Did you ever wonder how to build one of the “giants’ that tower over parades, particularly in Europe? You can build one of your own with these instructions. Forget why you would want to build your own 14 foot tall parade giant. Or, adopt one of my reasons without serious analysis: you’ve always been fascinated by this spectacular European parade tradition; some fool nominated you head of your local parade committee and you want to prove you’re worthy of the honor; the artistic challenge entices you; you can’t say no to a do-it-yourself project; or, you’re a bit of a show-off; how better to direct the flow of attention your way than by producing such a monstrosity.
Now that you have a motive, time to gather some supplies. This will require about $50-75 and six stops:
From Your Home Recycling Bin
Newspaper, huge quantities of it
A large cereal or similar box made from flexible cardboard
14 toilet paper rolls
From Your Pantry
From a Department Store
Inexpensive, oversize child’s ball
From a Hardware Store
1 roll chicken wire, 8-10 feet in length
Three 2x4s, in 10 ft. lengths
Roll of small gauge wire that is easy to manipulate
Heavy duty staple gun and staples
From an Art Store
One large and one small paintbrush
Acrylic paint (choose colors for skin, hair, eyes, and lips)
If you prefer, you may use spray paint for the basic skin color and acrylic paint to add accents.
Note: please do not substitute a non-permanent paint like tempera- it will wash off in the event of wet weather.
From a Fabric Store
Lengths of fabric sufficient to clothe your finished giant
Thread to match the fabric
Consider scheduling this stop after the giant frame is complete so you will have exact dimensions with which to work.
Hint: Bring the exact dimensions of the sections of your giant to be covered by clothing (circumference and length of torso and arms for shirt and length from waist to bottom of legs and circumference at widest point) to a fabric store where the staff can advise you on how much fabric you will need, depending on the type of outfit chosen.
By now you are invested in this project, so let’s get on with it. Step one is to make the giant’s head from papier mache.
Making the Giant’s Head
The giant’s head will be constructed from the ball, cardboard, and papier mache.
Cut a strip of cardboard about 6 inches wide from the cereal box. It should be long enough that, when the ends are taped to form a circle, it will be the correct size for the giant’s neck. Make the neck a few inches taller than you want the finished neck to look, since some of it will be placed inside the torso to secure the giant’s head to its body.
Balance the ball on the neck. Tape ball and neck together in a few places to hold them in place.
The next task is covering the head and neck with papier mache. This will be done in several phases. While you can cover leftover papier mache paste with plastic wrap and use it a day or two later, it is best to make small batches. The recipe below is for one batch.
To 2 c. boiling water, add:
½ c. flour
2 c. cold water
Stir. Bring to second boil. Remove from heat and stir in 2-3 T. sugar. Cool.
Tear strips of newspaper 1 inch wide and about 6-12 inches long (strips can vary in size). Place a strip of paper in the paste. Run your fingers over the strip to remove excess paste. Place strip on head. Smooth into place, making sure the stip is flat, with no bumps, air pockets, dry patches or lumps of paste. Use extra paste as necessary. Continue until entire head and neck is covered. Use vertical strips of paper that extend from the head to the neck when covering the lower face/neck area. When the entire head and neck is covered, let dry completely, approximately 24 hours.
Repeat the papier mache procedure. This time, begin to add facial features and hair. Use rolled pieces of newspaper coated in papier mache paste to create eye sockets, an eye ball, eye lids, eyebrows, lips, ears and hair. After they dry in place, place new strips of newspaper over them to cover the seams where they are attached. For most features, this will require several layers. Unless you want a round head, use small wads of newspaper attached with papier mache strips to fill out facial features such as checks and chin. Twisted lengths of newspaper or curls work for hair, or roll pieces or newspaper for a sculpted look. For effect the hair should add an inch or more of height to the head.
Although it is possible to create a giant head with only a few layers of papier mache, it is best to use 12 or more layers so that the head is durable.
When your giant head is finished, let it dry. Sand lightly if a smooth texture is desired. Paint. Thorough coverage will probably require two coats of paint.
The Giant’s Hands
Make frames for the hands by cutting two toilet paper rolls lengthwise, one for each hand, and taping them together to form a hand shape (thumb and fingers will be added later). Trim as needed and stuff any valleys with small bits of newspaper. Cut a hole in each hand for the thumb (making sure to make one right hand and one left hand by placing one hole on the left side of its frame and the other on the right).
Cut one toilet paper roll lengthwise for each thumb. Shorten to the appropriate length. Roll tightly to the appropriate width for the thumb hole. Tape in place. To make the tips of the thumbs, place a ball of rolled newspaper inside the end of the finger. Use tiny balls of newspaper moistened with papier mache to make knuckles. It may be necessary to stuff hands with crumpled newspaper to properly shape them.
