DIY: Tissue Paper Mache Light Shade

aka my Try Something New Every Month (TSNEM) project for March

Tissue Paper Mache Light Shade
Cuzme & I rent an old-school loft space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was a manufacturing facility and is not renovated (yet, anyway), which means high ceilings, wonky wiring, exposed electrical conduits and fixed overhead factory lighting. The one pictured above is hanging over our TV/couch area & doesn’t even have a light switch. Ugh. We used a pull cord for years until I recently purchased this brilliant remote control screw-in light socket from Amazon. Which meant that I could now make some sort of light shade for it. I thought about making one of these giant string ball lights but our fixtures aren’t in an entirely open space and man, wrapping all of that string just looks exhausting. I opted for a tissue paper mache shade instead, as I had glue, water, balloons and tissue paper on hand already. Freebie project! Even if you don’t have the materials on hand, they’re all available at most dollar or discount stores and won’t break the bank. This project turned out far better than I ever imagined! It was easy, fun and looks fantastic in place. I made two shades, one for the above the couch and one for our bedroom. I had so much fun that I’ve restocked materials (at our local Dollar Tree) and plan to make slightly different variations for a floor lamp and some battery candles. Here goes my first craft tutorial for those of you that want to try…

Tissue Paper Mache Materials

Materials:

  • white tissue paper ( 35 sheets for $1 at Dollar Tree, enough to make 2 shades)
  • white glue (2 for $1 at Dollar Tree, enough for 1 shade)
  • 1.5″ foam brush (under $1 at hardware store)
  • balloons ($1 for mixed pack at Dollar Tree)
  • petroleum jelly ($1 at Dollar Tree)
  • scrap cardboard and tape (on hand, free)
  • clothespin, string or tape to hang balloon by while drying
  • locking pliers (optional but helpful)
  • Weldbond adhesive or spray or brush-on sealer/finish (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Blow up your balloon. This will determine the size and shape of your finished shade, so inflate accordingly.
  2. Make a cardboard ring out of scrap cardboard and tape, large enough that top of your balloon (which will be the bottom of your shade) will fit into it. The cardboard ring will help stabilize your balloon while you’re applying the tissue paper (see step 2 in the photo below).
  3. Cover your balloon with a thin coat of petroleum jelly and place it in your cardboard ring. I used a locking pair of pliers to hold the balloon down while I worked – this isn’t necessary but does make the process easier (shown in box 2 in the pic below). I also cut a little flap into the side of the cardboard ring to accommodate the handles of the pliers.
  4. Tear or cut your tissue paper into pieces. I tore my pieces, smaller at first but soon moved to larger pieces – much faster and easier to work with. It’s nice to have a variety of shapes so you can kind of fit them together but not necessary. I found that square/rectangle-ish pieces in the 4-5″ range worked well and made covering quick and easy. Turns out that Punjab, our 19 and a half year old male cat, loves piles of tissue paper (box 1 in pic below)
  5. Mix your glue and water. I used around a 1:1 ratio of glue to water. I didn’t measure, just guestimated. I started out using a plastic cup to mix and hold the solution but got hip to using an empty glue bottle in the middle of the project (you could also use a generic squirt bottle). Using an empty glue or squirt bottle makes a huge difference in the ease of this project, trust me. It’s so much less messy and easier overall. Add your glue and water to your bottle, close it and shake until mixed thoroughly.
  6. Now you’re ready for the fun part – applying the tissue paper. Squirt some of the glue-water mixture onto your balloon and spread with foam brush (you’re aiming for enough for 2-3 pieces of your tissue paper). Stick on a tissue paper piece, squirt a little more glue on top and smooth down with foam brush (box 3 in pic below). You’ll develop a rhythm after awhile. I held the glue bottle in my non-dominant left hand and brushed with my right, then traded the glue for the tissue paper, keeping the brush in my right hand at all times. You’re using just enough glue to moisten & cover but not so much that it’s excessively wet or drippy.
  7. After you’ve covered the balloon (box 4 in pic below), clip it somewhere where it can hang without touching anything to dry (box 5 in pic below).
  8. Continue to build up your shade one layer at a time, thoroughly drying in between, until you’ve reached 5 or 6 layers. At this point, I patched the areas where more color shone through, ending with somewhere around 6-8 layers. I think… I lost count towards the end. Also, I ran out of white glue and started using Weldbond, as I had some on hand. This isn’t necessary but it did give the shade a nice sheen and might have made it a bit stronger. You could also brush or spray on a finish if you’d like – matte, satin or gloss would all work.
  9. After the last layer is completely dry, nick the balloon with scissors or a craft knife to deflate. Remove the balloon and decide where you’d like to cut. I used my screw-in remote socket as a template for the top hole, tracing around it with a pencil and cutting with a craft knife. For the bottom, I neatened the edge with scissors until it looked right (box 6 in pic below).
  10. Hang and enjoy!

Tissue paper mache stepsTips:

  • This is a messy project – cover your craft area or do this somewhere where glue trailings don’t matter.
  • Be gentle when smoothing the tissue paper with the glue-water mixture. Wet tissue paper is quite fragile. It’s no big deal if it rips, just try and smooth it over with your brush. You’ll get a feel for how much pressure to use as you go along.
  • It’s pretty easy to lose track of where you’ve added tissue paper after the first layer or so. It didn’t seem to matter, though, so just relax and keep gluing. I worked around and around and up and down – go with whatever works for you.
  • Try to hang your drying balloon in an area free of shmutz and try not to drop it on the floor (especially if you have pets). My balloons picked up some unknown icky bits that I just scraped off before adding the next layer. Cat hair makes things a little more tricky but nobody is going to notice a few hairs here & there, right?
  • Don’t obsess over getting the tissue paper really smooth – wrinkles add interest & texture.

Possible Variations:

  • Colored tissue paper would work really well for this project.
  • Add patterns and shapes by cutting shapes out of colored tissue paper and adding to a layer or two or on top of the finished project. You could probably paint with acrylic paint between layers as well.
  • Edge the bottom with a gold or silver paint pen.
  • Draw on designs with permanent markets in black & white or colors.
  • Use different shapes of balloons for your form. Apparently Dollar Tree has an assorted pack if you can find it.
  • Add glitter or other inclusions or use glitter glue on a layer or two.

This was one satisfying project. I’m so thrilled with how my shades turned out and look forward to continuing my tissue paper mache journey soon. I hope this tutorial is helpful and I’d love any questions, comments or experiences that you have with tissue paper mache. Cheers!

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