Handmade Holiday: Papier mache folk art nativity set tutorial

You may have seen Corn Floppy and wondered how I made it. Since we just finished Christmas, I thought I would instead share how I made a papier mache nativity set. Floppy was made the same way, but finished with seed corn. The nativity set was finished with paint.

5 nativity set ensemble

I was inspired by the nativity from my mother. She bought it in Mexico, and I have seen similar ones. Mine is blue, but I know that white and other colors exist and look nice.

blue nativity

Materials needed

  • structural “armature” material, such as window screen or cereal boxes
  • strips of newspaper – the size of your work will help you determine a practical size
  • mod podge or pva glue or flour and water in a 2:1 ratio and cooked to a paste

How to make your own.

1. Use the window screen to make a structure for the basic shape. I sewed up the sides with an unbent paper clip. Cardboard from cereal boxes and masking tape can also work. My angel’s wings were cut from a cereal box. Corn Floppy began as a tube of screen with balled up newspaper.

1 paper mache nativity screen

2. Apply a couple layers of newspaper strips with your flour paste, watered down PVA glue, or mod podge. I used a combination of all three for this project. You can keep track of your layers a couple ways. One way would be to orient the paper horizontally for one layer and vertically for the next. Another way would be to add a layer of color paper, followed by a layer of black and white paper. Leave one end open so you can add weight to your nativity set. A good heft will keep it from tipping over. I used dried peas to weigh my pieces.

2 paper mache nativity weighted

3. Cover the weight with another layer of newspaper strips, then add at least three more layers. You want strong, durable pieces. You do not need to let each layer dry before another layer. You can see that I set my wet pieces on a plastic lid and piece of screen. This prevented the wet pieces from sticking to the table.

paper mache nativity folk art handmade

4. Finish. For me, my pieces needed to stand relatively straight and not look like they just got their sea legs. I had two pieces that needed help. If you ever slipped a matchbook under a table, you’ll know how to fix your wobbly piece — just fold a piece of newspaper and slip it underneath, then glue it in place. Wrap one papier mache layer around it and all is better.

Paint and varnish if you want. I used Sharpies and craft paint. And about the Baby Jesus. My Jesus is removable. I didn’t want him to fall out and get hurt, so his position in the manger is defined by a loop of yarn (covered with three layers of paper).

papier mache paper handmade

I spent time and love, but not money, in making this nativity set. You can make play food or centerpieces or whatever else you imagine with papier mache. What would you make with papier mache?

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