Techniques & Tutorials for Paper Mache Trays

Updated February 21, 2017

Paper mâché, also referred to as papier mâché, is documented as far back as 202 B.C. during the Han Dynasty in China. The Papier Mache Resource maintains that the art of paper mâché then travelled to Persia, Japan and other parts of the world. The French translation of "papier mâché" is chewed paper, as is evident in the pulpy appearance of the solution before it dries. Paper mâché can be used to make bowls, dolls, boxes, trays and other projects.

Paper Mâché Materials

There are many materials that can be used to make paper mâché, many of which recycle products, resulting in a "green" craft. Shredded newspaper, tissue paper and paper are traditional materials, but felt, fabric and fibre shreds or lint from a clothes dryer can also be used. An essential part of paper mâché is the adhesive mixed with the paper or other medium. White school glue, liquid fabric starch, flour-and-water paste or commercial paper mâché glue products can be mixed with the chosen paper or fibre shreds.

Making Paper Mâché

Paper mâché is messy, so be sure to protect your work surface with a vinyl tablecloth, shower curtain or newspapers. Use a bucket to mix your paper mâché to ensure you have enough room to avoid spills and overflows while working. Shred or tear newspaper or other material of your choosing and place the shreds into the bucket. Pour enough liquid fabric starch, white glue or flour paste into the bucket, squishing the paper shreds into the adhesive to form a pulpy, wet, gloppy solution. If using white glue, mix 3/4 cup glue to every 1/4 cup water. If you're using liquid fabric starch, don't dilute it. Instead, pour the starch directly from the bottle into the bucket. If you want to use flour paste, add equal amounts of flour and water and stir until a paste forms. Add more flour to thicken and more water to thin the paste. If you are making a tray that you intend to paint white or a light colour, use paper or fibres that are similar in colour and without ink text.

Techniques for Molding the Tray

Select a plastic, wood, metal or ceramic tray; or use a flat object such as a baking tray, a box lid, or for a large tray, the cardboard tray from a flat of bottles of water as a tray form. Cover the tray form with cling film so it is protected and waterproofed. Place the plastic-covered tray facedown onto your protected work surface (or onto a movable object like a baking tray, so you can move the drying paper mâché tray if need be). Grab handfuls of the pulpy paper mâché solution and press them against the plastic-covered tray. Cover the tray form completely in layers, pressing the paper mâché so it is level, smooth and about one-inch thick. Allow the paper mâché tray to air dry until it is completely dry.

Finishing the Tray

Remove the dried paper mâché tray from the plastic-covered tray form. Use scissors to trim the paper mâché tray edges so they are straight and even. Paint the tray with gesso. Gesso will make the paper mâché tray stiffer. Allow the gesso to dry. Paint the tray with a foundation colour of acrylic paint. Decorate the tray as desired, such as with cut-out paper images through découpage, or with a painted illustration. Allow the embellishment to dry. Spray the finished tray with a clear acrylic sealant and allow it to dry. Paper mâché cannot be washed or immersed in water. Do not use paper mâché with food or any moist or wet materials.

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About the Author

Louise Harding holds a B.A. in English language arts and is a licensed teacher. Harding is a professional fiction writer. She is mother to four children, two adopted internationally, and has had small businesses involving sewing and crafting for children and the home. Harding's frugal domestic skills help readers save money around the home.