papier mache

Allez,Les Mouseketeers! (Or: how to make a giant papier-mâché hot air balloon..)

Mouseketeers

Welcome back!  It’s been a wonderful, chaotic few weeks here with the end of term (and graduation from Reception class, so soon!), endless sunshine and record-breaking temperatures, ice-cream, tennis, splash pools and a new job for me… possibly the busiest June ever.  Amidst all the fun and general mayhem, we found time for a few craft projects, like this giant hot air balloon for Harry’s pet mice, who had always, always wondered what the world would look like from the sky…

Mongolfieres

We’d been talking to Harry about the amazing annual Montgolfières festival of hot air balloons in Montreal which we’d visited just before we got married; we were lucky enough to go up in a balloon made for two (plus pilot!) and witness the amazing sight of fields of balloons slowly inflating and taking to the skies;

ALBUM take off shot from the airALBUM take off shot from the air1ALBUM balloon art shotALBUM art shot fields from the hot air balloon2ALBUM art shot fields from the hot air balloon

I’m so glad we had the chance to do this before we had Harry; I think my instinct for self-preservation and appetite for danger have grown and shrunk respectively, making this a once-in-a-lifetime event.  Harry was mesmerised by our photographs, and asked me whether we could make our own hot air balloon for a ride around the village.  Whilst the aeronautics of this were beyond me, we settled on a compromise; a giant, papier mache hot air balloon which could hang from the playroom ceiling and give rides to the mouse family who usually live a quiet life on the bookshelf…

How to make your papier mache hot air balloon:

I found a pack of 36 inch balloons on eBay, and spent an evening inflating one.  Use a footpump for this, and choose a night when your husband is home.  Stroll past and make a casual slight about his manliness; nothing  hurtful, but just challenging enough to provoke him to spring to his feet and wrestle the aparatus from you.  Settle back with a glass of wine for the 45 minutes it takes to get enough air in the damn thing balloon.  Try not to comment when it twice evades his grip at the last moment and whistles around the room, expelling air before puttering gently to the floor. Feign deafness at the muttered cursing.

Cover it with around 6 layers of papier mache.  Ha! See how easy I made that sound?  In reality, this is six evenings of ripping up newspaper and applying in layers.  Only 20 minutes each night, but 20 mins of watery glue, drips, sticky surfaces and the constant distraction of all the interesting articles you stop to read whilst pasting them onto the balloon. Disciplined focus is key.  My top tip would be to alternate between using newspaper and plain white paper – you need to be able to see when you’ve completed each layer and it’s very hard if it’s all newsprint.  Use PVA glue and water in a ratio of 1:3 for the mixture.  One final word of advice; don’t do this in a hot room or one where the temperature changes dramatically, or your balloon will expand and pop  with an explosive splatter just when your back is turned.  This was my THIRD balloon; the first two are still being scraped off the ceiling and floor whenever we have a spare moment – and a chisel.  Assuming all goes well and you heed this advice, on the sixth night, stand back and admire your papier-mâché labour of love;

papier mache giant balloon

I took it outside and covered it roughly with two layers of leftover white paint, balancing it in a flower pot for stability;

painted papier mache balloon

And now the fun part; decorating the balloon.  I wanted it to look like a balloon the mice might have stitched and crafted out of household items and random bits and pieces, so I searched online for free vintage envelope prints (try googling ‘old envelopes’, selecting the ‘images’ tab and going through to locate those which are free to download)and raided my draws for scraps of fabric, buttons and ribbons.  I printed out the envelope graphics, scrumpled them up and then stuck them at intervals around the balloon…

vintage envelope patterns

balloon

To make the rim at the base of the balloon, I traced around an upside-down bowl, trimmed the raw opening of the balloon and then glued some curtain braiding around to form a neat rope edge;

braided papier mache balloon

Once I’d finished with the decoration, I used a bradawl to make a small hole in the top of the balloon and screwed in a cup hook to hang it from.  For the basket, I repurposed a small wicker plant pot and used rubber-coated wire to form four rope-like hanging handles (you’ll find the wire in garden centres; it’s used to train plants without damaging fragile stems).

Mouse basket

The ‘sand bags’ are made from these teabag sachets, filled with a spoonful of rice and stamped to look like 100kg weights (stamp them first before you fill them; I learned that the hard way, and am still treading on small grains of rice every morning as I navigate the kitchen, half asleep..).  I tied them tightly with string and then twisted a little piece of wire under the string to attach each one to the basket.  I thought long and hard about how to attach the actual basket, and in the end I suspended it from the inside of the balloon, using another length of wire to hang it from the base of the cuphook, meaning that the papier mache balloon itself didnt have to take any weight.

For the final touch, I found a length of braided rope in my sewing basket and cut up a pair of thrift-shop curtain tie backs to look like the rope and weights you might find on a vintage balloon.  I stamped out little paper flags for my Mouseketeers and then draped it around the balloon, pinning it into place at intervals by just pushing a pin into the papier-mâché balloon. Job done… and the mice took to the air!

final balloon shot

Our balloon currently hangs in the hallway, and is big enough for all the toys in the playroom to take it in turns for a ride – but you can of course make this with an ordinary sized balloon; it’ll be much quicker and easier to handle.

I hope you have a great week, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

It’s good to be back :-)

handbag logo

The Playroom Safari

Harry’s now at the age where hand puppets are becoming interesting; they can bring stories to life, steal food from his plate (who knew that giraffes are partial to bananas, or that crocodiles lose all sense of decorum when faced with a square of toast?). They can whisper secrets furrily into one’s ear, and seem to Harry to occupy a realm somewhere between make-believe and reality.

We’ve amassed a small safari of animals over the last couple of years, including this incredibly lifelike rabbit below (‘it looks like roadkill‘ shuddered my husband, as I whipped the admittedly rather squashed bunny out of my suitcase after a recent business trip).  The trouble is that like all soft toys they tend to get buried at the bottom of the toy box and discovered only by chance, usually looking somewhat crumpled and adorned with lost Cheerios and ancient stickers.

The solution; to mount them on the playroom wall, hunting-lodge style.  Each animal has been carefully (if not very imaginatively) christened and allocated a position, and now our very own safari surveys the playroom and its members are regularly invited down for play.  It’s perhaps the only habitat in which you will see crocodiles, giraffes and elephants co-existing in such harmony…far more harmony than a bunch of toddlers, that’s for sure.

How to make these: After experimenting with various poles and mounts, I discovered these papier-mâché hands (1) which duly fill the puppet heads to max effect when glued to a piece of MDF (2) –  strong cardboard would work just fine. Glue together, paint white all over with a soft bristled brush (3), allow to dry and then drill a small hole before mounting on the wall with pins or nails (6).  I added these name tags (4), made from wood offcuts and blackboard paint and strung loosely over the hands.