The Mother Tree: Papercrete & Cement-Soaked Cloths

The Mother Tree: work-in-progress

The unfinished Mother Tree.

This post will focus on creation the planter and tree using papercrete and cement-soaked cloth. There will be a series of Mother Tree posts for the component parts and the finished tree.

The Plan

This was a commissioned piece for a miniature fairy garden planter with lots of functional moving parts. I spent a while figuring out how to build a small hollow tree to secure to the planter. A wire armature was necessary, but the papercrete would be too bulky and would need a bit of detail work to make the bark texture. Using cement-soaked cloth over the armature would work nicely, and terry cloth would produce a cool nubby texture!

The planter would have a hardware cloth support built into the bottom to attach the armature wires. I would need a concept plan, or map, for reference so I would remember to include planting areas, pond, patio, walkway, and a few niches for critter homes.

Concerns

The project’s center of gravity was my biggest concern. I did not know how much weight the cement-soaked cloth would add to the upper portions of the tree, potentially making the project top-heavy. Also, the leaves would need to be of lightweight material to prevent adding to the upper weight issue. I decided that making the base a little heavy and keeping the tree short and stocky would help balance this fairy garden planter.

The Planter Base Construction

Planter Mold-Mesh-Armature

The planter mold, hardware cloth with wire armature, and concept plan.

A 12″ diameter clear plastic cake cover from the deli was used as the mold for the planter. I used a ruler and Sharpie to draw lines on the outside of the mold for the bottom thickness and wall heights, the tree and wall entry gate positions, and notes. I placed my concept plan in the mold to get everything lined up, and then removed it.

  • I covered the inside of the mold with vegetable oil.
  • I used papercrete with a little mortar to add some weight to the bottom. I mushed in a good layer of papercrete before adding the hardware cloth with the armature, then added more papercrete to cover.
  • The perimeter wall was made of a slightly lighter mix of papercrete without mortar. I put a little wood glue in the water (glue water) before mixing the cement to add strength and help adhesion to the bottom mix.
  • I let the papercrete planter cure under a moisture tent (plastic shopping bag) for a few days before removing it from the mold, and then smoothed sharp edges.

Tree Construction

The tree wires jutting from of the papercrete; just out of the mold.

The tree wires jutting from of the papercrete; just out of the mold.

Waiting until the papercrete base hardened allowed me to twist the wires into shape without worry of breaking the cement.

I painted the armature base wires to see them better and as a reminder of which wires were to be covered with the cement-soaked cloth.

looped-branches added-tap

The limbs formed and looped, the branches inserted, then taped.

I looped the ends of each armature wire to prevent poking my eyes while working and to insert bundles of floral wire branches to attach the leaves later on. I covered the ends of the little branch bundles with tape to keep the cement off them.

Terrycloth strips

Terry cloth strips of various lengths and sizes.

I cut more strips of terry cloth than I thought I would use, plus a few large triangular pieces for the roots. Tapering the strips would ease transitions from one strip to the next without creating bulging blobs.

Materials

Materials used for the cement slurry for soaking the terry cloth strips.

  • I mixed extra Portland cement and glue water to soak the cloth strips, to smooth any problem areas, and to level the planter floor.
  • I made sure to wrap the cement-soaked strips in the same direction so the previously attached strips would not come loose. I added extra strips to thicken limbs, and make sure the finish was going in tree-like direction.
  • I wrapped a few cloth strips around and over cut and oiled pieces of plastic drinking straws to form entrances to critter homes.
  • I used all but three of the tapered strips that I had cut . . . boy, that was close!
  • The Mother Tree was once again placed in a moisture tent to cure for a few days.

Click a photo to see a slideshow of the wet Mother Tree after the wrapping was complete. 

NOTE: I cut two of the armature wires and rolled them out-of-the-way so I could place the walkway. They remained until I decided if I could use them later in mounting the big fairy door in the tree trunk.

Paint: The Tree Comes to Life

Paint and texture detail

Paint and texture detail

Cured cement-soaked cloth accepts acrylic craft paints and stains very well. I apply a coat or two of thinned paint washes until I get a good base color, and then follow-up with a thicker paint for the details.

I apply at least two coats of clear sealer after the paint has completely dried in a few days.

This pictures shows the tree halfway through the painting process. 

Results

I am thrilled with the results using the cement-soaked cloth for the tree! I can’t stop looking at all the tiny nooks and crannies over the trunk, roots, and limbs. The photos just don’t do her justice. If I had this project to do over again, there would not be many things I would change. I can envision all kinds of tree-like entities that could be made with this technique: Ents, Groots, Green Men, . . . endless possibilities!!

Stay Tuned!

My blog posts have been sparse because I have been very busy the last several months. I wanted to get this segment posted for those interested in using cement-soaked cloths. I will try to get the next few installments of the Mother Tree’s progress posted a little quicker.

For more information on cement-soaked cloths, please see my earlier posts: “Experimenting With Cement Soaked Cloth”,and “Experimental Papercrete Hedge Growth Results”.

*.:。✿*’゚’*✿。.:* *.:。✿*’゚’*✿。.:*

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