Bend to Conquer: How to Make a Beautiful Paper Lantern

comments (12) July 14th, 2008     

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Jeff_Rudell Jeffery Rudell, contributor
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A single sheet of paper and some thoughtfully added cuts and folds will yield an eye-catching lampshade for a votive candle.
Download the full-size PDF (13 x 17) template for FOLDING your design. Pay special attention to which pieces are pushed inward and which pieces are pulled forward.
Roll the entire sheet into a tube and attach edge to edge with strong adhesive. Hold until dry or clamp with binder clips to ensure a secure bond.
A single sheet of paper and some thoughtfully added cuts and folds will yield an eye-catching lampshade for a votive candle.

A single sheet of paper and some thoughtfully added cuts and folds will yield an eye-catching lampshade for a votive candle.

Photo: Jeffery Rudell

Some years ago, I went to a meeting with an art director for a well-known magazine. As usual, I brought along my portfolio, my resume, and a list of previous clients, hoping to nab the job based on my past performance. This art director didn't have any interest in looking at what I'd done before. Instead she handed me a single sheet of paper and asked me to "do something impressive with it" and bring it back to her the next day. I went back to my studio, put the sheet of paper on my desk, and stared at it. Two hours later, I was no closer to having a single idea, let alone a sufficiently "impressive" one.

As the day dragged on, I dismissed the obvious things (such as turning it into a piece of origami) as well as the not-so-obvious things (such as burning half of it and drawing a picture on the other half using only the ashes). It seemed to me that the term "something impressive" was too vague. What I needed were some narrower parameters in which to work. (Does this happen to anyone else out there? When you can "do anything" do you find that, more often than not, you "do nothing"?)

My way of narrowing my options was to allow myself only two "actions": I could cut the paper (but not cut anything out of or off it) and I could bend the paper. Cutting and bending and nothing else. It seemed sufficiently impossible to me and so I set to work. The next morning when I went back, I placed the piece of paper on the art director's desk. Other than a bunch of cuts, slices really, it was the same paper she'd given me 24 hours earlier. I then proceeded to bend and twist it, first into the shape of a bouquet of flowers. Then, with a few more manipulations, into the distinctive shape of a VW Bug, and finally, into a three-dimensional picture of my own face.

It must have been sufficiently impressive because I did get the job. So, today, I thought I would focus on cutting and bending. (For the purposes of this demonstration, I've allowed for a little trimming in order to create a decorative edge along the top.)

The cutting involved is not complicated but it IS a bit difficult to explain using only words. To help make things easier for anyone interested in attempting this project, I've included a full-size PDF template that you can download and trace. Follow the directions carefully and you'll have a beautiful, delicate, and (I hope) "impressive" lantern shade that will cast a subtle and warm glow.

Cut with Care

On a sheet of 17" x 13" paper, trace the image of this iris (the attached full-size PDF template can be downloaded and printed at home). Pay special attention to the fact that many of the lines DO NOT CONNECT. This is intentional, as these areas will provide the hinges for our folding method.

Feel free to eliminate or modify the decorative design along the top edge of the page if you so prefer.

Click on the full-size PDF template (13" x 17") for CUTTING your design.

Here is a view of the sheet after it has been cut as indicated above.

Once you've finished cutting your lantern, begin to fold each component as indicated in the template below.

Once you have completed cutting the iris, start folding and shaping the cut areas. To help make it clear how these folds should be done, I've included a second template that you can download and view on your screen. Areas indicated by YELLOW are pushed through the paper so that they extend out the back. Areas indicated by GREEN are pulled forward so that they protrude from the front. You may wish to score the areas you intend to fold, using a bone creaser, as this will give you a cleaner edge.

Note that the center petal (pointing upward in the picture above) gets folded all the way forward until it points downward toward the leaves. A small dot of glue can be used to hold this in place if your paper is particularly stiff.

You can download a full-size PDF guide to folding the various sections.

Download the full-size PDF (13" x 17") template for FOLDING your design. Pay special attention to which pieces are pushed inward and which pieces are pulled forward.

Once you have folded and shaped the parts of the iris, you can roll the sheet into a tube and affix it, end to end, using double-sided tape or paper adhesive (be sure to line up the decorative shapes along the top edge). Burnish the tape to secure the adhesion or hold in place until the glue has dried.

Below is a picture of what your finished lantern shade should look like. Simply place your iris over a small glass containing a single tea light. (Caution: Do not use more than one tea light or any candle that is not enclosed in a glass holder; otherwise, your lantern may go up in flames.)

