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Papyrus activity

Where would learning about ancient Egypt be without making your own papyrus?

This is such a fun hands-on activity to do with kids and can easily take up an entire day once you take into account the drying times. We did ours over two different days- one day to make the papyrus and one day to decorate it and paint it. But it could easily be condensed into one day if the papyrus is made first thing in the morning and the time it takes to dry is spent looking at what Ancient Egyptian art looked like. Expect the glue to take anywhere between 2-4 hours to dry.

We used:

- brown craft paper cut into strips

- white glue mixed with water to create a glue wash (PVA or wood glue work well for this)

- wide flat brushes

- and, of course, newspapers to protect any surfaces

The newspaper ended up getting stuck to the back of our papyrus projects which we didn’t mind so much about. However, if you would like your project to look like a papyrus both front and back, then something non-stick (such as baking paper) should go between the newspaper and the project.

Right! Let’s get started!

A key point to remember is that we won’t be using the glue wash like you would a glue stick to glue individual pieces together when you put the glue just on the sections that will overlap. Instead, as you place each strip of paper down, cover the whole strip with a thin layer of your glue wash.

Another important point is one that goes without saying really - each strip you place down has to overlap slightly the strip that came before.

Now you have a choice:

You can either place all your horizontal strips down first (overlapping and washing over with glue for each strip) and then place all your vertical strips.

Or you can alternate between a horizontal and a vertical strip as you go. So you place a horizontal then a vertical then a horizontal again and so on. The second option gives you a stronger weave and the project is much more likely to survive as a whole piece of you intend on keeping it for a long time. However, it ends up giving you a square papyrus rather than a long “scroll” shape. Of course, you could always cut it later!

Here is a (very bad!) diagram made by me for how it would look if you choose to alternate horizontally with vertical strips.

And here is what it might end up looking like when you are all done.

Mr 7 chose to depict the sun god Ra, the Nile with a boat (yes, that is a boat), a pyramid and a scarab beetle.

Miss 6 went for Bastet as her choice of god. She decided to colour the sky as well so her scarab beetle on the left looks as though it is flying through the sky holding the sacred sun. Her boat with the white sail is on the right next to a very small yellow pyramid.

She also decided to use some of our DIY natural pigment paint (detailed blog here) to depict some papyrus plants along the bank of the river and mum gave a little hint how to use her brush to make it look pointy at the top.

All in all, this was a great activity to wrap up our Ancient Egypt section and it really showed which bits of information had stayed with the kids, which bits they enjoyed most and (by omission) which they weren’t so enthusiastic about.

My top tip for the drawing and painting part of this activity would be to have some scrap paper on hand to practice some of the shapes and details they want to use on their papyruses. Miss 6 and Mr 7 found it hard to just copy and example I drew on the board so it would have been better for me to sit down with them and guide them through the basic shapes of what they were drawing. A 10-year-old friend who joined us for this activity, had no problem copying my simplistic diagrams of beetles, boats and pyramids.

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