Small Batch Papercrete for Fairy Gardens

As promised, I am writing today about small batch recipes for papercrete. For those of you who did not read the previous article – Papercrete for Fairy Gardens – papercrete is a mixture of paper pulp made from shredded newspaper and water, portland cement and vermiculite or pearlite. It is being used in many places to make bricks as an inexpensive alternative building material for houses that makes use of something that would otherwise fill landfills – old newpapers. For my purposes I am using it in small batches to make garden containers and miniatures houses for fairy gardens. Finding a recipe for a small batch of papercrete has proved for many to be quite difficult. Even after taking a workshop from Lee Coates, The Papercrete Potter I still lacked a recipe that I could share (through no fault of his own). After many experiments I think I have come up with some instructions that will help you with a recipe of your own.
There is not one recipe that will work every time for everyone. This is because the paper used in the recipe differs from one source to another – even from one brand of newspaper to another. Check this for yourself. Next time you are in a party or variety store with several newspapers available for sale along with some free ones, feel the various papers and note the difference in thickness and texture. My suggestion is that if you are planning on making papercrete on a regular basis, pay attention to the paper you are using and strive to use the same paper in the same amounts each time to get consistent results. If you are planning on just one or two projects, worry not. I have used just whatever paper was at hand with many different results all of which came out just fine in the end.

Basic Recipe

This is a basic recipe that will make enough papercrete for two planters approximately 6-8″ deep, 12″ in diameter and 1/2 to 3/4″ thick. Start with approximately one gallon of water in a 3 to 5 gallon bucket.Tear an average size daily newspaper (USA Today or The Toronto Sun or Star) into 2″ strips. Push as much paper into the water as you can while still leaving an inch to 2 inches of water above the paper. Leave the paper to soak for at least 24 hours. Longer is better. Mixing is easier when the paper is soaked longer. 48 hours is good.

lumpy-oatmeal-pulp-in-bucket
Next, using a paint mixer attachment on an electric drill ( not a cordless one), mix the paper and water into a pulp. The mixer should move fairly easily around in the mixture. If you are putting a lot of effort into this or your drill sounds like it is laboring, add up to a quart or liter of water and try again. At some point you will probably need to get your hands in the bucket to pull up paper from the sides and bottom that is not getting mixed in properly. The key to making good papercrete is getting the paper pulp to the right consistency.

When the mix looks like lumpy oatmeal and you can still see just a bit of water pooling in the top when you stop mixing you can stop and test your mixture. Take a small handful of pulp and gently squeeze it into a ball in the palms of your hands. Water should easily and freely be dripping from your hands as you do this. When you open your hand the ball should keep its shape and not show signs of crumbling or separating into sections. If the ball will not hold it shape and is flattening out on its own the mixture is too wet. Compact the paper in the bucket and pour off some of the excess water. If the ball appears to be cracking apart…add water and mix again. Keep track of how much water you are adding or subtracting to adjust the starting amount for next time around. Now form the ball into a patty just like a hamburger patty for the BBQ. Patt it a bit to smooth the top and edges. It should all hold together with very little separation on the edge of the patty. Very much like a home made hamburger patty that has BBQ sauce or egg in it.

pulp-ball-colage
Eventually, when you have worked out the paper to water part of the recipe according to the paper you are using. you will be able to go forward mixing the papercrete right in the same bucket. The first time or two I recommend measuring the paperpulp into a second bucket with a scoop of some sort. I use a 1 liter (1quart) bagged milk holder. Put three scoops of paper pulp ( push the pulp into the scoop a bit to release any air pockets), two scoops of portland cement and one scoop of vermiculite ( adds a little sparkle )or pearlite into the second bucket. This is the basic 3-2-1 recipe starter recipe. Mix. Again, if you are really laboring over this add water ( keeping track of course to obtain that one shot recipe you are looking for that works with your paper choice) Test the mixture. This time the mixture should form a ball with only a very little bit of water dripping from it. It should behave as with the first tests – hold its shape and make a nice smooth patty with very little separation at the edges. Add water if it’s ‘cracking..add a little portland cement if it is having trouble keeping a ball shape. Now try the mixture in your form.

