HOW TO: Make a Pull-String Piñata

Piñatas are a tradition in my family, and we will have one at Little Miss’ second birthday party this weekend. Rather than blindfold toddlers and let them swing bats in my living room, we opted for a pull-string piñata.

Photo of a chicken or duck-like pinata suspended from a broom handle as many strings dangle between the animal's legs.
As the name implies, you don’t whack this piñata to crack it open. Kids take turns pulling dangling ribbons from the piñata’s bottom. One of those ribbons opens a trap door, releasing goodies.

You can buy such a piñata ready-to-go, or retrofit any normal one. All your piñata needs is a flat bottom. Our chicken-duck-whatever piñata didn’t have a flat bottom, but its buttocks were flat.

(My sincerest apologies for the photo with blown highlights. I’m stuck using a lousy camera today.)

Supplies:

  1. One flat-bottomed piñata.
  2. Box cutter and/or scissors.
  3. Ample string or ribbon.
  4. Elmer’s glue, the kind that dries clear.
  5. Crepe (tissue) paper which matches the color of your piñata’s bottom, or is a complimentary color.

Step 1: Mark a 3″x3″x3″ area on the bottom of the piñata indicating where you will make an incision.

Our piñata was covered in fluffy crepe paper strips intended to look like feathers, so we marked our cutting point with tape. The tape ripped feathers when it was removed, but that didn’t matter. The whole area will be covered with a new layer of crepe paper in step 7.

Step 2: Make the 3″x3″x3″ incision using a box cutter or scissors. (See a photo of the trap door.) Our made-in-Mexico piñata is composed largely of thick cardboard, so regular scissors were out of the question.

Step 3: Poke a hole in the middle of the trap door using scissors. Thread a 3-foot-long ribbon through the hole and put a large knot on the exterior side of the door. The knot should be big enough that it cannot be pulled through the hole when a toddler yanks the ribbon. (See a photo of the ribbon in the trap door.)

Alternate Step 3B: If the knot is too big and you think it will be unseemly when you put crepe paper over it in step 7, use this workaround. Poke two holes in the middle of the trap door. Thread a 3-foot-long ribbon through one hole from the interior to the exterior of the door and then back up into the interior side of the door. Place a big knot on the end of the ribbon which lies inside the piñata.

Step 4: Cut 16 or more 2-foot-long ribbon segments. The length is arbitrary. It should be long enough so that when attached to the piñata the ribbons would fall well below the piñata and be easy to grab.

Step 5: Attach the ribbons around the perimeter of the piñata’s bottom, inset from the edge by a half inch to an inch.  Use small pieces of tape to attach the ribbons.

Step 6: Fill the piñata with goodies. Close the trap door, but do not secure it. In most cases the door should stay shut on its own.

Footnote: Because we have a chicken-duck-looking piñata, we put the goodies in plastic Easter eggs so that when the trap door opens, the “chucken” beast will lay dozens of eggs in rapid succession.

Step 7: Now you need to hide the trap door and the connection points for all the ribbons. Drape the special ribbon so it dangles off the trap door’s edge opposite the door’s hinge. The ribbon should then continue to the piñata’s edge and be positioned near the other ribbons. Cut a piece of crepe paper roughly the size and shape of the area you need to conceal. Glue the crepe paper to the piñata. We bought our crepe paper from the Michael’s craft store. They sell packets of paper in three shades, ensuring one will be a close match. (See a photo of the crepe paper fully applied.)

Step 8. Let the glue dry. Trim the special ribbon so it is the same length as the other ribbons. It should not be indistinguishable from the other ribbons. That’s it. You’re done.

Did these instructions make sense? Post or e-mail me questions.

On Monday I’ll detail the non-candy goodies we used in the piñata, explain the ground rules we set so that one, two and three-year-olds could compete equally for the same loot, and reveal whether the whole thing was a joyous success or ended in a room full of crying toddlers.

Also see:
Pinatas.com photo example. Pinatas.com sells a $3 pull-string conversion kit if you’d prefer not to gather the needed supplies. We bought a piñata from pinatas.com for our wedding. (Don’t give the wedding ring to your best man. He’ll lose it. Keep it safe inside a piñata. While you’re at it, make your friends compete for the title of best man. First person to find the ring as it scatters across the floor wins.)

