We make piñatas for the kids’ birthdays. We enjoy the time together. Also, the store-bought piñatas are made of cardboard and don’t fall to pieces the way a paper-mache piñata does. Store-bought piñatas tend to fall to the ground before they are busted apart, if they ever bust apart–we usually end up tearing the cardboard and dumping out the surprises. It’s an anti-climactic way to end a piñata for the kids. It’s best to leave yourself 5-7 days to work on the piñata, but I have made do with just 3 days. Our piñatas are stuffed with stickers, hairbands, Scotch tape, and Chapstick.
A Basic Piñata Made with Love
- A couple of newspapers (in addition, you could use some layers of butcher paper or white computer sheet paper)
- Wheat flour (or white glue if you have a severe wheat sensitivity contraindicating even being around wheat products)
- Balloon of choice (a 12-14 inch one or even a Mylar shaped one will work, see feature photo for post–it’s a Mylar balloon)
- Tempera paint or whatever paint you let your kids use (fingerpaint, poster paint, etc)
- Duct tape
- Thick binder twine (it must support the piñata’s weight while being batted by overenergetic kids)
- A bowl to sit the piñata on while you work on it
- Exacto knife (or a kitchen paring knife or even scissors)
1. Make the paper mache paste. I’ve made both the cooked and uncooked kind. I like to make the cooked kind because it’s smoother and a bit harder. However, when I’m near the end of the piñata and have run out of paste, I quickly mix up the non-cooked kind and finish the piñata off with it.
Cooked-paste: The ratio is 1 part flour to 5 parts water. I usually use 2 cups of flour and 10 cups of water for ease of measuring. I read somewhere where you can add scent to the paste if you want. Sounds fun, but I’ve never tried it.
- Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a large pot.
- While waiting for water to boil, mix 2 cups of flour with 2 cup of warm water in a large bowl. Mix well.
- When the water is boiling, pour the flour/water mixture carefully into the pot. Stir well.
- Bring pot contents back to a boil and boil for 2-3 minutes.
- Add a bit more water or water/flour paste if it’s too thick or too thin. It should look like gravy. Remove from heat.
- Allow paste to cool before use.
No-cook paste: Use about a 1:2 ratio of flour to water. If you use 1 cup of flour, then use 2 cups of water. Mix as well as you can to get lumps out. If it seems too thick, add a bit more water. If it’s as thick as pudding, it’s too thick. You’re goal is more like a good, thick gravy.
White glue paste: Use half water and half white glue. Mix well. I’ve never used this for a piñata.
2. Blow up the balloon you want to use, depending on what you want to cram in there. We usually use a 12 inch latex balloon, but we have even used a Mylar balloon from the Dollar Store shaped like a cupcake. See other web sites if you want to get fancy with shapes and designs.
3. Tear newspaper into strips.
- Because you will put on several layers of newspaper at different times, it is helpful to alternate the kind of paper you use for the layers to make sure the balloon has been completely covered by that particular layer. For example, I will use the black and white pages for a layer and then use the colored comics and advertisements for the next layer. If I run out of colored pages, I’ll just grab some white computer paper sheets from our printer. However, the thicker paper makes the piñata VERY strong, so you don’t want to do the whole piñata with paper! Try to stick mostly with newspaper.
- Usually it is recommended to rip one inch by 6 inch strips. I’ve found applying strips this small takes up too much of my time. I tear wide strips, about 3-4 inches wide. Tear up lots of strips.
4. Spread out newspaper or a dropcloth to set the balloon, paper mache paste, and newspaper strips on to catch the mess. We make ours in the garage. It is very, very messy (the paper mache, not my garage–although that’s kind of messy right now too).
5. Dip a strip of newspaper into the paste. Put in a few strips in at a time if you want. I don’t put in too many because I get them all tangled together. Get the strip wet with paste. Run it through your fingers to get off excess and large lumps of paste. Lay the wet strip of newspaper on the balloon and smooth it down flat with your hand, removing any lumpy paste or wrinkles in the newspaper. Leave a large enough hole at the end where the balloon knot is so you can fill the piñata with stuff. If you’re hole is not big enough, you can cut it later to give you space to put your treats in. Use a bowl to sit the piñata in so it doesn’t roll around while you work.
6. Repeat pasting strips on over and over and over until the balloon is completely covered, always leaving that smallish hole at the top for filling. Alternate the directions your strips run to give strength to the paper mache. My strips overlap a lot, and if I have odd uncovered spaces I’m impatient to fill, I just rip odd shapes of newspaper and paste them on the uncovered spot.
7. Allow to dry, about 8-12 hours. To shorten drying time, use a fan blowing on the piñata. During this time, if you’re not working in a very cold garage like I am, then store the paste covered in the fridge.
8. Before you begin adding the next layer of newspaper strips, use the binder twine to make hanging strings. Run the twine under the bottom of the balloon and up the sides, leaving plenty of excess string at the top of the balloon where the hole in your piñata is. Tape the string in place at the bottom, sides, and top. Repeat again, running the twine again under and around other half of the balloon. Tape into place well. You will paper mache over the string and it will be not visible or just visible. But you have to have a simple way to hang this thing without it falling too early. I hope this is clear. It’s difficult to explain on paper, and I wasn’t thinking about this post the last time I made a piñata to take a photo. There are sites showing you how to make a hook instead, but it requires a few more steps and items I don’t want to make time to get or do.
9. Add another layer of paper mache over the strings. If you’ve taped your strings on well, you can hang your piñata above your work site (if you can–maybe even move your work site if you want to a place you can hang it) and work on another layer while it’s hanging, rather than using your bowl. Again as described above, dip the strips of newspaper in paste and apply to balloon, smoothing lumps and wrinkles. Keep your strings together and out of the way of your paper mache-ing. You don’t want the hanging strings inadvertently pasted to the sides of the piñata! Here is where I sometimes use the colored pages from the newspaper, butcher paper, or even white computer sheet paper so I can see where I have put down the new layer. Make sure and cover the balloon completely with this second layer.
9. Allow to dry again. Repeat layers for a total of 3-5 layers. A nice thing to do is to finish the last layer in a plain kind of paper without print so no print shows through when you paint the piata. I am usually getting started too late, and I only get 3 layers done. We’re painting when it’s still unfortunately a bit damp. But we make do, and it’s fun. Ideally, you’d start 7 days before the party.
10. If the balloon inside has not popped, pop it. Since I’m in a cold garage, the balloon has usually popped by now. In fact, you may want to consider bringing the piñata inside if it’s too cold. Our balloon has popped prematurely before the first layer dried, and the piñata sagged without its support. I was able to push the sagging side out again. However, to be on the safe side, I sat the next piñata we made on a bowl and put it in the house.
11. After you have 3-5 layers and they’re dried, add your surprises. Hopefully you’ve left enough space at the top to fit them in. If not, use an Exacto knife to make a slash to allow you more space.
12. Paper mache over the hole (cool) or duct tape it like we did (not cool). Let dry again to touch.
15. Paint as desired!
16. Use the strings you put on after the first layer to hang your piñata. Make sure the string you use to run to the ceiling is very strong and won’t break under the weight of your heavy piñata. That’s no fun after all of that work.
Have you ever made a piñata? Did you have fun? Did the kids paint it?