Introduction: Papier Mache and String Storage Pods
If you want some quirky storage to keep some loose bits and pieces - sweets, coins, paperclips, trinkets - then these little storage pots might be what you're looking for. They're pretty easy to make, they just require a lot of newspaper, glue, string and patience.
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Step 1: The What You Need Part
- Inflatable ball or balloon
- PVA glue
- Paper (newspaper or thin plain paper)
- Papier mache paste of your choice
- Acrylic paint
- Hard coat mod podge/sealant
- Plastic tubs
- Empty pudding pots make great glue containers and rests for the ball while you're working.
- Empty washing up bottles make for good mixing (you can shake it), squirting and storing of the water/PVA mix.
- Inflatable balls can be re-used and make for a more uniform shape. But, important point, if you use an inflatable ball, make sure that the stopper is on top and not the end you're going to cover with papier mache. That way could lie madness, a ruined project, or at least a destroyed ball when it comes time to remove it.
- Invest in a cheap hand ball pump, they're cheap on Amazon and make inflating and deflating balls easy.
Step 2: The Preparation Part
First, blow up your ball or balloon. I used a small kids ball for this. I like the ball because 1) it's perfectly round, 2) it's more sturdy than a balloon and not going to accidentally pop, 3) it's reusable. Deflate, wash, and you're ready for another project. Better than throwing rubber balloons into the bin and out into the environment.
Decide how big you want your pod access hole to be, and mark it on the ball. You could freehand it, but I like to draw around something - in this case the pots I was using for glue and resting the ball on were the perfect size, so I used that. While you're at it, draw another circle about an inch or so above that for your stand (if you're doing the stand at the same time). It's just easier to do this when there isn't glue everywhere. These provide guidelines of where to start and stop gluing the paper. It means you get a cleaner line and there's less to trim when neatening things up. If you don't want to use pen on the ball, strips of tape work just as well.
Rip up your newspaper so it's in handy strips, throw them in a bowl or tub to keep to hand for easy access. I used newspaper, but have used plain paper in the past as the newspapers had been cleared out for recycling and I had some cheap 60gsm art pads lurking. Plain paper just usually requires less coats of paint as there's no print to cover up.
Mix up your papier mache paste recipe of choice. I prefer the PVA/water mix because I can't stand the smell of the traditional flour/water/cornflour mix and don't have wallpaper paste hanging around. I pour some PVA glue into a container and then mix it with roughly the same amount of water (it doesn't matter if it's a bit more). It just makes it nice and runny and it soaks easily into the paper.
Step 3: The Papier Mache Part
Now for the fun part. Prop the ball on the pudding pot so it's acting as a stand, and using your papier mache application method of choice, get that ball covered in glue and paper. Some people like to soak the paper in the paste then slap it on. I like to brush some paste on the ball, then stick some pieces of paper on that, then brush more paste over those to make sure they're nicely soggy and shaped to the ball. I did about 5 layers of paper in all.
I also started with the line on the top half of the ball and got that section done first, and then flipped the ball over so that the rubber part of the ball was resting in the pudding pot and then did the rest of the papier mache. This meant that I didn't have to muck around resting wet papier mache on things and risk ripping it. I was able to just rotate the pot to get everywhere.
The stand can be done at a similar time, which is where that second line comes in handy. Once the outside is dry enough to touch, put the pod back on the stand, opening side up, and then papier mache between the lines for a few layers. You'll want to leave a gap of a couple of millimetres between the two sections, but doesn't matter if the edges touch the lower section a teeny but because you can easily trim between those with scissors of a craft knife. They just need to be two distinct parts.
If you don't want to do it at the same time, you can just do this later when the ball is free, or you could also use another ball or balloon, or even a bowl. Exact size doesn't matter, you just need something that's big enough the base will be stable and the pod will sit nicely in the top of it without being wobbly.
Leave the damp pod to dry. If it's warm and sunny, pop it outside for a few hours and rotate it around every half an hour or so. Otherwise leave it overnight. Larger balls may take longer to dry as you'll probably need more layers of glue and paper for it to be solid.
Step 4: The Ball Removal Part
If you're using a balloon, pop it. If you're using a ball, deflate it. I have a cheap ball pumping kit (£5 from Amazon) so I insert the needle/nozzle into the stopper and let it deflate. You could probably use a large embroidery needle and wiggle it to similar effect.
You'll be left with a storage pod shell. If it's not entirely dry inside, that's fine, just leave it a bit longer and it'll be fine now the air can get to it. At this point you need to trim around the opening and neaten the edges if needed, then take some extra newspaper and glue mix and put some paper over the edges to make it look smoother and make it a bit more solid. If you decide at this point the pod is still a bit flimsy, you can apply a couple more layers of papier mache at the same time, just be sure you don't soak the entire thing and find it collapses.
Step 5: The Inside Part
Once it's all dry again, grab your paint and give the inside a good few layers of paint so you can't see the printed text (4 coats did it for me, but I was using cheap paint). Go over the rim onto the outside a bit as well, as this ensures the edge/rim looks nice and neat. Don't worry about painting more of the outside as it's going to get covered in string. The pod also makes a handy paint container, just squirt a blob inside and work the paint outwards and upwards with your brush. I used white on this project, but you can use any colour. Metallic paints look amazing.
In the past I've also done some papier mache layers using tissues over the top of the paint, which gives it a very soft look inside - you can also put some drops of paint in the glue to give it a faint, pastel sheen over the white. However, it's very fiddly and annoying as tissues are delicate, and you have to let it dry between layers. It's not a step I fancied repeating here.