Comments

13 Responses to “HOW TO: Make a Pull-String Piñata”

  1. Mark says:

    Me and my best friend have birthdays 4 days apart, and we always had our parties together growing up — complete with pinatas. The pull string is quite an innovation, and I assume it’d be a good solution for folks who don’t have either a park handy or tons of indoor space, or for younger children with uncertain aim with a bat. But there’s just something about the violence of beating the tar out of a good pinata that gets lost there.

    June 10th, 2006 at 11:43 am

  2. Rochelle Nelson says:

    I just made a home-made pinata. I used a punching balloon, and made it into a jack-o-lantern. I’m loosely following your directions on making the trap door and a pull string. The party is in a few days. I will send a picture and notes on how it went.

    Thanks for posting the directions on how to do it on your website!

    October 21st, 2006 at 10:22 pm

  3. Chelsea Evans says:

    I have a daughter who is just turning two and I really wasn’t enthused with the idea of young children swinging a stick around to try and break a traditional pinata!
    I was thrilled to find this site with the information on how to build a proper pull string pinata as I am in the process of building my own 3D flower pinata!
    Her birthday isn’t until October so I will be sure to send in pictures of the completed project! Thanks again!

    August 2nd, 2007 at 12:03 am

  4. Janie says:

    I have found a much easier way to do this. Cut the trap door as you suggested. Poke one hole through with the scissors and thread a ribbon through it at the end of the trap door near where it closes and tie the knot on the inside, this ribbon would be cut 2 feet, 2 inches long. The other 15 ribbons would be cut 2 feet long only. They are to be glued, with clear drying glue to the bottom, one drop only to the bottom onto a piece of the crepe paper. No need to put that piece of crepe paper to cover the trap door to cover the knot and ribbon ends…..too much trouble!!! A dot of glue on a ribbon on a piece of crepe paper will hold the ribbon and pull away when the child yanks it. A tug on the other ribbon with the knot inside the pinata opens the trap door. Thanks for the site and sharing!!!!

    June 7th, 2008 at 6:49 am

  5. S&S says:

    Thanks for the instructions. Very helpful and will be put to use.

    July 26th, 2008 at 12:01 am

  6. orode says:

    Thanks so much for this tip. I’m having a few of my daughters friends over to celebrate her birthday and between you and a home-made paper bag pinata tip I’m sorted!

    God bless you with many more ideas to share

    September 2nd, 2008 at 3:37 pm

  7. Diana says:

    Great, have been wanting to find a good pull string pinata but haven’t been able to find a suitable one for my twins halloween 3rd birthday party. I am going to have a go at converting one. Many thanks for the tip!!

    October 10th, 2008 at 1:52 pm

  8. RUTH says:

    HOW DO YOU CONTROL THE STRINGS SO THAT THE FIRST ONE PULLED IS NOT THE ONE THAT OPENS THE PINATA?

    March 13th, 2009 at 2:17 pm

  9. AJ says:

    Ruth, there’s no guarantee the first string won’t be the one to open the pinata. Make that string shorter than the rest so kids are less likely to pull it.

    March 14th, 2009 at 8:59 am

  10. Carolyn says:

    Thanks so much for this, I waited until the last minute and now don’t have time to get a kit shipped to me – now I can DIY. Thanks!

    March 20th, 2009 at 1:54 pm

  11. Janie says:

    I was thinking about the problem of the correct string being pulled early on & I think I’m going to have each girl take a string & have them all pull at once, that way they’ll all get a chance to pull a string – which is pretty important to 6 yr olds…..

    July 16th, 2010 at 2:32 pm

  12. Rebekah says:

    This sounds great for my son’s birthday… We are having it at a park, but there’s nowhere to really securely hang the pinata for the traditional whacking! :)

    February 4th, 2011 at 3:51 pm

  13. Shannon says:

    I am making my own pinata for my daughter’s 2nd birthday. I wanted to do the pull pinata because the idea of 8 two year olds swinging a bat in my home scared me! These directions are great! I am going to have them all take a ribbon and pull at once since two year olds aren’t great at waiting thier turn & to ensure each child gets a chance to pull a ribbon. Can’t wait to see them enjoy the pinata! Thanks for the directions!

    March 3rd, 2011 at 6:26 am