Thursday, February 23, 2017

Harry Potter Party: Brooms

Broomsticks today!

Of all the takeaways at Emily's Harry Potter party, these broomsticks were by far the most challenging to conceptualize. For one, there were no convenient versions on the internet that satisfied the list of mental conditions Emily had for what her broomsticks needed to look like. For another, we were mass-producing a thing which even the simplest of those internet versions claimed to require a lot of time and effort. Finally, for the longest time, Emily and I were also not on the same page regarding the finished look: I visualized a practical Walmart kitchen broom with its bristles splayed out, and Emily envisioned . . . well, the Firebolt. 

Unbelievably, we did actually design a mass-produceable version that looked quite like what Emily had pictured. We are happy to share that with you today!

If I were making just one (instead of 12), I'd have done it a little differently. For the broom handle, for instance, I'd have waited instead till I found an actual tree branch that was charmingly bent, and perhaps used actual bristles or thin twigs. 

This mass-produceable version, though, uses straight dowels and papier mache - not necessarily cheaper, but we had a lot more control over obtaining  and working with our materials.

First, start with dowels. We bought 7/8"-diameter dowels from the craft store. These came as 36" (1 yard) lengths, which was not quite long enough for a broom+bristles, but we found a way to extend the length in a later step.

These we spray-painted brown.

Next, we wrapped a piece of cardboard around one end as shown. This was for two reasons:
  1. 36" was not long enough to make a proportionate-looking broom+bristles, This roll of cardboard added a few much-needed inches.
  2. Rather than gluing the crumpled paper (see later step) directly to the dowel, we glued that to this cardboard layer. This way, if someday we wanted to re-use our dowels, we'd just cut off the cardboard layer and poach back that dowel.

Back on task now - wrap cardboard around one end of the dowel, so that the dowel only protrudes into it partway. We used cereal box cardboard, backs of writing pads and notebooks, etc. The exact size of the cardboard doesn't matter, but ours was roughly 4.5" x 11" (or the back of an 8.5" x 11" notebook cut down the middle to make two narrow rectangles). Our dowel end was roughly 6" into the cardboard.

Apply glue as needed

to wrap and secure the cardboard around the end of the dowel

like so.

Now rip up one grocery sack.

Crush pieces into lumps.

Hot-glue them around the cardboard tube, filling the middle portion more fully than the ends - this is meant to be blimp-shaped.

These crushed lumps create a form on which to apply the papier mache. Emily's original idea was to use a drinking water bottle shoved onto the end of the dowel for a form. We tried that, and found it too skinny and short. 

Here's a whole bunch of lumpy-ended broomsticks.

Next, tape over all hollows with masking tape. This helps smooth out the surface on which to lay the papier mache pieces. You can also use the tape to fine-tune the shape of the form.

Mix up a batch of papier mache paste, using flour+water or glue+water. We prefer the latter, because it dries faster and does not smell weird.

Cut butcher paper (or brown paper or newspaper) into squares, dip in the paste and layer over the form.

No need to make it uniform or symmetrical - there is a certain charm in those weird contours.

Tear (or cut) another grocery sack into long strips slightly longer than the form. Ours were about 13" long.

Dip the strips in paste and lay them lengthwise on the form, overlapping to cover the flat squares underneath.

Two things to note here:
  1. at the bottom end of the form (where the form joins the dowel) extend the strips beyond the form to rest on the dowel. You will be tying cord around this later.
  2. at the top end of the form, you will be shaping the ends of the brown strips to a point. See the next photo for this.

The finished papier-mache layers should look something like this:

When the papier mache is dry (ours took two days), paint everything. I actually liked the natural color of the brown paper, but the white paper layer was visible through the strips, so we had to paint everything (also to cover the red print on some of the strips). If you'd like to keep yours natural, be sure to use brown paper in the first layer, too.

The tips will have dried hard.

as will the ends at the bottom of the form.

Apply hot glue and wrap twine or cord around the lower end of the form to finish the look.

Finished broomstick!

On the day of the party, we provided metallic Sharpies for guests to inscribe the name their brooms on the dowels: Nimbus 2000, Firebolt, etc.


  1. Wow! What an impressive endeavor for mass production! I would have loved to have brooms when I did my child's Harry Potter party, but I'm not sure I could have added this project to all the others. They are truly amazing!

  2. How did the paper hold up when the children ran around playing with them?

    1. Very well, actually. The broom "bristles", having been coated with the glue and then paint, dried into a hard shell. Now, months later, we still stand our brooms on their pointy "bristles" end to store.


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