Thursday, September 16, 2010

An Empire Strikes Back Birthday: Episode IV -- Luke Vs. Vader Piñata with Tutorial!

Luke Vs. Vader.

Poor Luke. He loses a hand. Finds out the evil Lord Vader is his pops. Loses his friend Han in the meantime to carbonite freezing, Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt. Poor, poor, whiny little blonde guy.

That doesn't mean that you don't wish you could beat the crud out of Luke and his whiny ways every once in a while, though. Sure, he's the hero of the series, but come on! Wah! Wah! Wah! 'No, it's not true! That's impossible!' *whimper* *whimper* 'Noooooooooooooooo!' Yep. He's a whiner.

So now, everyone can get the chance to give Luke a good thrashing and chop off his hand, with my handy dandy Luke piñata complete with a Darth Vader blindfold and lightsaber beating stick!

A little piñata history before we get going here. My mom taught me to make piñatas. She taught all of her children to do this. And it is something I for which I am so very grateful. I wanted to take some time and give her and her skills some props.

There's one of her piñatas now! Must've been for Easter. Looks like those kids are contemplating strategy to beat that rabbit up, despite its super cute prettiness.

And look, there's another one! I remember that one. It was for a company Christmas party. With real twig antlers!

You can see even more of her piñatas over here, by the way, if you're so inclined.

So I am passing this process of piñata making of hers on to you, dear reader, so that you may be able to make your own piñatas WITHOUT paper mache, but WITH complexity and detail.

That's right. Boo, paper mache! You don't need it. It's messy, it's sloppy, and all of that gross stuff. And although we used to make Cuban piñatas (what with my being half Cuban and all) most of the time, with the ribbons coming out of the bottom as seen here, you can use a very similar technique to make a traditional style piñata meant for busting up.

One that can be broken without having to be stomped upon by a frustrated adult 30 minutes into kids' and then parents' futile efforts trying to get to the sweet candy innards.

I'll have to show you how to make Cuban piñatas for another day. I really should, because they're sooo much better for kids anyway, but they're just not as much fun for slicing off Jedi extremities.

By the way, that Kermit the Frog piñata? It was made by my brother when he was 8 for his own birthday party. Not too shabby for a kid!

Soooo, hopefully my tutorial is understandable enough for even crafty kids to start making their own piñatas, or at least with minimal adult help. Fingers crossed.

Here we go! How I made the Luke piñata without paper mache:

Here's what you'll need:

Cardboard and masking tape. That's it.

Well, not really. That, and your crepe paper of various colors, a pencil, a marker, some rope, and some Elmer's glue. And time. Just about any piñata making technique will take some time (it's the paper decorating part that's time consuming), so start it well ahead of your party.

First I sketched out what I wanted him to look like on some paper. You could also print out some clip art or a character of your choice and trace it to get your design sketch settled.

Then, I resketched it onto a big ol' flattened Crate and Barrel box (thanks, wedding presents!)

If you're not me (meaning I eyeball everything), you could use the grid system or enlarged photo copies or print outs to proportionally transfer your design onto a larger cardboard sheet. Your cat can help you do this.

Let's start with the front side only. We can better sketch out the costume details on the back if we use the front to make a shape template first, to then trace the outline onto a sheet of cardboard, and cut out the matching back. It's kinda like making a gingerbread man shape by tracing a gingerbread man cookie... You want both sides, front and back, to match.

Plus, by tracing the one shape to make the other, we can be sure points match up without having to do things like redraw a boot because it ended up an inch off from what was planned to originally match, or perform the dreaded 'M word' -- measuring. I hate measuring! I'm all about the eyeball, tracing, and estimating!

Your cat can help you with this part, too by being incredibly cute and distracting.

Here he is all sketched out onto the first piece of cardboard (the front).

Using scissors, I cut Luke out of the cardboard. You could use a box cutter or x-acto, but I actually feel I have more precise control with scissors.