The form needs a release agent to make removing the dried container easy. Any kind of cooking oil works great which is easily applied with a 2″ brush. Form an even layer of papercrete in the bottom of your form about 1/2 -3/4″ think and start building up on the side of the form. Just do a small area and then wait a minute or two to observe. If the sides sink or slump your mixture is still just a little too wet.

papercrete-housesAdditional Notes
1. Choose forms with generously sloping sides when possible. Very steep slopes on the sides of your forms will make it more difficult to apply the papercrete without some slumping occurring and making it more difficult to release the dried container. Trying to dry the mixture up with too much portland cement to address this could make the papercrete crack and separate while drying. For very large forms or forms with straight or steep sides a reinforcing screen or mesh may be needed.(Still experimenting)

2. A small brick pointer tool or painters trowel tool can be used along the top edge of the form to smooth the area. Be sure to check that your sides are a consistent thickness for a professional looking result. A little sanding afterwards will tidy things up even more. A small drum sander attachment on your drill works nicely to smooth the top edge and the top inside walls. Lower walls and the bottom will be covered with soil so it’s fine as it is.

3. If you want drainage holes in your container you can poke a finger through the bottom layer while wet or drill one after it has dried. I prefer drilling afterwards as it just looks tidier.

4. When you have finished forming your container cover it with plastic for the first 24 hours to make the papercrete dry evenly ( not quickly on the outside surfaces and slowly in the middle). You can remove the container from the form after 24 hours. It will continue to dry for a few days. After it has dried completely try pushing your fingernail into an inconspicuous spot. Also try tapping on the outside or top edges. Your fingernail should not easily make a mark and when you tap it should make a sharp sound and feel very solid. The tapping sound will sound dull if the papercrete was too wet.
5. Papercrete can be colored with cement dye during mixing or stained afterward with stain or diluted acrylic paint. For indoor use, papercrete is porous so a sealant on the inside is probably a good idea to keep moisture absorbed by the container from damaging furniture surfaces.

I’ve done many experiments with papercrete now and have made pots and houses with papercrete that I now know was too dry or too wet. All of them came out well enough to be used even if some took longer to dry. I haven’t had any of these finished projects long enough to tell you the long term result, but I suspect that if I have trouble with any of them it will be with the ones made with too dry a mixture. It seems that not all of the paper gets a coating of wet portland in this scenario and therefore has weak spots where the paper is lacking this. With one of my houses an area where there was just an inch width of papercrete ( from a too dry mixture) above a window broke while being removed from the mold. It easily glued back together. (Out door non shrinking waterproof adhesive sealant or liquid nails) Otherwise I haven’t had any problems as of yet. I wish you all the best of papercreteing fun and hope you will share your experiments with me and each other here or on my Fairy Garden Facebook Page
Marthe

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Fairy Garden Shabby Chandalier

Fish Hook Chandelier

Fish Hook Chandelier

Inspired by an image on Pinterest of a miniature chandelier made out of a fish hook I gathered up some supplies and decided to give it a go.

First off – who knew fish hooks came in such an array of sizes. I decided to buy several sizes but settled on one about 1 1/2″ high for my experiment.

Step one -squeeze those nasty little barbs on the fish hooks until they are good and flat ( pliers) and nip the pointy ends from the hooks with a a little wire cutter.

gathered-supplies -fish-hook-chandalier  I picked up some clear seed beads and some larger clear beads as well as some even larger colorful beads. For the larger beads I looked for ones with a bead cap that could be used as a candle drip catcher.  reconfigure -beads      Step Two – I pre-assembled a few items. The largest bead was dismantled, reassembled and embellished with a small clear teardrop bead to form the part that would attach to the top of each hook and eventually hold the candle.  The hole in the tear drop bead fit over the hook a little making that part easy to glue. get-some-peieces-ready

A few strands of beading wire with curled ends were used to make the three pieces that would attach to the middle of the fish hook where beads would later hang. More beading wire pieces with a tear drop and several seed beads were made ready for hanging as well.

Step 3 – Assemble. Easier said than done 🙂 I painted the fish hook first. Much of the paint rubbed off during the assembly – and I’m going with the “I meant to do that story” and calling it shabby chic!

