DIY Paper Mache Pumpkins That Will Last Forever
Philip Friedman; Styling: Blake Ramsey
Pumpkins are the symbol of the season, showing up on every porch and front stoop on the block, and lending a little charm to dining tables and entryways. But to make these pumpkins truly magical, you’ll want to make them everlasting. When crafted out of paper mache—the classic process of dipping newsprint into a glue-like mixture of flour and water—pumpkins can be summoned from storage and used as decorations year after year. To set these handmade masterpieces apart from the boring pumpkin-patch variety, we decoupaged ours with paper napkins in iconic patterns. When topped off with a twisted craft paper stem and a couple gilded crepe paper leaves, they really start to come alive. Twist the stems together into a vine arrangement along a mantel or line them up on a dining table to create a DIY centerpiece for a Halloween dinner party. Go ahead, leave these pumpkins out until Thanksgiving—these enchanted gourds will never rot.
What You’ll Need:
- 12-inch balloon
- 3 rubber bands
- Blank newsprint (found at office supply stores)
- Patterned paper napkins (we found ours at Marimekko, $6 per pack)
- Clear craft glue
- Brown craft paper
- Gold crepe paper
Follow These Steps:
- Inflate a balloon about three-quarters of the way full.
- Place a rubber band around the balloon, then add a second so that the two bands form an X at the top and bottom of the pumpkin. Add a third rubber band so that all of the bands are evenly spaced and divide the balloon into segments.
- Mix equal parts flour and warm water to create the paper mache paste. Tear the newsprint into approximately 1-by-4-inch strips. Dip the strips into the flour mixture and smooth them onto the balloon. Repeat until the entire surface is covered, leaving a small hole on the opposite side of the balloon knot (this will be the bottom of the pumpkin).
- Add a second layer of paper mache. Let dry overnight, then pop the balloon.
- Cut sections from the patterned paper napkins. Decoupage the pieces onto the pumpkin surface by coating one side with glue, smoothing it onto the pumpkin, and then brushing more glue on top. Continue decorating the pumpkin as desired.
- Twist a length of craft paper to form a stem, and adhere it to the top of the pumpkin. Cut leaf shapes from the crepe paper and glue them onto the stem.
Let’s get down to business… so you want to learn how to make a paper mache pumpkin? You’ve come to the right place, so let’s get started.
Here’s what you will need to create a paper mache pumpkin:
- Newspaper & lots of it for the stuffing
- Newspaper ripped into nice even strips
- Plastic Bag (any size will do)
- Metal Coat Hanger
- Large Bowl
- Xacto Knife or Jigsaw
That’s all you need to create anything in paper mache! And you thought it was going to be hard to do. I’ll be honest with you, it is not hard at all, but it does take time…. drying time, that is.
If you are sitting here reading this post and have even slightly considered trying to make some (or one) paper mache pumpkins for yourself for Halloween or even for your Fall decor, now is the time to do something about it! Creating paper mache objects is fun and easy to do with your family and kids, but I am sure that they will get bored easily when it comes to the “drying time” in between all the layers you need to put on. I hope that I can inspire you to create your own pumpkins for Halloween, and if you do, please share with me what you have made!
Creating paper mache pumpkins is a lot of fun, especially when you start to see your pumpkin coming to life, and well, actually looking like a pumpkin. I admit it, I start one pumpkin, and right after the first layer dries, I want so badly to paint it already, but know that I am not even close to being done yet, as it has many more layers of paper mache to go before it is completed.
So you have the list of things that you need (above) to start creating your first pumpkin, so let’s begin….
THE PLASTIC BAG
Start with any sized plastic bag you wish. I have used those white tall kitchen bags, and even the large 33 gallon ones too, so it all depends on the what size of pumpkin you want to create.
Now, grab a stack of newspaper and crumble up the pages (but not too tight) and stuff them in the bag. Stuff the bag as much, or as little as you want, but your “pumpkin form” should be somewhat firm or your pumpkin shape will flatten when you start applying the paper mache. (you’ll understand this concept more clearer when it happens on one of your pumpkins!)
Once you have the bag filled with enough crumbled newspaper, you need to tie off the top of the bag. You can use the handles on the bag or just twist it at the top, or you could use twine or masking tape too.
