Nature Crafts

Do you like nature?  Are you a little thrifty?  If so, then have I got a project for you!  Here is a family fun activity that will cost you about 2 bucks and will exude Fall fabulousness.

While strolling around the block with my little guys and a few of their friends last week we were overwhelmed by the changing of seasons.  We found pine cones and turning leaves and bright orange berries (which in our neck of California is as much as a season change as you can get).  Well, of course the kiddos couldn’t just walk on by this seasonal bounty without collecting proof of our discovery.  And once we got it home, it was our to keep.  I mean, I couldn’t toss it.  That was their harvest.  And I didn’t have the heart to just let it rot in a bucket.  So I set about trying to find a craft that would make good use of those autumn goodies.

I had just started to pull out our fall decorations and had noticed that we were in need of some door decor.  So I was pretty much sold when I found a family Sign idea.  The only thing holding me back was the fact that the base of the whole thing was a piece of cardboard.  Now that’s fine for campsite ambiance, but a little borderline redneck for my front door.  Luckily, I am well versed in the art of papier mache.  It just so happened that I papier mached four Ninja Turtle shells a few weeks ago.  And it struck me that the form I used for those, a serving platter, could prove useful in this situation.

With my base covered, I was ready to roll.  My first step was to papier mache this sucker.  Papier mache is the cheapest way to make a form out of nothing.  All you need is some old paper bags, flour and water.  It’s pretty easy too.

First, you tear up some brown paper bags, I used 3 Trader Joe bags and it was just enough for 2 molds.  You don’t want to cut them because the torn edges meld to the form better.

Then soak the paper strips in water for a few minutes while you make the paste.  I do batches, since that is a lot of paper.

For the paste, stir about 2 tbl flour into about 1 cup of water in a small pot.  Once you dissolve all of the flour clumps, heat the mixture over medium low heat, whisking the whole time, until it begins to thicken–which should only take a minute or two.  As soon as it begins to thicken, remove from heat and whisk well.  You may need to add some water as you whisk if it is too thick.  You want it to have a pudding consistency.  There are some non-cooking papier mache recipes out there, but they don’t provide the shiny, lacquer-like finish that a cooked paste will.

Next, you should prepare your form.  I decided to do one of my platter and a flat one in case that one didn’t work out.  So I flipped the platter over (I find it easier to work on top of a mold than inside it whenever possible.  It prevents the glue from pooling, hence it dries faster.) and cleared an area for my flat one.  Then I prepped the areas with facial tissue—spoiler alert: this bites me in the butt later so you may want to use saran wrap instead.

Then you sprinkle it with water.  This is supposed to help prevent it from sticking to your paper, but it doesn’t work for me.  Maybe I am not getting it wet enough.

Next drain your paper strips.  Be sure to get rid of all of the excess water.  Then take one strip and dip the end into your paste.  Now rub that paste all over the strip until it is good and slimy.  You don’t want to submerge the whole strip or there will be too much glue and you will have bubble pockets.

I didn’t take any pictures of me actually covering the mold, but its pretty straight forward.  You just layer strips of paper until it is completely covered, making sure to keep the print side up so that it doesn’t show in the final product.  Then I covered it again with another layer, this time with the print facing down.  I only did two layers which proved to be plenty sturdy for our intended purpose.

Then I let it dry overnight and when I woke up I had something that looked like this:


And thanks to the tissue, this:

I find that if I try to take the tissue off once the paper has taken form, but not yet dried, that it comes off much easier.  A wet washcloth and some gentle elbow grease also do the trick.  However, I kind of liked the tissue here.  It lent a whitewash effect that reminded me of birchwood so I decided to go with it.  I just whippied up another batch of water and flour paste and applied a coat to the tissue to give it a smooth finish.

Once everything had dried yet again, we gathered all of our carefully dried Fall finds.

And then we simply arranged and glued things.

Once the glue dried I used a hole punch and some jute rope to make it hangable.

We decided to make the flat base into a lawn sign.  I just used puffy paint to paint a festive phrase on it and the boys finished it off with a pumpkin and some “Native American ‘x’s”, as Aiden called them.  The hole punch and jute rope was put to use here too.

I wasn’t able to get all of the tissue off of this one either, so we used that as the back side.  I tell everyone that its vintage…

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