How Can I Stop My Paper Mache From Warping?

Christian from Durban, South Africa, says warping paper mache projects are driving him crazy. He asked if we can help.

This can be a bit of a nightmare for paper mache artists. It's infuriating to leap out of bed in the morning to find the beautiful work of art you left to dry overnight has twisted out of shape and looks nothing like what you had originally created.

The good news is you can take steps to minimise the problem, but the bad news is, they don't always work.

Here are a few things you can do to help:

If you're using cardboard of any kind as an armature, seal it before applying your paper mache.

Cardboard is very absorbent and tends to suck the moisture out of your glue or paste causing it to bend. Sealing your cardboard with PVA diluted with water will stop it from getting too wet.

Dilute the glue 1 part water to 1 part glue and give your card a couple of coats. Make sure you cover it completely and let it dry thoroughly between each coat and it should be fairly well resistant to warping.

Another problem that can cause your work to pull out of shape is using different types of paper in the same project.

Different weights of paper shrink at different rates. For example, if you add a layer of bond paper followed by a layer of newspaper and then leave it to dry, the different drying and shrinkage rates may cause your project to be pulled out of shape.

You can minimise this risk by using the same type of paper for the whole project or by allowing it to dry completely between each layer.

I like to use different coloured paper for my layers so I can see where I've been. We're lucky here because the sport supplement in our local newspaper is printed on green paper so I can use the two colours without using different weights of paper.

If you do want to use different types, allow each layer to dry well and use diluted PVA as your glue as this tends to seal each layer and prevents it from getting too wet when you add the next one.

The final thing I want to mention is drying. Now, I lived in Durban for many years and I know the climate there is very humid, especially in the summer.

This can slow down, and even prevent drying. The longer a piece takes to dry, the more likely it is to warp.

I used to live on the 16th storey right on the beach front and, short of hanging it out of the window, I had nowhere to dry my stuff outside in the sun and the breeze.

My solution was to put it on my desk close to the window and point a fan at it.

It also helps to use PVA glue rather than wallpaper paste or flour and water paste as it dries faster and is more resistant to moisture in the air once it is dry.

Sometimes your work will warp no matter what you do. Rather than immediately throwing it away I find it helps to stick it somewhere out of sight and have a look at it again when your original idea isn't so fresh in your mind.

I've had a few happy accidents with warping where the final piece actually turned out better than the one I'd planned.


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