This Halloween, I wanted to do something epic and distinctly a part of Latter-day Saint culture. I’ve seen other LDS Halloween costumes, but they seem to be relegated to people: missionaries, scriptural figures, or famous members.
I wanted to do something cool, something recognizable, but also something that wasn’t related to a sacred figure. After a lot of thought, I settled on the Liahona. Here is how the Liahona is described in the Guide to the Scriptures:
In the Book of Mormon, a brass ball with two pointers that gave directions—as a compass—and also spiritual instruction to Lehi and his followers when they were righteous. The Lord provided the Liahona and gave instructions through it.
This is how Nephi describes it himself in the Book of Mormon:
And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness.
Outside of a few simple sewing projects, I’ve never crafted a Halloween costume before. It took me a week and some experimentation, but I was able to create a fun Liahona costume that is a great conversation starter at your ward trunk-or-treat.
I want you to be able to make this costume yourself! Below is step by step instructional videos on how to do it!
Step 1: Anchor Your Balloon
I had never bought a balloon so big before. I went to one of our local party supply stores, where they provided the balloon and filled it up for me. You definitely want to make space in your car for it! I couldn’t get it through the back passenger doors, so I put my passenger seat all the way down and tied the ballon to the head rest. This allowed me some visibility when driving.
At first, it seemed like tying the balloon down would be enough to anchor it. However, once I started to apply the paper mache, the weight caused it to tip everywhere. It was a big mess. In the end, I learned the best way to anchor your balloon is to get a balloon weight or a heavy object. Place the weight inside a circular container, such as a trash can, and let the balloon rest on the lip ever so lightly.
Step 2: Paper Mache Prep
Paper mache is really simple and this was my first time making it. I watched a lot of videos on how to do it, but in the end, I did my own thing.
First, the paper. At our office, we had an excess roll of heavyweight printing paper, so that is what I used. You can use newspaper, paper towels, or any other type of paper. When it comes to prepping your materials, the biggest tip I can give is cutting as much paper as you can ahead of time. You don’t want to have to stop what you’re doing just to go and get some more, leaving your current layer undone.
Cutting the paper into small squares is popular because it leaves your surface really smooth and conformed to the balloon. However, I found this took a lot of time. By the third coat, I was cutting my paper into strips that were approximately 6 inches long and 2 inches wide.
I made my paper mache paste out of flour and water. While some people use ratios and recipes, I just added a bunch of water to a bunch of flour until I had a runny, pancake batter-like consistently. Mix well until there are no clumps. Some people add salt and/or cinnamon to prevent mold and improve the smell. I didn’t end up using either and it worked without a problem.
Step 3: Paper Mache Your Balloon
This is the most labor-intensive part of the whole project. I did three layers in three days, but you can do as many as you want. I wouldn’t suggest doing less than three. After some trial and error, I found it useful to paper mache in a pattern. I liked starting at the bottom and doing about two strips up in height in the surface area I could see. Then, I’d turn the balloon in its container and continue until I had a single layer all the way around the bottom. I would then move up.
On the second day, I tried starting from the top, but I was so tired by the end trying to kneel and work on the bottom was harder.
To start adding paper mache, dip a single strip into the paste. I used one clean hand and one paste hand. The clean hand dipped the strip into the mixture while the paste hand wiped away the excess. Press the strip onto the balloon and rub flat. You want to avoid it crinkling up or having a loose flap of paper. You can use your hand to add more paste if needed.
Add the strips so they overlap slightly over each other. Complete a layer and allow to dry. I live in a dry climate and 12-16 hours was plenty for each layer.
Step 4: Adding the Decorations
For me, adding the decorations was the most frustrating part of the process. I had sketched a good design, but making it come to life was a lot harder than I anticipated. I went to a few different stores and gathered supplies I already had. In the end, I had flexible wooden dowel rods, styrofoam balls, and cardboard cutouts. I used hot glue to attach everything and even used the hot glue itself as some of the decoration, almost like you would pipe frosting on a cake.
Ask for help adding the larger accents, especially if they are going to curve around the balloon. It’s a huge surface area and the hot glue needs to dry in place. It would have been much faster and cleaner if I had asked for some help. I also suggest trying to measure things more. I ended up with more crooked lines than I would have liked, but I wasn’t very patient.
I kept my decorations to the bottom half of the balloon since I planned to cut out my triangles.
I would definitely suggest checking your local dollar store for things. I was about the purchase the styrofoam balls from the craft store, where you could get 4 for $6 in the floral craft section. I got the same exact thing for a $1 next door at Dollar Tree.
Step 5: Pop and Cut!
You do NOT want to pop your balloon until all your decorations have been glued on. The balloon adds such support while you’re gluing. Without it, the paper mache form is a lot more fragile.
To pop the balloon, I just stabbed it with some scissors and it deflated in a single second. It didn’t stick and all and I could lift it right out.
I was lucky enough to have access to a power jigsaw tool. If you can, I definitely suggest using one. It made the entire process so much easier. You also want to have someone help stabilize the balloon for you. I didn’t find the need for protective glasses, but they may be a good idea.
Start by cutting the bottom hole. You want to start small and test putting it on until the hole is just big enough so you can retain as much of the circular shape as possible. I really wanted to be able to put on and take off the costume myself, so I wanted the bottom hole to fit over both my shoulders when my arms were at my side. If you lift both arms straight up, the hole can be smaller, but you won’t be able to take it off or put it on without help.
You will know you have the right size when your head can touch the top of the paper mache form.
Once we had it done, I just eyeballed a top oval for my head. We got it right on the first try and I definitely didn’t need it to be as big as I thought. This is another place you can use measurements if you’d like to.
Step 6: Cut Out Triangles
Outside of the gold paint, the triangle cutouts make the costume look like the Liahona more than anything else. You definitely want to measure out five even different points around the sphere and draw on the triangles. I just sketched them on with a highlighter, but I ended up having the change the placement a few times. Save yourself the trouble and measure it all out beforehand.
I chose to do five triangles because it would help keep the integrity of the sphere, but still leave room for my arms. More triangles will make the upper portion a lot more fragile.
A huge tip is to use a pushpin or a needle to poke a small opening into each corner of the triangle. Trying to push the jigsaw or scissors in will just rip the paper mache. Creating the tiny holes allowed me to slip the cutting tools in and get clean lines.
Step 6.5: Paper Mache
I chose not to do this because the costume felt sturdy enough, but you can paper mache over all of your decorations for more durability and smoothness. If you have time, I would definitely paper mache over any styrofoam you have. You’ll see why in a second.
Step 7: Paint!
I used a normal sized can of white primer and gold spray paint for the entire project and was pleased with the results. If you have used colored paper, you may want to get more primer. I placed the entire thing on a tall cardboard box so I didn’t have to turn it on its side. Follow the directions based on the spray paint you choose. I allowed the finished, painted costume to dry for 24 hours before I wore it. I did not use a top gloss coat.
Styrofoam eats up spray paint, so I had to do a lot of extra paint on them. If you can, paper mache over any styrofoam decorations you’ve added. I think painting on thicker acrylic paint would have worked better for the styrofoam parts as well.
The Spire Headband
I made a spire/spindle headband by getting a wide plastic headband and gluing a foam cone on top. I then spray painted the entire thing gold. Only do one side at a time and balance it. I tried to do the whole thing and the paint got too sticky and the cone got stuck to the cardboard.
I’m super pleased with how my Liahona costume came out, especially since this was my first time ever attempting something like it!