I started in the middle with the three pieces of twisted wire with curls at the ends, poisitioning them evenly around the middle post as best I could. Then I twisted a bit of wire around the bottom and top of the group.  I pulled and poked and eventually shaped the twisted wire into a shape I found pleasing and that would allow me to hang beads out away from the post, and then tightened the wire I had placed at the  top and bottom.

making-the-candlesAfter the bead chains were hung and the larger beads glued to the hooks it was time to make the candles.

Premo translucent clay was used  for making the candles. I just rolled out a thin snake, cut a few little pieces, poked a tiny bit of wire in the end and popped them in the toaster oven. Glue.

Fussy but fun. Keep crafting and, as always, have a fairy good time. Marthe

Fairy Garden House from Bird House

Sometimes the best things come from just starting a little experiment and letting it take you where it will.

fairy-houses-from-bird-house-croppedI often see cute plain wood bird houses in the dollar store ready for decorating and think there must be a way to turn that into a fairy house. I’ve brought a few home and today I decided to tackle one and see what would unfold. I also had some pine cones stashed away so I started by getting out my garden sheers and tearing it apart into pieces for a roof covering.

While doing so I was eying up the bird house and wondering how I could get rid of the perch sticking out . I took my garden sheers to it and sure enough , that worked. The wood seemed quite soft so I then used a box cutter to cut the bird hole into a doorway shape.fairy-house-from-bird-house-3

I added a little artificial moss to the roof and was thinking I wanted something twiggy to happen next. Then a lovely woman from PEI called and asked If I could paint some fairy houses with some lively colors for some young children coming into her life and suddenly I wanted color. I also had a notion to incorporate some twisted wire and nail polish ideas I had played with lately.

The result was a somewhat disjointed looking mess but I did not despair. I liked the happy color and decided to white wash the pine cone roof..add a poly clay door frame and a window. The thought came that it was getting a bit of a beach hut look so I went with it and made the window a fish shape.  From no where really, I thought I could make the funny wire nail polish thing in the doorway fit in by adding a ‘bead curtain’ of wire and clay.  The brown moss got touches of preserved brighter green moss to color it up. A final touch was some clay flowers hanging from the roof like patio lanterns.

And there it was..my experiment had morphed itself into some kind of beach hippy love hut fairy house. Not at all what  I started out to do!

hippy beach

So experiment..and as always , have a fairy good time, Marthe  And thank you to Mary from PEI for coloring my day!

Fairy Garden Patio

Here’s a little fairy garden patio that you can make in just a few minutes for under 3$fairy-garden-patioThis little patio is made of polymer clay. It does not require any fancy clay tools so even if you are not into clay you can do this. I used Copper Sculpey Premo. I like Premo because even after it’s baked it retains a little bit of flexibility. This means it can expand and contract in the heat and cold making it suitable for outdoor use as well as indoor.

You can buy a little 2 ounce brick of clay at a craft store for under 3$. Soften by kneading and then roll into a ball. Flatten the ball a bit with your hands and then roll it out with a rolling pin or glass bottle. Mine is about 2/8ths of an inch thick.

I use a straight edge to make the lines first and a then a pointy toothpick by hand to give it a bit of an irregular line. While the clay is still soft you can poke something decorative into it before baking at 275 degrees for about twenty minutes on a cookie sheet.  I put little beach pebbles arranged in a flower pattern. Done!

Keep crafting..and..as always..have a fairy good time, Marthe

FB Group Rescues the Stone Fairy House

In December 2013, along with picture below, I wrote a post on building a stone fairy house for your fairy garden. The instructions included using a technique for the main part of the house that I described in another post. Well , the main part of the house has worked out fabulous. Not so the roof!

I admit I am a little clumsy and I dropped it on a cement patio stone – the first time – and it hit the edge of a counter the second time. Still, I like to be able to put my fairy houses outdoors. I worried that the roof being on a different kind of plastic base than the bottom, was more brittle and determined that I would find a fix.

DIY Stone Fairy

DIY Stone Fairy House

After trying some silicone suggested in an online article and not being happy with the mess and difficulty of working with it, I decided to turn to the experts. People who do these kinds of crafts all the time. Namely, the members of a great group on Facebook called Miniature and Fairy Garden Chat. I posted my pic, expressed my frustrations and not very long afterwards I had a wealth of great tips, suggestions and information.

