Chewing it over.

Paper is such amazing stuff.

It can be as thin as tissue and as delicate as a feather. It can be as tough as wood and even take the place of it as a material to build in.

Well….I suppose it was once a tree. 🙂

In the 17th century ( and you know how fond I am of that particular century) it was discovered that if you mashed up paper you could mould it into just about any shape you liked.

At first, it was pulped by chewing it… yes chewing it… that is what papier-mâché  means…chewed paper.

Nowadays it’s more likely to be mashed up with a resin or with some form of glue. But not chewed…..thank goodness.

There is the most wonderful account of how this process was performed in this highly entertaining book ( a series of four  which I cannot praise strongly enough for a jolly good yarn and a laugh a minute- pity that so far there’s only the four.) The Ambitious Stepmother by Fidelis Morgan.


As time went on they got more and more ambitious with the items made with papier-mâché. It really isn’t just a gooey mess that children play about with.

The first real mention of the stuff is in about 1700 when it replaced plaster as the preferred material for theatrical masks. Up until this time, plaster, which could be gilded and painted, had been used to make all manner of things, but it was liable to chip and was jolly heavy. Papier-mâché could be made water proof by the addition of oils and laminated to make it very tough indeed.Tough but light.

Dolls heads began to appear made in it. Ecclesiastical items. Coach doors, panelling and ornamentation on frames, were some of its uses. The British employed papier-mâché figures resembling soldiers to draw sniper fire. Some were equipped with an apparatus that produced smoke from a cigarette model. Bullet holes in the decoys were used to determine the position of enemy snipers. What a strange thing to do!

It was only superseded by plastic in the 20th century.

What you see nowadays if you are lucky are the trays churned out in the 18th and 19th century and beautifully painted and gilded and now and again a little parlour chair will turn up, gilded, inlaid and decorated with tendrils of paint. I am lucky enough to own one of these dated to the middle of the 19th century. It’s inlaid with Mother of Pearl, painted with gilded tendrils and pretty flowers.

People use it for jewellery today. They build carnival masks, statues, and even walls. I bet if you looked up some of the entries for the Turner Prize, papier-mâché would be up there somewhere as a material used.

Because I like little houses…here is a sweet little creation in papier-mâché…sorry it’s Christmas. 😦 I know..we are only in July. )

I don’t very often feature other peoples’ work here on BoxCleva but as I am still laid up feeling ill, and not really in much of a position to do much myself…. I’ll do so today.

Here is a paper dolls house – bit like my boxes…how much more durable would this be if it were made in papier-mâché ?

Who would have thought a closely guarded secret could become the plaything of the young…so many centuries on? 🙂

I am going to have a blog holiday now for two weeks whilst I go and house sit for my friend. I’ll take my craft stuff with me and hope that I feel well enough sometime to make something. I’ll chew it over. It’s a case of watch this space. 🙂


2 Responses to “Chewing it over.”

  1. Fidelis Morgan Says:

    I love this article. But it’s the next book in the Countess series – The Ambitious Stepmother – where they encounter the masticators, and the papier mache ‘factory’.

    • pastmastery Says:

      Thank you Fidelis…. for putting me right…I’ll change it. I couldn’t check my facts as I had lent my books to a friend and couldn’t remember which one it was! My memory!!
      So, when are we going to see the Countess and ALpiew again?

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