I reinforced any weakened bits or folds on the wrong side (the Crate and Barrel side) by taping scraps of perpendicular running cardboard (the corrugations run vertically on the small support strip instead of horizontally like on and along the fold). This will help your piñata stand up, and also support the weight of candy better when it's suspended.

Then, face right sides together (here, brown side of the front to brown side of the other box), and exactly trace the shape of your front cutout against the other sheet of cardboard. *I actually removed the leg supports shown here at a later point, deciding they were TOO much support for the construction, so ignore them*

Ta-daa! Now you've got more cutting to do! But, you also have a back for your piñata.

Soooo, now I've cut out both the front and back. It's time to cut off Luke's right hand to make sure both sides are the same size and shape. I set them aside to assemble and attach them later, in the same manner I build my piñata, since I want his hand to be detachable, to imitate the moment it gets sliced off by Vader in the film.

I cut a flap for loading in the candy on the right side up (see brown side) of the back sheet of cardboard. It's important to do this before you start gluing on paper, and it's easier to do at this point before it is formed into a box.

Poke a hole in the center of that flap to latermake yourself a rope loop to thread through (knotted on either side of the flap) for easy access for candy loading. You'll probably want to add the rope after gluing on the paper though, but it's good to have the hole where you want it before paper is covering everything up.

You have your two sides (front and back), so now just determine your depth for your piñata box.

I just eyeballed a depth I thought would be nice pot of candy (about 3"-4"), and cut strips of cardboard with the corrugations running horizontally on them. I traced a side piece that was cut to the proper size against a scrap sheet of cardboard to maintain the same width/box depth for all the side pieces.

The length of the various pieces that make up your sides will vary, and you can always tape your side pieces together if you need a longer piece than you have available. Corners and joints makes great end points for the side pieces to be taped together!

And remember, if the depth of your piñata box depth is slimmer, your piñata will be too hard to break open, and if you make it too big, it'll be too difficult to suspend without breaking from its own weight.

Just cut them out and keep taping them along the contour! You don't have to tape too much, because remember, you want it to be able to be bust open. But it should also be able to support the weight of the candy and prizes. If you use too much tape, you can always add slits to weaken the structure before decorating.

When taping a curved side, like here on the head, I roll the cardboard side strips along the horizontal corrugation to give it a nice curve. It should be able to fit easily along your curve now.

Once you finish adding the sides to the back piece of your piñata, set the front on top, and start taping again!

I super-taped the top, to try and make it a more sturdy and supportive structure to prevent the weight of the candy pulling it apart. Poke two holes for a rope loop from which to hang it after you've taped your sides. I'll reinforce it on the inside with a square of cardboard to help keep the holes from ripping through after I've glued on all the paper.

This is what my taped together piñata box shell looks like. Yeah! Almost ready for some gluing.

I go over my original pencil sketch with sharpie after everything is together to make sure front and back match up all right, and to give myself a better and more visible guide for the color fields and lines.

Here I am using a razor to cut weakening slits into the box. I want to make sure it will whack open, and this'll help. If you cut into it too much, just tape it back together again.

You can get a feel for the right amount of give by standing your piñata up and twisting it ever so slightly to and fro a bit. It should give a bit, but not start breaking just yet. Just don't do this after you've starting gluing paper on, or you could mess up your decoration!

Cut your crepe paper into squares. You can eyeball this, and the amount you'll need will vary depending on the density of piñata paper puffs you like, and the area you're covering. There's not much space for his eyes, the only blue besides his lightsaber, so I didn't need much here.

You can also use tissue paper or even colored party napkins instead of crepe paper. The drab tan of Luke's fatigues wasn't available in crepe paper, but the golden party napkins at the store were very close in color, so I trimmed the textured and folded parts off, and used napkins instead of crepe paper for most of this piñata.

Tissue paper can work too, but sometimes it is slicker and thicker, and therefore doesn't stick as nicely. It doesn't have as nice of a crinkly sound as crepe paper either, but maybe that's just me.

Wad a square of tissue paper up, like so.