If desired, cut fingernails from cereal box and tape in place. Follow the same procedure for the other fingers, adjusting the lengths to reflect the relative size of the different fingers. Tape these in place and create finger tips and, if desired, nails, in the same manner as you did for the thumbs. Use the same procedure used to papier mache the head to papier mache the hands.
Uh-oh. Now, you’re feeling pretty accomplished. Beware! The hard part is just starting.
The Giant’s Body
Before working on the giant’s body, choose a workspace that will accommodate its final dimensions. The standing giant will likely exceed your ceiling height. If laid flat on a floor for several days, it will take up a lot of space. It will also require adequate maneuvering room to be brought to its ultimate destination, likely the outdoors, if you intend to use it in a parade. One solution to the workspace space dilemma is to create the torso and arms indoors, then move the project outside to complete it.
If you plan to keep the giant, give thought in advance to storage space and transport.
Don a pair of work gloves and unroll the chicken wire. If you are making a male giant or a female giant that wears pants, you will need to create a torso, two arms and two legs. If you are making a female giant, that wears a long dress, you will need a torso, two arms, and additional framing to hold the skirt in place.
Each giant is a unique creation, so there are no precise rules to follow for body size and shape. Consider the proportionality of the human figure when deciding how long the torso should be and how long the legs and arms. Assuming your giant’s height to be approximately 14 feet, its width should be a little more than twice the width of a tall adult human unless you are deliberately making a rotund giant.
Using wire cutters, cut a length of chicken wire to form the torso. Roll the outside edges together and secure them with wire. Fold the upper edges inward- cut a hole the size of the neck at the middle- secure the shoulders with wire. Cut one 2×4 to the length of the torso. Slip it inside the torso and staple the chicken wire that forms the back of the torso to it – it will be the giant’s spine.
Bend the chicken wire to shape the torso or add features like breasts or a round stomach or buttocks by wiring them in place. To make a smaller waist, pinch the bottom of the torso together. Fill the torso with crumpled newspaper to maintain the shape. Seal the bottom edge of the torso with wire, to secure the paper.
Arms and Legs
Cut two lengths of chicken wire for arms and, if applicable, two for legs. The width of the arms and legs should be about double the width of the arms and legs of a tall adult human. Roll the outside edges of each arm and leg to form a tunnel, and secure the length with wire. Attach arms to shoulder area, wiring all around the circumference of the top of each arm. Using a hole punch or awl, place several holes around the circumference of each hand and wire each hand to its correct arm (thumbs toward body).
Similarly roll the outer edges of the chicken wire that will be used to create a leg toward each other and wire closed. Attach each leg to the bottom of the torso, making sure to wire all around the circumference. It is not necessary to stuff the arms and legs with newspaper.
Measure identical length 2x4s to secure the legs. The 2x4s should extend far enough up into the torso to support the giant and should also extend below the end of the legs. Place the 2x4s inside the outer edges of the legs and torso and use the staple gun to staple the chicken wire frame to them.
If you are making a skirted giant, the 2x4s will extend from the torso to the ground. Instead of legs, extend chicken wire skirting out from the torso toward the floor. It should be about two-thirds of the length the finished skirt will be (the remainder of the skirt will simply drape off it toward the ground).
Note that the giant does not have feet. This is not a mistake.
Use a hole punch or awl to place holes around the base of the neck about one inch from the edge. Tuck neck inside torso and secure it with wire. As you are securing the head, make sure it is aligned so that it will stand erect. Err on the side of over-securing.
Before dressing the giant, stand it up and try walking it around. If it is difficult to manipulate, alternating movement of the side 2x4s as if they were legs, you can extend a flat wooden lever from the spine as an extra control point (attach with staple gun) but remember to let it stick out of the clothing so you will have access to it.
Dressing the Giant
If you are a seamstress, do not read these directions. Make the clothes as you see fit so you will be satisfied with the result. You would probably find these directions appalling. These directions are intended to create a functional permanent outfit which need not be perfect as it will be viewed from ground level.
Cut the cloth to cover the arms, legs or skirt, and torso separately. Leave at least an extra inch for side seams and hems; leave about 4 extra inches at the top edge of each torso surface to cover the shoulders. Pin the cloth in place, turning the edges inward to form seams. Once the clothes are pinned to the giant, the most tedious job of all begins- sewing them in place. I have tried to simplify this job with stitch witchery, glue guns and safety pins; unfortunately none of these methods is effective at keeping the clothing together. However, you do not have to sew perfect, tiny stitches as long as you use the same color thread as the cloth. You might consider using a wide belt made from a scarf or other artifice to cover the waist area. Similarly to obliterate evidence of the neck-torso connection, you may want to tie a scarf around the neck with a scarf or use fabric or wide ribbon to create a high collar.
Using Your Giant in a Parade
Walking a parade giant is slow and energy intensive. For a small neighborhood parade, one adult could probably handle the giant. For a larger parade, plan for multiple adults to share the workload.