- Mix equal amounts of glue and water to your bowl and mix well.
- Begin making your paper mache project. When you are done, you will want to allow your project plenty of time to air dry, often 8 to 12 hours.
Many pro paper mache makers use Elmer’s Art Paste, which features a special material, methyl-cellulose. This product helps paper mache projects stand the test of time.
When using Elmer’s Art Paste, you are going to want to follow the directions on the package. A little goes a long way here: a small 2 ounce container will make you a full gallon of paste. This material is safe for kids and non-toxic, so you don’t need to worry about little ones around it!
Flour Based Paper Mache Paste
If you want to work on some paper mache and don’t have any glue handy, you can still make projects if you have flour.
There are two major options for making paper mache paste out of flour: you can cook it or make a raw paste.
Raw Flour-Based Paste
The easiest way to make a flour based paste is to make it raw.
While you still want to use it and clean out your bowl before it has time to harden, a disposable dish may make your life easier. Consider old yogurt or whipped topping containers that you have washed out.
To make up an uncooked flour based paste, use these steps:
- Get a container with hot water straight from the tap. You don’t need to worry about boiling the water on the stove first. While this is more child-friendly than cooking your paste, you are going to want to be careful with small children while you mix this.
- In a container, mix water into your flour until you reach the consistency you would like to work with. Many people suggest equal amounts of hot water and flour. Stir until it is mixed smoothly.
- Begin to work on your paper mache once the mixture has cooled slightly and is easy to work with.
Keep in mind that some people do not even worry about the temperature of the water, which can make this even easier for small children who want to be involved. Warmer water will help your flour dissolve easier, however.
“Cooked” Flour-Based Paste
To make a “cooked” flour based paper mache paste, you will need the same ingredients, plus a saucepan:
- Mix together 1 cup of water with 2 tablespoons of flour. Whisk the mixture until it is free of lumps and an even consistency.
- Heat the water and flour mixture on the stove in a saucepan. Stir it constantly as you bring the mixture to a boil. Once the mixture starts to bubble, remove it from the heat. At this stage, it should be clear.
- Allow the cooked water and flour mixture to cool. As it cools it will thicken in consistency to a more gel like texture. This will go onto your projects smooth and clear.
By the way, you won’t be able to make up a flour based paper mache paste and use it for multiple sessions. After a few hours, it starts to break down; fungal organisms such as yeast will be attracted to the paste and start to feed on it. The paste will lose its sticky properties and it can even start to molder.
A Summary of the Differences in Pastes
Now that you know how to make the different types of paste for your paper mache projects, it’s time to understand what the major differences are. This can help you decide which option will be better for you and your family.
- First of all, glue based paper mache pastes are gluten free and generally safe to ingest. While we don’t recommend eating the paste mixture, some kids may lick fingers absentmindedly when you don’t notice. Too much flour could cause an upset stomach, but if your child accidentally ingests a little, there should be no cause for concern. If anyone is sensitive to gluten, a kid-friendly adhesive may be the route you want to take.
- A major difference in glue and flour based adhesives is how they dry. Glue tends to dry clear, which is great for most projects. In contrast, flour paste dries in a thick, white consistency, rather than leaving you with a clear finish. The exception is if you make “cooked” flour and water paste, which will be clear.
- Another major difference is that flour based paper mache pastes can molder and rot. This is no good if you are trying to make a project that is going to last for many years. As the paste attracts fungal organisms, especially when thick layers slowly dry, it may also smell.
- Glue based paper mache pastes tend to dry evenly and well, even if the environment is hot and humid. In contrast, the flour based pastes may take longer to dry and can go bad before they dry completely.
- The texture of the paste is also a feature you need to be aware of. Glue based paste mixtures tend to be smoother than flour based pastes. Once again, if you heat up your flour based paste in a saucepan, this isn’t the case: that paste will often go on rather smoothly.
While both methods of making paper mache paste are relatively easy, for most people, using a glue based adhesive rather than flour is worth the effort in the long run.
Up Next: How to Make Paper Mache Stronger