And squeeze a dab of plain old white school glue on the bottom end (and not the ruffly end) of it. This is more than I might normally squeeze onto a single piece, but I wanted the glue to be visible in the picture, and even still you can barely see it.

Then just plop the glued end of your crepe paper onto the cardboard in the area for that color. Keep doing so until that area is filled! Think of it as making a tissue paper mosaic or hook rug of sorts!

To create thinner and finer lines to separate color, fold your paper square into quarters, like so, and draw a bead of glue along the folded edge. Then stand the glued and folded edge onto the cardboard. It helps to support it on either side with the puffs of its surrounding colors, whatever they are, so that it can dry in the correct position.

Here you can see how I used the black folded squares to outline his eyes (and eventually mouth), and all the other color areas are filled in with crumpled paper puffs. Just keep going, section at a time, until a whole area is covered. I like to work on each side entirely before moving to the next, so here I started with the front.

Here he is a bit further along. I used folded brown crepe paper squares to draw the details of his costume.

Whoo-hoo! The front is almost finished! Here you can see how I used sharpie to continue lines of the drawing around the whole shape of the piñata.

Ahhhhh!!! The front is done! Now, on to the the back, and then the sides. I don't have pictures of those because of the poor lighting available during the evening, but I will make a note that when I was gluing the paper to the sides, I did so in more of a flattened and pleated style, instead of paper puffs, to help keep his shape and silhouette trim and not too puffy.

After you've finished adding all the paper, just tie your reinforced rope loop at the top, and the one on the candy door, and that's pretty much it!

In the case of piñatas as large as this one, I placed a trimmed down paper plate in the bottom of his belly (just above the start of his legs) to prevent all the treats from dropping right into his legs. How fun would it be if a leg got knocked off and there goes all the candy? We want his belly to burst!

So I filled the legs with red crepe streamers and bits, placed in the false bottom paper plate, and THEN filled it. Worked like a dream! Belly full of goodies!

Here's an example of how horrible the lighting is in my house at night! And also, what the guy looks like finished with his hand attached. I used a paper towel roll and a toilet paper roll for his lightsaber and sheath, but cut them down and rolled them thinner to create a more proper proportion.

Here's a detail of his bloody stump of a hand! Complete with velcro tab radius and ulna nubs.

Just imagine him screaming 'Noooooooooo!'

Here Luke and Darth Vader await party piñata time in the corner. They have some father/son issues to talk out while they wait.

Which reminds me, oh yeah! The Darth Vader blindfold! And Darth Vader lightsaber piñata stick!

I took absolutely no pictures of this process, but basically it involved me, some scissors, a hot glue gun, craft foam, an el cheapo wooden rake handle, red spray paint, and the DVD case of The Empire Strikes Back and a lightsaber keychain as references.

And some Netflix. I think it might've been Hoarders, or maybe Hook (wow, I didn't remember that movie being so bad when I saw it way back wehn, but, yeah...did not hold up for me!) for entertainment and diversion.

As nice as it would be to provide a template for both of these, I admit I totally winged it on the stick and the blindfold. I didn't even have a plan when I started them. All I know is that when I finished it, I cut a black bandanna in two, and tied and hot glued it to slits I made on either side of the bottom layer of Vader's face. Then stood back, and was pleased.

And that was that.

The result, by the way, was fantastic!!!!

Here you can see Luke's hand lying about in the back yard, and a dress wearing Vader socking it to him.

Actually, the rope broke on that swing, but we got him back up in no time. You can see some blood red confetti starting to ooze out of his leg, too!

I believe it was the swing after this one that took the young Jedi down. Who'd think that Luke would be defeated by a Darth Vader in heels?

And the crowd dives in for candy, treats, and prizes.

The piñata was stuffed with a number of envelopes, some of them containing duds, and some containing vouchers for some swanky and some kitschy prizes: gift certificates, gourmet chocolate (Dagoba, no less), fancy beer, toys, comics, etc.... All those things your friends might like that don't really fit in a piñata!

