Party Piñatas!
Making Your Own Festive Piñata

By John Mathis

There's little that's more festive than a piñata at a birthday party. And there are few craft activities that offer more messy, gooey fun than making your own piñata out of papier mâche. Papier mâche is an easy craft for artists of all levels of experience, and the basic ingredients are all found in your kitchen. Because of the mess factor, you may want to consider creating your piñata outside. Also, be sure to leave enough time before the big party for your piñata to dry. It will take a good three to four layers of newspaper strips, and the piñata will need to dry overnight in between layers. Start your piñata at least a week before the big day.

Creating a piñata involves layering strips of wet and gooey newspaper over a basic mold. The easiest mold to use is a balloon, which will create a round shape that can be used for to create a variety of characters and objects. Let your imagination run wild, and the simple sphere will become a globe, a hot air balloon, a spider, a dinosaur egg, a sun… Consider using masking tape to add cardboard limbs, feet or other features to your mold. Or instead of just creating one piñata, make an entire fleet of hot air balloons or a family of dinosaurs to use as decorations.

- one large, inflated latex balloon
- mixing bowl large enough to balance the balloon
- newspaper
- saucepan and stove
- 5 cups of water
- 1 cup of flour
- paint and paintbrush or colored tissue paper and glue
- lots of small treasures and/or candy
- blindfold and sturdy, but not too hard, stick

Begin by tearing the newspaper into strips roughly 1 inch wide. Length can vary, though it's good to have some smaller pieces to smooth around the curves.

Next, prepare the goo! This will require use of a stove, so it’s important that adults are involved at this step. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. While the water is heating, mix together 1 cup of flour with 1 cup of flour to form a thick paste. Add the flour-water mixture to the boiling water and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature before using.

Once the flour mixture is cooled, dip newspaper strips in one at a time. Use your fingers as a squeegee to remove any excess liquid from the strip before adhering it to the balloon. Layer the strips in a criss-cross fashion, covering all of the balloon except an area at the bottom that is big enough for the loot to fall through. Remember that the piñata will need to dry overnight in between layers, and the piñata will need three to four layers. Store the flour mixture in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Once the piñata is dry, pop the balloon and fill your piñata with goodies. Cover the hole with another thin layer of papier mâche. Decorate your piñata with paint or by gluing small strips of tissue paper in layers all over the piñata to give a shaggy effect.

On party day, blindfold each guest and offer them turns to hit the piñata. Be sure to equip each guest with a loot bag to gather the treasures! A safer alternative to a baseball bat is a heavy cardboard roll or a dowel covered in foam pipe insulation. Or, attach a streamer to the inside of the piñata's hole before covering with papier mâche and add enough other streamers around the balloon to give each partygoer a chance to pull a streamer. Whoever pulls the special streamer frees the treasures!

John is a Charlottesville writer and designated piñata holder at his daughters' birthday parties.

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