Once dry, paint a layer or two of sealant inside. I use Mod Podge hard coat, but whatever suitable sealant you have for acrylic paint is fine. This makes the inside more durable with stuff moving around in it (like loose change if you use it for that), and also means you can wipe it out with a damp cloth if it gets a bit mucky down the line.
Step 6: The String Part
Once you're happy it's dry inside, it's time to get your PVA glue, brush and string. How much you'll need depends on the size of your pod and the thickness of your string. I used standard sized craft string for mine, and I probably used about a quarter of it in all. If you use a finer twine, you'll need more, thicker and you'll need less. I'd recommend you use something you have plenty of or something you can get more of easily, just in case. You'll need regular PVA glue for this part, not the watered down version. Also, get the glue everywhere so it sticks and is strong. It's PVA glue, so it dries clear, so you don't need to worry about it being on the surface of the pod.
Pop the pod back on the pudding pot, opening facing up. Line the end of the string up with the edge of the opening, and start gluing, applying the string all along the edge, and then continuing under that round of string so you're essentially gluing down in a spiral. You may find it helpful to hold the string at the edge in place with a peg or clip. Alternatively, tape the dry end in place with masking tape, glue the first round of string most of the way around the edge, then let it dry. You can then remove the tape, glue the dry bit, and continue around with a more solid guide in place above.
Find the method you're comfortable with for sticking the string to the pod. I've seen some people put the string in containers of glue so they can pull out pre-glued strands as they go, which looks to be a great idea, but wasn't practical in this instance as my string spool was a handy pull from the middle job. This was fine, as I could still pull out a small bit of string at a time, I just glued as I went.
The method I settled into for this one was to do the first few lines on the pot, then (because it was small enough), I held the pod in my left hand and rotated it around with my fingers from the inside. With my right hand I held the brush and regularly dabbed it in the glue pot and then swiped over an inch or so of the string and paper on the pod a couple of times, then used the tip of the brush to push the string into place with the piece next to it. Towards the end, I was then able to just rest it on the table and continue with the swipe and push method until I was done. Be gentle with it and take the time to push the layers up and together so there are no unsightly gaps.
As the circle to add string to gets smaller, you'll find you need to be more careful. While the rotations were getting bigger the string was getting pulled, and then naturally pushing down onto the piece of string next to it because the curve of the ball prevented it going anywhere else. Once you're past that bulge, pulling the string can cause it to be pulled away from the previous round of string, and so more gaps can be formed. You need to take the time to go around slowly and push the string down firmly with the tip of the brush. You may find it easier at this point to let it dry a bit after every few rounds so you don't unravel the work you've done.
With a bigger ball (I've done a 9" one in the past), resting it on a bowl and rotating the bowl works better. Once you hit half way (and as long as the top is dry), flip the pod over so you have better access, and recalibrate your brain to continue the process running the string in the opposite direction (as flipping the ball flips the direction).
If you get to the end of the string, fray the end of the previous piece and the start of the new pieces, then rub/twist them together with a bit of glue, and gently apply to the pod before carrying on as usual. It should blend in fine.
Once you get to the end, you need to make sure that the end of the string stays stuck. I glue it in place, hold it in with my finger, and then snip at the pod wall. After this it's worth putting extra glue on and swirling it firmly around with the tip of your finger so the frayed edges bond to the rest of the string. After that, avoid touching it until it's dry as it can easily unstick and you have to do the fiddly bit again. A hairdryer on a gentle setting can speed this up. Once it's dry, you can gentle dab some more glue on the area to make it extra secure. It should hold up fine, and I've included a photo of the 9" pod that I made over two years ago now. The glue is showing no signs of losing its grip.
You can do the same method for the stand, but I chose to wrap the string around vertically for this. It just seemed a lot less fiddly wrapping round in shorter sections as it's essentially a type of hoop. It also has some contrast with being a different angle to the string on the pod.
Leave the pod to dry for a few hours, then touch up any parts that look like they need to be stuck together a bit more. If you find some unsightly webs of glue on the surface, just piggle them off with your nails. Depending on the type of string, you may find it's a bit hairy and could benefit from a gentle trim.
With the combination of the string and the papier mache and all that glue, it should be pretty darned sturdy at this point. The 9" pod has suffered no damage from being dropped on the floor and even accidentally kicked!
Step 7: The Finished Pod Part
Sit your pod on its stand at an angle you like (and remember, it's not stuck on their so you can change the angle as it suits your fancy). Congratulations, you have a storage pod to put whatever you like in! Sweets, keys, loose change, or even use it as a funky chair for a passing Mousevaark!
Step 8: The Other Finishes Part
You don't have to use string on the outside of the pod, you could decorate it with just paint, decoupage it, stick spiky things to it (just leave a bit at the 'bottom' so it sits on the stand without a problem), give it some ears and big eyes, whatever your imagination can come up with. I happened to like the string effect, and you could do other patterns with that than the basic swirling I did.
You don't need to put them on stands, either, hanging them should work well. Either create a macrame cradle, or put some eyelets in so you can hang it from a hook and chain. I've considered a few options for this, which you can see in the images above. You'll need your eyelets or s-hooks, bolts and washers for stability and security. For ease you'd want to put any holes and hooks in before the string goes on, and then wrap the string around those areas. If you wanted to go for a floating effect, then some strong fishing spool would do the trick. You can hang this any way you wish - put the eyelets on the rim so you have a hanging pot, or at an angle for interest.
I hope you're inspired to make your own storage pod (or Mousevaark chair).
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