Roll the entire sheet into a tube and attach edge to edge with strong adhesive. Hold until dry or clamp with binder clips to ensure a secure bond.


posted in: paper, white

Comments (12)

Sunshine43 writes: Hi Jeff,
I was quite impressed with how you got your job your job.
I usually don't read something like this, but I had to find out what you did with that paper. It was interesting.
I do like your paper lantern. I am so happy you got that job.
If I had your address, I would make you a paper card that I enjoy making. Some are 3D cards and some of mine are teabag folding cards.
I seen that Christmas tree garland you made. I like it! Did
you use cardstock? Just wondered. That sure is a lot of punching to do. It looks lovely.
Thank you for sharing your ideas. So very wonderful.
I would love to read your resume.
Posted: 12:54 am on February 23rd
graydots writes: Jeffrey, once again you make me sigh. I have been following your work for a couple yrs now and I'm just always amazed at how creative you are. Lovely, lovely things. I'm making these for my Aunties party coming this summer - all the Aunts are coming with their daughters for a weekend.
Posted: 4:14 pm on May 21st
lifesart writes: As always, love your work, Jeff!

I made a lot of these out of parchment, (24!) with different flower designs, for an outdoor party in Maine. When the day turned out to be very windy, I was despairing, but we taped up some of the open parts, shortened the whole design a bit by cutting vertical flaps in the bottom section and taping them to the bottom of the votive holders. Also weighted the votive holders with sand, and everyone was oohing and aahing. Only two went out, on a regular basis, so I moved them into a more wind-protected spot.

Thanks for all your craftiness!
Posted: 1:51 pm on May 21st
Only1_Kira writes: If anyone's interested, For luminaries, you could use Vellum Paper and do this or any other design that will hold up in weather or more than one use. It's stronger than paper but easy to cut. You can order online or get it at Craft stores in the scrap booking section, there's many colors and Translucent ones for your candles to look better through!
Posted: 1:37 pm on March 29th
EmmaDesigns writes: I found this through a search engine; I was looking for an idea for a 30 minute microteaching session and i thought this idea was perfect. Thank you so much for posting, i think ill tweek the the idea and come up with my own design (i hope you dont mind me using this as an idea)Emma
Posted: 12:32 pm on October 19th
abbytail writes: love, love, love this project! I'm making a bunch of these for mums bithday, I'm sure the guests will be impressed! Thanks so mush for the idea and template!
Posted: 11:45 am on March 15th
ErinR writes: This is really pretty, but is there any way to make the paper more or less waterproof? I make luminaries every christmas but a single night of snow can ruin them for the season when it makes them sag and collapse in on themselves. I'd love to make only one set each year instead of a new set everytime I have people over.
Posted: 9:42 pm on November 17th
sigridsoto writes: amazing
Posted: 5:21 am on October 12th
gardenparty writes: can't wait to do a snowflake version for the holidays!

Posted: 11:06 pm on September 6th
crafty_gal writes: Jeffrey - I don't think that I'd trust myself with a scalpel just yet (I still value all by fingers:). I'll have to search around for the packs of 100 X-acto blades. Thanks for your advice!
Posted: 11:46 am on July 21st
Jeff_Rudell writes: Dear craft_gal: I use either X-acto or Excel brand blades (usually number 11, which is the most commonly available size.) I've had similar problems with blade tips snapping -- very annoying -- or blades being dull -- very very annoying. When I investigated by talking to a purchasing manager at a large art supply story in New York City, I was informed that most of the blades packaged for consumer use are now produced in China (isn't everything, these days?) However, he claimed that blades sold in 100 unit packs are still produced in the U.S. Why this should be I cannot say -- it may not even be true -- but I have had pretty good luck with the 100 packs. They are a bit expensive ($25-$35 depending on where you buy them) but it beats having to replace a blade every few minutes.

Another option you may wish to consider: Many art stores and higher-end craft stores now sell surgical steal scalpels. They are EXTREMELY sharp, quite durable, and they have a rounded tip. The snub-nosed blade prevents the tip from snapping off and there's no question they are sharp. I don't use them myself only because the handles are plastic and I tend to bear down rather heavily when I'm cutting so I prefer the steel shank of a regular X-acto. If you have a lighter touch, you may wish to try a scalpel. New York Central Art Supply in New York City carries them if you cannot find them where you live (NY Central Art Supply, 62 Third Avenue, NY NY 10003, 212-473-7705). Good luck and craft on!
Posted: 8:43 pm on July 15th
crafty_gal writes: Hi Jeffrey,
Is there a specific brand or type of knife/blade that you prefer to cut with? I've gotten some cheap xacto knives at craft stores but they aren't to sharp and don't cut very well. What do you recommend?
Posted: 4:06 pm on July 15th
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