Nanci Z-S thought I was on the right track with the silicone and offered a great tip to make it easier to work with. She says she squeezes her silicone into a dish of water with plenty of dish soap and pulls out what she needs with soapy hands. The silicone will not stick to your hands but will stick to everything else. I’ll bet this extends the working time too.

Several people suggested using a sealant of some sort and Melinda T said she uses mortar after gluing the stone down. She added  that using cheese cloth to wipe the excess mortar away does a good job of cleaning all the residue from the stone. Gluing something to the plastic before the stone was also suggested, such as plastic mesh…I tried burlap and it does seem to be helping make the stone adhere easier.

The first suggestion made was jewelery glue, and the discussion came full circle back to this when  Debbie G mentioned E6000 and Jill A-H and Colleen F started to sing the praises of this apparently very useful adhesiveE6000-adhesive- product.

The product description found on Home Depot says  “Amazing E6000 Craft is a unique adhesive formulated to meet high performance industrial requirements, thus making it an excellent crafting tool. Amazing E6000 has exceptional adhesion to wood, metal, glass, fiberglass, ceramics, and concrete. It also adheres strongly to leather, rubber, vinyl and many plastics. Amazing E6000 dries clear and once cured, it’s waterproof, washer/dryer safe, can be painted and is safe for photographs.”

Sounds like ‘amazing’ stuff. What do you use for difficult fastening jobs?

Keep crafting, and, as always…have a fairy good time.

Marthe

 

 

 

 

Fairy Garden Terrariums

Building a fairy garden terrarium is a great way to chase away the winter blues. I quickly put this one together and forgot all about the snow swirling outside my windows.

With so many choices in sand colors, gravel , plants and ornaments to choose from, it’s easy to make one to suit any decor.

terrarium1-1200px-no-logoIn my previous post – Fairy Garden Supplies – A Unique Source you can find some suggestions on where to buy some of your fairy garden supplies at a very reasonable price.

This 16″ H terrarium has one 2lb bag of colored sand, about 2cups of gravel and enough soil to make two plants comfortable in the middle. My succulents will want to be fairly dry so I used preserved moss for this particular fairy garden. I will need to leave the lid off for my plants to thrive…but the picture looked so much prettier with the lid:)

Well take a look at using live moss in a miniature fairy garden terrarium next time.

As always..have a fairy good time

Fairy Garden Supplies – A Unique Source

I wonder if many fairy gardeners also have fish? If you don’t keep fish, then you probably haven’t discovered that the aquarium store is a surprisingly great place to get DIY fairy garden supplies!

mushroom-log-aquarium-decoration

Mushroom Log Aquarium Decoration

The aquarium decoration isle will yield some interesting results.  This mushroom log is 8″ x 4″x 7″ and sells (in Canada) for $15. It just needs a little DIY fairy door to make it a wonderful fairy house for your miniature garden. Bonus – aquarium decor is non-toxic.

aquasand

‘Aqua Sand’ Aquarium Substrate

Now for landscaping your fairy abode. The substrate section alone can fascinate me for an hour. The unbelievable variety of stone, gravel, and course sands- aka miniature landscaping aggregates- comes in quantities that are ideal for various sized fairy gardening projects. Many of the substrates are coated with 100% environmentally friendly resin, – no dust. The coating also keeps them looking pretty and prevents any undesirable elements leaching into your garden when you water. A 5lb bag runs around $7. Next, take a look over in the reptile section.

small reptile feeder

Small Reptile Feeder

Reptile feeders are designed to blend in with a rock, stone and wood environment and need to have uneven surfaces for reptiles to crawl on. This makes them ideal for use as a miniature fairy garden ponds! Add a little acrylic water and decorate with  some miniature lily pads, a frog or some fish. This feeder measures 4.5″ x 4″ x 1″ and retails for just  $4.

While you’re in the reptile department also take a look at some of the bedding. You can find some nice sized bags of bark chips for your garden or DIY fairy house project. They also have some reptile carpets that make nice lawns that are meant to get wet.

As always- have a fairy good time…this time at the aquarium store! Let me know how you make out…