I have to say, that system worked beautifully! It managed to make a piñata for grown-ups fun and interesting without being tawdry.

But it was gory. And I have to admit, I loved it.

Poor Luke! With his innards all busted out. He put up a decent fight, though. He evaded me on every hit but one! Maybe I'm just a bad aim...

Looks like somebody won a prize! I hope that Book People buys them a very nice and enjoyable book, perhaps one even about building intricately gory pop culture piñatas... or maybe about Star Wars nerds and their crazy nerd-and reference-ridden parties.

Or maybe something else completely.

So, that's the big fat post for today, and I believe my first tutorial! It was a fun one for me, and I hope it can be for you as well.

I can't wait to see everybody's Luke piñatas floating around the intercomputer. Or any other piñata you might make using this tutorial. ¡I do love me some piñatas!

And don't forget, tomorrow is the last day of The Empire Strikes Back Birthday Party saga. Be sure to catch it! Pin It


Megan G said...

Man, that's really awesome. How long do you have to hold each piece of crepe paper in place with the glue before it will stay put on its own? It looks crazy time-consuming.

alicia policia said...

Megan - You don't have to hold the paper pieces in place to dry at all. Just stick it on there with a smidge of glue, and it's good to go!

They shouldn't move since the paper is pretty absorbant, and if they do slide, it might be that you're using too much glue.

And it is time consuming, but that's just how it is when making piñatas! They are just a time consuming craft. But the time does go by pretty quckly.

You become a well oiled papering machine!

Lauren Pettapiece said...

Thanks for documenting and sharing this awesome project! Way to pass on the piñata love.

Love your work, keep it up!

danabanana said...

Awesome. <3


It's good to know that my friends are as OCD as I am! Looks like a truly awesome party!

Anonymous said...


I would like to be making the proposings of marriage to you.

jordanthemostwonderfulest said...

You've totally inspired me! I started a pinata tonight! Not nearly as awesome as Luke, but I'm having a blast so far. :)

alicia policia said...

Jordan - Awesome! Can't wait to see you're piñata. Glad you're having a blast!

polly conway said...

Alicia! This is the most amazing tutorial I have ever seen. I blogged about you/linked to you on the ReadyMade blog this morning; hope you like!

Anonymous said...

I like this idea.
I think I will make an "obama" one for our Christmas Party!

Tanya Batrak said...

Great tutorial! What this tecnique is called? I mean glueing those little paper pieces. Is this a mexican traditional decoration? So many questions :D Here in Ukraine one can hardly find a pinata...

alicia policia said...

Hi Tanka! Glad you liked it.

While a piñata is a Mexican cultural tradition (as well as a tradition in many other cultures and countries), I cannot say if the many of gluing on the little pieces of paper is part of it.

To the best of my knowledge, most piñatas are made of papier mache, and are wrapping in fringed crepe paper.

What I show here is not a Cuban method of paper gluing either, even though I am half Cuban (and although I know some blogs have written this up and linked to it calling it a Cuban piñata tutorial, it's not a Cuban style piñata -- those use ribbons).

Gluing the pieces of paper onto the piñata is just something my mother came up with on her own, and she is neither Mexican nor Cuban (my dad is the Cuban).

So I guess you could say it's an American technique! :)

Tanya Batrak said...

Thanks! =)

Angie@DesertWind said...

Oooh, thank you! I'm going to be trying this soon; if I do, I'll send you a picture!

ElenaArmbrust said...

This is EXACTLY what I was trying to find for my son's 7th bday party this weekend! Thanks SO much for sharing! I am going to try to do a Darth Vader Lego Minifigure (good one! I was not diggin the paper mache idea and I think you just saved me from it! Off to get the supplies now...thanks again! I can't wait to try this out :)

Serge said...

This step-by-step DIY tutorial for a pinata would surely be helpful for those who have the time to make one! All that effort would surely be worth it once it's done. Thanks for sharing this tutorial!