Introduction: How to Make Custom Pinatas

About: I try to push myself each day to be more resourceful, innovative, & creative. I am constantly inspired by some of the brilliant minds here on Instructables, & I hope that I can inspire others as well. I think …

If you've ever planed a "themed" party, then you know the frustration involved in finding all the right party supplies. Especially when it comes to that ALL IMPORTANT party piñata. Very few stores carry piñatas & if they do they are usually the typical, donkey, star, princess castle etc. Best case scenario, you find what you are looking for, but it is completely demolished by the 3rd kiddo out of a line of 15 that wanted to participate. Put all those party nightmares to rest! Follow these instructions and you can have the PERFECT piñata for any occasion for under $10.00, with no measuring or mixing of messy pastes. 

Step 1: Old School Rules!

Paper mache has been around for centuries & there are a number of ways to do it. I  learned this fun crafting skill from my Mother years ago. She would often make a custom piñata for my Birthday, and it always made the day just a little more special for me. I mean, who else gets to have a giant piñata of their own face to smash!!! Although my Mother's old school rules of using a flour paste, and a simple one balloon shape, are effective; I've honed my paper mache skills over the years and discovered which supplies & techniques work best for me.

Step 2: Simple Supplies

To make your piñata you will need a few simple supplies:

Newspapers, paper bags, or packaging paper = free/ recycled
1 Jug of liquid starch (sta-flo) = $3.00
Variety pack of balloons = $1.00
Role of masking tape = $1.00
Paper streamers = $1.00 (per color you need)
1 bottle Elmer's glue = $1.00
1 jar lid = free/ recycled
10" piece of rope or twine = free/ recycled

NOTE: you will also need, a towel to work on,  a bowl to pour starch in, & scissors or a knife for cutting.

Step 3: Basic Shape

You will need to plan ahead a little so it is best to sketch your design out on a piece of paper first. If you are not a FANTASTIC artist you can also search the web for images that you would like to use as a model.

Once you have a sketch or at least a mental picture of your design, you can begin building your shape. To build your shape just inflate the various balloon shapes and sizes you will need for your specific design. Then using masking tape, tape them together to secure their placement. 

TIP: The tape can also be used as a shaping tool. When it is wrapped tightly it will alter/squish the sphere shape of the balloon.

NOTE: If you are a novice or don't consider yourself to be very "crafty" then you can stick to the simple 1 balloon shape & adapt it to fit your theme. The 1 balloon shape can be decorated to be virtually ANY characters head you would like. For example, if you have a Star Wars theme 1 large balloon can easily become the death star, or the head of yoda, chewy, an ewok etc. 

OPTIONAL: Since smaller features can be difficult to maneuver around & can create weak areas on the piñata, you can wait until you have established a couple of paper layers on the main body, then add on the features with masking tape between layers. For example, the ears, tail, and paws of my squirrel can be covered seperately & added on later. You can also be more creative with the materials that you use to shape those extra features. (paper rolls, craft foam, cardboard, etc)

Step 4: Layering

`To begin making your paper layers, tear your newspaper into strips or chunks.
`Lay down a towel to do your work on and set your balloon shape over the top.
`Fill a large bowl with about 1/3 of the jug of starch. (Refill as needed)
`Dip a paper strip in the starch and use your fingers to "squeegee" out any excess.
`Lay the starched strip across the balloon in varying directions and smooth out any wrinkles
`Continue to dip, squeegee, and smooth until you have covered your balloon shape completely about 2-3 layers deep.
Set the piñata into a sunny area to dry for 24 hrs. 

NOTE: Don't forget to pour the remaining starch back into the jug to use for later layers.

Once dry you can add those extra features if you would like. Then repeat the entire process once again. You will now have about 5- 6 layers covering your shape. Set the piñata out to dry again for 24 hrs.

Now test the strength of your dried pinata by pushing in on it with your thumb. If you can make a dent easily with your thumb you need more layers, if you cannot make a dent, then you have enough layers. Work your way around the pinata in this fashion to check for weak areas that may need more reinforcement.  In my experience, for a child's party 5-6 layers works great. If it will be for adults you will need about 8 layers. Keep in mind you should only work 2-3 layers at a time before allowing it to dry again. If you do too many layers at once, the middle layers will not dry properly, causing all sorts of problems for your awesome piñata.

Step 5: Preping for Decoration

At this point it looks like just a big blob of newspapers, so we need to prepare it for it's transformation...

Decide which end will be the top portion from which you will hang it. Then on the side of the piñata near the top cut a "door" by cuting 3 sides of a square then folding the layers back along the uncut side.  You will want the door to be big enough to fit your hand through, but not so big that you've nearly cut the poor thing in half (less is more, because the door will be a point of weakness during it's BEATING). When cutting into the pinata you probably heard your balloon pop inside. Open the door and peek in to check for survivors. Pop any balloons that are still inflated. Then pull the balloon guts out for disposal. 

Now it's time to have some real fun!

Step 6: Decorating

Now for my favorite part, DECORATING!!! You can choose to paint your piñata with acrylics, or finish off your layers with a colored craft paper. For example,  I did the last 2 layers of my squirrel out of packaging paper, because I wanted to use the brown color for decoration as well. Then of course you can do the traditional method of using paper streamers to do the trick. You can also add a few extra details with craft foam or poster board (like I did for the eyes)

To begin your decorating adventure, start by sketching your design directly on the piñata. This will give you an idea of where to place each color and help with orientation. (so you don't end up putting the face where the butt should be :P)

If you are using paper streamers you will need to roll out a long length and fold it over several times. Then take some scissors and cut slits about half way through the width, down the entire length, to create a fringed or furry look. Unroll the length and begin tacking it down with glue. Just run a thin line of glue as you go & press the un-fringed edge of the streamer into the glue. You will always work from bottom to top so that the streamers will be overlapped & will cover the previously glued edge. When you come to the "door" be sure to cover it as well but to leave the cut edges free so it can still be opened.

Step 7: Hang Em High

No piñata would be complete without that necessary rope to string-em up by. Although it may seem insignificant, this detail is probably MOST CRUCIAL to the success of your piñata. It can be down right maddening to have a fully filled piñata come crashing to the floor because the rope popped out the top. The store bought piñatas are notorious for this. To avoid this catastrophe heres what works best...

`Take a metal jar lid & punture a hole in the center of it.
`Take a piece of STURDY rope or twine and knot the end creating a small loop (Be sure the knot is about 2x the size of the hole)
`Push the loop up through the hole in the lid
`Poke a hole in the top of your piñata
`Insert the entire lid into the piñata through the "door" 
`Push the loop up through the hole in the top of the piñata

The lid increases the surface area for the weight of the piñata to be dispersed over. Just be sure your knoted end will not pull through the hole in the lid, or you are back to square one. 

Step 8: Fill-er Up!

It's time to stuff that bad boy with delicious treats and tinker toys. Perhaps if you are more of a prankster you could fill it with an "unexpected surprise" I filled my squirrel with candy for the kiddos and of course NUTS! Just start loading the goodies in by the handful through your convenient door. Fill it to be only about 2/3 full. (or you won't be able to lift it)  Once it's full push in the corners of the "door" to close it up. Then have a fun time BASHING it at your BIG BASH!

I hope you enjoy using this versatile skill as much as I do, and don't limit yourself to piñatas. You can apply these techniques for making home decor or even halloween costumes! The more you do it the more you will enjoy it!


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