Now that your bag is filled and the top is tied, you need to create the stem for your pumpkin. I have used a few methods for a stem, but you can be creative in this step. Take a metal clothes hanger and snip off the top part. You will now be wrapping the metal clothes hanger around the top of your pumpkin to start your stem. (you can even poke the clothes hanger into the section where you tied the bag) Form the clothes hanger now into any “stem shape” you want. I have done some nice curvy stems with a clothes hanger. Just so you know the reason you are using a clothes hanger in this step, is because it will hold its shape when you start applying the paper mache to it. (believe me, on my first pumpkin I did not use a clothes hanger in the stem and just rolled up some newspaper, dipped it in the paper mache, and thought it would keep its shape. It did not) Any questions on this part, just ask me.
Now, you have created your basic pumpkin form & the stem!
I bet you are wondering what the string was for, right? Well, the string plays an important part in your pumpkin, as it creates the natural-looking pumpkin creases. You know what I’m talking about…those nice lines that run down the side of the pumpkin!
Start by tying your end of the string to your stem. Pull the string down the side of your plastic bag (and pull kinda tight) and you will see a crease starting. Now, wrap the string up and around the other side, come up to the top (wrap it around the stem, again) and go down another side and up again, until you have created all the creases you wish on your pumpkin. Make as many as you want or just a few.
Now you have created your pumpkin creases! Congratulations! Are you excited yet?
GET READY TO PAPER MACHE
Now, it is time to start the paper maching process! Grab that large bowl, your whisk, and your bag of flour and head on over to your sink. Place your bowl in the sink, dump some flour into the bowl (you don’t have to measure the amount of flour you use) and add some water. Start whisking immediately! You want to add enough water (but slowly) to make a pancake-like thick (but not too thick) batter. Believe me, you will get better at mixing your batter with all the layers you will be adding, so don’t worry at this point, just make sure that your batter is not too thick or too watery.
Grab that huge pile of ripped up strips of newspaper because you are ready to start paper maching your pumpkin. Make sure your pumpkin is on a plastic tarp or something to cover your floor, as this part can be a bit messy.
Take one newspaper strip and lay it flat into the paper mache batter and either run the strip between your two fingers to remove the excess paper mache, or you can do what I do and run the newspaper strip up the side of the bowl and rub off the excess batter this way.
Now, just place your first batter-dipped piece of newspaper on top of your pumpkin. You need to always start at the top of your pumpkin and work your way down. Once you get one layer on the top half of your pumpkin, you need to let it dry or place it in front of a small heater like I do, to hurry along the drying process. Then, you flip your pumpkin over and paper mache the bottom half, and let the bottom half dry. Once the entire pumpkin has one layer on it, and it has dried thoroughly, you will need to add more layers.
IMPORTANT TIPS: When adding your first layer of paper mache, make sure you use your finger tips to poke your newspaper strips nicely into the creases you made with the string. This part is important as it adds character to your pumpkin.
Also, make sure you run your hand flat over each strips when applying them to squeeze out any excess paper mache batter. Always keep running a flat hand over your strips as you work your way around the pumpkin. Another good tip is to position your layers in different directions on your pumpkin, as this will add strength when it hardens.
I have had a lot of people ask me the question “How do I know if I have enough layers of paper mache on my pumpkin?” Well, that is a good question and can be easily answered. After each layer of paper mache has dried, gently push down on your pumpkin all around and if there is any “give” on the pumpkin….. it needs more layers. Your completed pumpkin should be very hard when you tap or knock on it.
CUTTING THE FACE
When you have completed your paper mache pumpkin and feel that it is hard enough with no “give” on any part of it, it is time to cut out your face.
Look at your pumpkin. Twist it around to see what side looks best to cut out a face on it. Once you find the side you like, simply draw a face on the side of your pumpkin with a pencil. Start off with a pencil so you can make changes if you don’t like what you drew, then go over your pencil marks with a Sharpie Marker when you are satisfied.
I used to cut the faces out of my pumpkin with an Xacto Knife, but ever since I have increased the layers on my pumpkins to make them thicker, I found that an Xacto Knife was too hard to use. So, I resorted to my trusty Jigsaw. On my pumpkins, I just drill a hole large enough for my Jigsaw blade to fit in. You could also use a Dremmil too if you have one to cut out the face.
Once your face is cut out, you will now need to REMOVE all of the newspaper stuffing & plastic bag from inside your pumpkin! The reason you do not remove the stuffing before is because the stuffing is holding the shape of your pumpkin. You will need to get your Xacto Knife or Jigsaw and cut a circle on the bottom of your pumpkin. This is where you will pull all of the stuffing out from. Remove all the newspaper (and keep the stuffing too, so you can use it on your next pumpkin) and carefully pull the plastic bag out too that is now stuck to the inside of your pumpkin. The string is probably stuck to the inside sides as well, and you can remove that too, but be careful when pulling this out, as you do not want to damage your pumpkin. Make sure that everything is cleaned out from the inside of your pumpkin at this point.
