Homemade paper lantern tutorial

As November arrives at my latitude, the season of darkness has truly begun.

Dark when we wake up, dark long before we go to bed.

Dark, dark, dark.

And while for some it's a depressing shift, I secretly love the nesting that the darkness inspires.

I find myself inviting warming light inside, and candles that sat unused since last winter are found and lit.

Below is a repost from 2010 on crafting a homemade lantern from watercolor paper. Three years later we still have these lanterns and they are still beautiful.

If you're interested in other crafts that cast a warm glow, you can find my beeswax lanterns here and decoupaged candle jars here.

On with the tutorial!

Homemade paper lantern {Clean.}

Homemade paper lantern {Clean.}

The days here in the north are growing shorter.

By dinner time the
outdoors are immersed in complete darkness, and when we wake in the
morning the sun is still nowhere to be seen. And the days are growing shorter still.

To celebrate the light that shines within each of us (even during
these darkest days) the children and I made paper lanterns and carried
them out into the darkness for a bedtime walk.

The lanterns represent
the brightness we bring to the dark, and the positive effect our bright
spirits bring.

Homemade paper lantern {Clean.}

The process of making the lanterns is more simple than you might
imagine. We loosely interpreted the pattern for Martinmas lanterns from this lovely book (another recommended read) as our jumping off point. I have shared our version of the lanterns below.


Watercolor paints

Watercolor paper (ours is approximately 14" x 20", purchased here)




Craft knife

Cutting mat or board

Kite or tissue paper

Glue stick

White glue

5 spring-type clothespins per lantern

Yarn or wire for handle

Hole punch (optional)

Fireproofing spray (optional)


1. Create a simple watercolor painting. Allow to dry completely. (You
will have enough paper for two lanterns from each piece of paper.)

Homemade paper lantern {Clean.}

2. On the back of your painting carefully mark the following measurements with pencil and a straight edge:

  • Divide the painting in half with a horizontal line. To simplify, you
    may cut your paper into these two long thin strips now. (Our strips were
    7 1/2" tall and almost 20" long.
  • Parallel to your original cut mark two lines: one 1/2 inch down from
    the top and a second line 2" up from the bottom. These will form the
    top lip and the bottom of the lantern.
  • Perpendicular to your original line, begin at the left and measure
    in 1". Mark line. This will be an overlapping piece used to form the
    lantern during the final steps of the project.
  • From this 1" mark, measure five 3 1/2" panels and mark. These will be the five window panels.
  • Cut off any excess after your last 3 1/2" panel.

3. Score all lines using a straight edge. (This will make folding your lantern easier.) 

Homemade paper lantern {Clean.}

4. Cut tabs
for the top and bottom of your lantern by cutting all lines above and
below your two long horizontal lines. (Confused? See two photos below
for a visual of where you cut.)

These tabs will overlap and form the
bottom and the top lip of the lantern when you glue the lantern

5. With a
pencil, draw the shapes you desire for windows on the back of your paper
strip. Think simple forms – circles, stars, even rectangular "windows".

6. Use a craft knife (X-acto type) to carefully cut out the windows.

Homemade paper lantern {Clean.}

7. Flip over
your painting and admire your work! Add additional details if desired
with hole punch or craft knife. We used a small circular hole punch to
embellish our lanterns.

Homemade paper lantern {Clean.}

8. Cut kite paper windows the size of your main panels. Glue into place with glue stick and smooth.

Homemade paper lantern {Clean.}

the next step requires a teeny bit of patience. At least it did for me.
The lantern has a propensity to spring open while you are encouraging it
to stay closed. Hang tight! You are almost done, and you are smarter
than the glue.)

9. Fold your
lantern carefully into shape, creasing each scored line firmly. Observe
where the flaps overlap on the top, side, and bottom.

Apply a thin
layer of white glue on each overlapping point, then refold the lantern
pressing the glued panels together. (These will be triangles of glue on
one end of each flap.)

Be consistent with the end you glue (all on the
left, for example) so that you can neatly close one flap after another
and end up with a firm secure bottom.

10. Use a clothespin at each overlapping point on the top of the
lantern to hold the tabs together until the glue is set.

Before the glue
is all the way dry remove the clothespins. (This way you don't
accidentally tear the lantern when you remove the clips). 

Homemade paper lantern {Clean.}

10. Cover
the hole in the bottom of your lantern with a scrap of watercolor paper
approximately the size of the base of your lantern. Secure with more

11. Punch
two holes in the lantern's top rim and string through some wire or wool
yarn. (Skip this step if you are making a candle holder instead of a lantern.)

Knot yarn securely.

12. Add a tea light candle, securing to the
bottom with poster putty (if you, like me, lack poster putty gum will
work in a pinch, and adds a minty smell to the whole event.)

thought: for those of you with young children or a concern of you little
one holding a paper box with fire inside, battery powered tea lights
are a good choice. I believe that the responsibility of holding a
lantern with a candle inside is wonderful for a child, but perhaps that
should wait until they are 4 or 5.

13. You are done! Now just wait for nightfall and take your lantern with you to spread a bit of light into the darkness.

Homemade paper lantern {Clean.}



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