It's Thanksgiving week! In addition to pressing civic matters,* there are feasts to cook, family and friends to see, and centerpieces to make. If, like me, you're more of a just-in-time holiday decorator, these paper lanterns are perfect because there's still plenty of time to finish one, or even some, before Thursday.
And before you offer some excuse about not being "crafty enough," or being "too busy," let me assure you that this is a straightforward craft that requires very little time or particular skill, and yet it still provides a huge visual impact, especially after dusk. It would brighten your Thanksgiving hosts' table or your own.
I learned how to make these lanterns at the Parent Craft Circle at Wyatt's school last Wednesday. By Thursday, Wyatt and I had already made two more lanterns. I love learning new things from inspiring people. Yoriko, the handwork teacher at Wyatt's school who facilitates the Craft Circle, is not only inspiring, she's infinitely knowledgeable, patient, clear, and she's one of those incredible listeners who hears not only the words you say, but also the words you choose not to say, and she responds with a rare depth of sensitivity and clarity. As you might imagine, Craft Circle with Yoriko is pretty terrific.
When I told Yoriko I was planning to write this how-to blog post for lanterns, she was enthusiastic about my spreading the lantern love, and she even sent me additional photos. Here is a photo of her own glowing lanterns (at least one of the lanterns is several years old, and when it is not lantern season, she unfolds it and stores it in her bookcase—how great is that?), as well as some of our paintings from the Craft Circle.
How To Make A Paper Lantern
Gather Your Supplies:
- Watercolor paper that's at least 15" on its shortest side (a 15" square yields a lantern that is approx. 6" from point to point; a 19" square yields a lantern that is approx. 8" from point to point).
- Jar (or cup) with water for rinsing brushes
- Neutral cooking oil
- LED votive candle (a real votive is a real fire hazard in a paper lantern).
Make Your Painting:
Cut your watercolor paper into a square. (If you have a long rectangle left, like we did, you can paint the rectangle, too. Once dry, you can cut it into pieces to use as gift cards.)
Create a wet-in-wet watercolor painting. An easy way to paint wet-in-wet is to put your square of paper in a basin if you have one large enough, or in the bathtub or shower if you don't. As you paint with watercolors on the wet paper, the pigments will spread, bloom, and blend fluidly. The center of the painting will be the center of the lantern; don't bother trying to paint figures or anything in particular. Abstract clouds of color work well for this project.
Even very small children can participate in this part of the project—just choose colors that when they blend, you get a beautiful result (try red and yellow, or red and blue).
Let the painting dry.
Oil Your Painting:
Take a neutral cooking oil (like canola or some other vegetable oil) and with a paper towel or a rag, apply a thin layer of oil to the painted or unpainted side of the paper. The oil helps the paper to become translucent, and it also makes the paper easier to fold. We applied the oil twice, and after the second coat, the paper was translucent.
Wait to begin folding until the oil has soaked in and the paper feels dry.
Fold Your Lantern:
Most of the following steps are to create an octagon with guide-folds. The lantern itself takes shape in the last three steps. Yoriko explained that the folding of the lantern is a project that is best for about seventh grade level or above. I let Wyatt participate in the folding by having him crease the folds I made.
While your painting dries, you may want to practice folding the lantern by using a regular old 8.5" x 11" piece of paper that you turn into a 8.5" x 8.5" square. You'll have your technique perfected by the time your painting is ready to go.
Make the Octagon:
Fold the square along the diagonal:
Fold the triangle in half, point-to-point:
Unfold the paper—you will have four triangles.
Fold the square in half to make a rectangle:
Fold the rectangle in half to make a square:
Unfold the paper—you will have 8 triangular sections radiating from the center of the paper.
You need 16 triangular sections, so fold your square along one of the guide-folds to make a rectangle. Notice the triangles. Take the outside edge of a triangle, line it up with the next fold, and make a crease. Fold that bisected triangle towards the back. Repeat from the edge with the next triangle.
Open the paper—you will have 16 triangular sections radiating from the center of the paper:
Fold the paper along one of the guide-folds so that the four corners of the square stick out like this:
Take your scissors and cut-off the triangles that are sticking-out. You may want to fold the triangles first so you have a guide-fold to cut.
You now have an octagon.
Fold the octagon into a square:
Open up the folds, turn the paper 45 degrees, and fold another square like the one you just did.
Fold the Lantern:
Look at the painted side of your paper, and find a "kite-shape." Fold the paper along the guide-folds you created so that you're tucking-in the edges around each of the kite shapes:
You'll end up with stack of 8 "kites":
Fold the top triangle of each of the 8 "kites" down:
Gently begin to open up your lantern. Smush the bottom so that it flattens out and the lantern can sit level. Add light and you're done!
There are lots of different ways to make this type of lantern, including according to this tutorial. Check it out and see which way makes the most sense to you.
* This week, I am calling my representatives to remind them, once again, how unacceptable I find the President Elect's appointment of racists and bigots; I am participating in Senator Paul Ryan's telephone survey to register my support for the imperfect-yet-necessary Affordable Care Act (Call (202) 225-0600, press 2 to weigh-in on the issue, listen to a couple of paragraphs of partisan commentary about the ACA, press 1 in support of the ACA, and leave a voicemail if you want); and I am gathering with some friends to plan how we will get more involved in our communities.