You will need to add more paper mache strips around the cutout face edges to finish off the edges nicely. The hole at the bottom of your pumpkin will be used to place your battery operated light inside your pumpkin after you paint it. I was going to use these small battery operated LED lights that I have, but realized that I wanted more light to make my pumpkins glow. I found a round Camping Light at the Dollar Store for $5 which has different light settings and is brighter than the other LED’s, so this is what I will be using in my pumpkins.
PAINTING THE PUMPKIN
Yeah, it’s finally time to paint your pumpkin! Congratulations! You have accomplished a lot, but have created a one-of-a-kind pumpkin that you will cherish forever!
Take your pumpkin outside for some good ventilation, and pick out the colors you want to spray paint it. TIP: I have learned from some experienced pumpkin creators, that you should spray paint the inside of your pumpkin yellow. They use yellow inside their pumpkins so when lit, it makes them glow better, but you can use orange or whatever color you choose, as this is YOUR pumpkin. I would spray paint the inside of the pumpkin first, let it dry. Then place some newspaper inside the pumpkin to cover up the face holes when spray painting the outside, as you do not want any over spray to get inside.
Once the spray paint has completed dried, spray a clear coat over the entire pumpkin, both inside and out.
You are now officially ready for Halloween!
These are the pumpkins that I am currently working on, in various stages (and I am starting on a new one today too).
MY PAPER MACHE FIREPLACE
Just starting to paint the fireplace.
This is a photograph that I found on how the finished fireplace will look. I will spray paint the entire fireplace black, then I will hand stencil the white diamonds all over the front and sides/back of the fireplace. (by painting it these colors, I can also use this fireplace for Christmas time too!)
MY PAPER MACHE PUMPKINS
As you can see from above, my huge Jack Skeleton pumpkin has the camping light inside of it. Isn’t it bright?
Stay tuned, as I work on finishing all of my pumpkins, the fireplace, and the paper mache witch that I am currently working on. You will be amazed at the end results!
Tell Your Friends About NIKITALAND!
Pumpkins are a classic symbol of the fall season, and they are fun to decorate your home with. You can easily make your own using paper maché and a balloon… and it will last forever so you can can use it for years to come. Today I’m going to share the easy tutorial with you. So let’s get started!
Here’s what you’ll need to make your own paper maché pumpkin:
- Jute twine
- Scotch tape
- Foam brush
- Acrylic paints
- Bowl and fork
Begin by blowing up your balloon to your desired pumpkin size. Keep in mind that the larger it is, the more paper maché you will have to add. Cut a piece of twine that will easily wrap around the circumference of the balloon and tape the middle of it to the top of the balloon.
Wrap the piece of twine around and tie a knot by the balloon knot, pulling it tight so the balloon bulges a bit.
Repeat this with two more pieces of twine. Then gather all of the ends and the knotted end of the balloon and wrap a couple of pieces of tape around everything to create the stem of the balloon.
Next, tear a bunch of thin strips of newspaper. You’ll definitely want to do this ahead of time, so you aren’t trying to tear more while you have the paste all over your hands.
Mix equal parts flour and water together in a bowl and stir thoroughly with a fork. Try to get it as smooth as possible. It should be the consistency of watery pancake batter. Dip a piece of newspaper in the mix and let the excess drip off. Drape it on the side of the balloon.
The smaller the newspaper pieces, the smoother the finish will be… but it will also take longer to complete. And the more layers you do, the stronger it will be. Let it dry for about half an hour and use your fingers to smooth out any bubbled edges.
Once it has dried thoroughly, paint it as desired. I used a dark orange color for the flesh of the pumpkin, and gold for the stem. Do a second coat if you don’t like to see the newspaper text show through. (I like the look of the paper showing through a bit because I like the texture it lends).
The end result is pretty cool, with a beautiful rounded shape and pie shaped sections, thanks to the twine.
The texture gives it a unique look that you don’t get from a typical store-bought artificial pumpkin. You can also try different colors… give it the look of one of those heirloom pumpkins that are so popular this year by painting it a light sage color or off-white.
And you can also vary the sizes and stem shapes to give them some variation. Have fun with it!