In the middle of September, it was still boiling hot here in Israel and I was hiding inside in the air conditioning, working on my website. My neighbor stopped by and told me she was planning a big, fancy 40th birthday party for herself, with an Alice in Wonderland theme, Fun! She hired me to make four GIANT (3′, 4.5′, 6′ and 7.5′ tall) mushrooms as decorations for the party. I’d never made giant paper mâché mushrooms before, but when I had my store, we made lots of big props, so I was confident that I could do it. I went shopping at a hardware store and a fencing shop for supplies.
Each mushroom was made with chicken wire, masking tape, electrical tape, sewing boning, newspapers, golf umbrellas, sheer fabric, twinkle lights, paint and varnish.
It was important that the base of each stem was wider than top part. This stem had to be reinforced with 2 broom sticks and a big flower pot after it was finished because the weight of the cap started to make the chicken wire buckle.
The mushroom caps proved to be the most challenging part to build. Because each cap was built on an umbrella, many paper balls were needed to fill in the spaces between the umbrella wires, or each cap ended up looking exactly like an umbrella!
Many layers of paper mâché were needed for the cap to keep it’s rounded shape; the caps became very heavy in the end. The dried, paper mâché cap shapes were pulled off the umbrella before the cap was put on top of the stem.
I started working on the mushrooms early in the morning so that the first layer of paper mâché would dry and I could apply at least one more layer that day.
I started working on the mushrooms mid September and by the end of October, the weather each evening was very humid. I carefully carried each mushroom piece into my house so the layers of paper mâché would dry completely.
Sometimes people would be walking by our garden as we were coming in our out of the gate. They would stop and stare at the mushrooms and ask why we had giant mushrooms in our garden. It was quite a site to see as each mushroom “came to life”.
I had envisioned the mushrooms looking very geometric, but in the end they were all different sizes and shapes and not so perfect. I liked the way each mushroom was a different shape and the imperfections took on an organic/realistic feel.
My neighbor wanted the mushrooms to be psychedelic. I used tie-dyed looking fabric for two of the smaller ones, the tallest one was red and yellow and the 6′ mushroom was painted in natural colors. At the party, the mushrooms colors couldn’t be seen because they were set up in a dark corner 🙁 but the twinkle lights that I put inside the gills were beautiful and the best part of the mushrooms.
The small, delicate layers under a mushroom are called gills. I made gills for each mushroom from sheer, gathered fabric. I gathered about 5 to 6 meters of fabric for each section of the gills. The gills for the biggest mushroom took about 20 meters of fabric!
I thought the mushroom gills were beautiful; it took a long time to gather and sew the gills. I made the gills from sheer fabric so the twinkle lights could easily be seen through it.
It was getting very near party time, December 18th. By this time, I’d been working on the mushrooms for 3 months. Every morning I would carry them outside and every evening, I’d carry them inside so the dew wouldn’t make them soggy.
By the first week of December, the mushrooms were almost finished and I had pneumonia. I did a little more work putting the twinkle lights inside the gills and putting wool around the bottoms of the stems. The girls posed with the mushroom so you can see their scale.
I wasn’t able to attend the Alice in Wonderland themed birthday party to see my mushrooms twinkling in the background, but I know they were wonderful!
I’ve been asked how to make the giant mushrooms, so I’ve included a tutorial at the end of this post. Giant Mushroom Tutorial
Large stack of newspapers
Chicken wire-for base stem shapes (I used a roll of 10 meters for 4 mushrooms)
Work gloves (for working with chicken wire)
Big bowl (for mixing flour glue)
Flour (about 10 bags)
Poster board (to cover chicken wire)
2″ wide masking tape (about 4 rolls)
Electrical tape (1 roll)
Umbrellas (to shape mushroom caps on)
Sheer fabric (for fabric gills-I used 20 meters/22 yards on the largest mushroom)
Sewing boning-(used for giving garments extra support, like a corset or petticoat)
Paint (water based paint is easier to clean)
Varnish (if you want the mushrooms to be shiny)
Paint brushes (3, 1 for light colors, 1 for dark colors, 1 for varnish)
Giant flower- pot or a stack of thick sponge (to sit the big caps on while drying so they keep a rounded shape).
Raw green wool-optional (to put around raw bottom edges of the stems)
Doll needle (extra long)
Vaseline (apply to top of umbrellas)
Wooden broom sticks (for extra support inside the stems if the cap is very heavy)
Paper mâché glue-put 1/2 bag of flour into a bowl, add water and mix with your hands (to remove lumps) till the mixture is liquid, not watery, not thick. You should be able to dribble the glue onto the surfaces.
- Mushroom Stems-Make base stem shapes out of chicken wire-wire the chicken wire closed. I used wide masking tape to cover the chicken wire as a base for the paper mâché. Putting poster board over the wire works well also. Cut pieces of boning to go around the stem in 3 or 4 places. The wire is flimsy and folds in on itself before the boning is applied. The boning gives the stem is round, column shape. To cut the boning, use the wire cutters to cut through the outer plastic covering, then fold the boning in half and the wire should break in two. Apply 4 or 5 layers of paper mâché. As you pick up the stem once the layers of paper mâché have dried, the stem should be sturdy and you should not be able to push it inward.
2. Mushroom Caps-Use the umbrellas as a base to apply the paper mâché caps-Apply a thin layer of Vaseline to the top of the umbrella so it’s easier to pull of the finished layers. Apply about 5 or 6 layers, allowing each layer to dry before adding the next. After all the layers are dry, pull them off the umbrella (to keep the weight to a minimum). For a rounded mushroom cap, you must crumple up newspapers to make balls and fill in the the spaces of the umbrella, between the wires. Fill the spaces, then tape over the whole cap. (If you skip this step, the cap will look exactly like an umbrella, not a bowl). For a flat mushroom cap, pull the layers off the umbrella then step on the shape till it’s flat. With electrical tape, tape 2 broom sticks in an X on top of the flat (crushed) sheet of paper mâché. Then poke holes through the layers of paper mâché and wire the broom sticks to the layers. Apply several layers of paper mâché over the broomsticks. Make the top of the flat cap a little rounded by putting a mound paper balls on the top of the cap and tape them down. Put several layers of paper mâché over the paper balls. With electrical tape, tape twinkle lights to the underside of the mushroom caps. (optional)
3. Paint the mushroom– Water based paint is much easier to clean up, varnish when the paint is dry. Mushroom caps can be painted or you can stretch tricot fabric across the cap to give it a different look. I used to meters of fabric on the medium sized mushroom cap and 1 meter on the smallest cap.
4. Mushroom gills-cut strips of fabric (measure from the outer edge of the mushroom cap toward the center, but allow space for the stem to sit in the very center. Gather the strips of fabric with a doll needle and thread. Pin (push the pins straight in like a nail) each section onto the underside of the caps, leave the pins in and also glue the edges to the outer cap. Gather the other end of the fabric sections, pin and glue them to the underside of the mushroom cap. Spread the gathers out so they are even.