Over the years I’ve made a total of four of piñatas, all for special events of one sort or another. They were darned hard work, particularly the bigger and/or more complex ones, and involved a LOT of sticky mess and patience.

niks pinatas

The very first one was planned it as a surprise for a 21st birthday party. A rather ambitious project, that dragon was the biggest piñata I’ve made. It required a wire armature to create the basic shape, over which I carefully added many (many!) layers of paper and glue – allowing each layer to dry before adding the next so that it would keep its shape. I had to make the wings and feet separately and attach those – with more paper and glue – before leaving the completed shape to dry and harden. It was a fairly cold and damp time of year, so we had to have the gas heater on to help with the drying process.

I finally got around to painting it and applying the tissue paper scales the night before the 21st birthday party. I then had to wait for that lot to dry before filling the belly with lollies and taping it closed – and finally completed it all about about an hour before the event was due to start. The birthday boy was very happy – and very surprised – and he and his mates set to work on Mr Dragon with a hockey stick… Destruction was swift and decisive. Poor thing.

A few years later, I came up with the idea of creating a themed piñata for GenghisCon – and so Cthulu-piñata was born, with many tricky-to-make dangling tentacles. He bit the dust just as quickly as Mr Dragon. This was followed a year later by a dragon head – also a Genghis-piñata – and my final effort to date, a large fish to commemorate my eldest brother’s 60th birthday. After each one was completed – and then demolished in record time – I promised myself (and Himself, who helped out with all of them) that I wouldn’t make another, no matter what…

However, as is the way of these things – and once a goodly amount of time had passed, plans for an all-new piñata have tended to hatch. At present all I need is to decide on the shape. Perhaps something garden themed? I’m thinking a chicken-of-destruction might be fun to make. With that in mind, I’ve resurrected the notes I put together when making Mr Dragon and they’re actually pretty sensible. I hope you find them useful too.

dragon pinata collage

How to Piñata: You’ll need a couple of balloons, vaseline, papier maché glue  (made  with 1 cup all purpose flour to 5 cups cold water), lots of newspaper, some butchers paper, acrylic paints, paintbrush, crepe paper, lollies/treats & confetti (to fill the piñata).

Preparation: To make the papier-mâché glue, mix the flour and cold water in a bowl until it’s runny. For best results, simmer it for 5 minutes – this is rather like making a white sauce. Allow the glue to cool. While you wait, tear the newspaper into lots of strips, about 2.5cm wide and as long as you like. (Note: don’t cut the strips; tearing ends up with a better, smoother finish to your final piece.) Put down lots of paper or plastic to work on – this is messy! You might want to wear gloves for the next part – same reason.

Assembly: It’s a good idea to know what sort of shape you’re trying for, as this will dictate the sizes of the balloons you use, and how many. Assuming you’ve chosen a shape that requires more than one balloon, inflate a large one for the body and a smaller one for the head. Tie them together and, using a bit of making tape, secure the head to the body. Balance the balloons on an empty ice-cream container while you’re working as this makes things easier. To create a beak/tail/wings – or whatever – cut out cardboard to make the shapes and stick them to the balloons with tape. Drag a strip of newspaper through the papier-mâché paste, making sure it’s well covered, but not soggy; wipe off any excess with your fingers, and place the strip at an angle on the balloon. Place the second strip so that it overlaps the first one slightly. Continue until the balloons have been covered with one layer of paper strips. Allow this layer to dry completely – preferably overnight. Then repeat, applying layers of papier-mache (and letting them dry) until you think your piñata is strong enough. Knock on it with your knuckles – if it’s firm and sounds hollow it should be fine. This generally takes 3-6 layers. Important: make a couple of small holes in the papier-mache so the piñata can be hung up when it’s complete. Make sure the papier-mache is extra thick around the string holes for reinforcement. Note: it’s a good idea to make at least the last layer  of strips from butcher’s paper so that the newsprint doesn’t bleed through your paint.

Before painting: set your piñata aside to dry for a couple of days. When it’s dry, pencil in some rough shapes as a painting guide – then get stuck in and make it pretty.

Painting & completing: use whatever you like, but a pro-tip is that spray paint is a lot quicker to apply than poster paint, makes the structure a little tougher and provides a nice glossy finish. When the paint’s dry, cut a 6cm flap in the top using a craft knife. This will burst the balloon and leave a cavity for you to fill with lollies, etc. Remember to tape the flap closed, then do the final decoration with tissue/crepe paper, draw eyes on, etc.

It’s not hard to make one of these. It’s just time consuming and fiddly… and very, very messy: perfect for your inner-child 🙂

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