The Lantern Festival (February 4, 2009) is the 15th and last day of Chinese New Year but lanterns are used as decorations long before then. We love Stefan Czernecki’s Paper Lanterns– a story of an old master paper lantern craftsman and the young boy who sweeps the floors and desperately wants to become an apprentice. And while we greatly respect anyone who can form bamboo and rice paper into fantastic lanterns, we chose the simple road.
There are several ways to make your own paper lanterns. The first only requires a sheet of card stock or construction paper, scissors and glue or stapler. Here is a step by step tutorial. Any child who can cut a generally straight line with scissors can do this one. We made one when The King was 3. Next time we make these, I’ll add a piece of yellow tissue paper on the inside to help it look lit up.
The second method is more involved. You’ll need balloons, white glue or mod podge, a sponge brush, tissue paper or crepe paper and a string or wire to hang it from. Cardstock, ribbons, paints and glitter glue are optional. Look at this step by step tutorial first. I’m leary of fire close to flamable objects, so we will light ours with a string of patio lights, but a friend is going to try a babyfood jar with a tea light in it. The battery tea lights are not bright enough for this. A small, but bright flashlight tied at the top might work, too.
Red layer finished, yellow started
You need to use 5-6 layers of tissue paper or crepe paper, torn into strips. I used mod podge watered down to about half strength, but white glue could work as well. Use a sponge brush and lightly cover the paper with glue- it is fine if you miss spots. Try to use as little glue as necessary to make it stick together. You want at least 2 layers to be red, including the top layer. I found that alternating the colors made it much easier to keep track of what area still needed to be covered. Yellow, white, orange, pink would all work well for under layers. Leave about a half inch to 1 inch around the top of the balloon that isn’t covered in paper.
The King's secret message lantern
The King's secret message lantern lit up.
You can add a secret message by gluing red opaque paper (like cardstock) designs, words or Chinese characters (links below) before you add the last layer of tissue paper. The message won’t be clearly visable until you add a light inside. The King did this and decided that it was super cool. We also did one with black paper so the design shows up when not lit. You can also paint the lantern after it is fully dry.
After you finish the last layer of tissue paper, brush an even, not to thick layer of mod podge over the entire lantern. If you start tearing the paper while doing this, let it dry a bit then add the last layer of glue.
Depending on how much glue you used, you’ll have to let it sit an hour or more to dry enough to pull the balloon out. I put a string on my dinning room light and clothespin the balloon to it. When the balloon is no longer sticky (it is ok if it is a little cold still), cut the top of the balloon with scissors. Do not be alarmed if your lantern begins to look like an overgrown raisin as the air is released. Pull the balloon out and trim the top of the lantern so you can fit your hand inside (about the size of a soup can). Hold the lantern in one hand and put your other hand inside to help reform it as needed. Let it sit and finish drying.
When it is dry and firm, you can continue to decorate. If you paint a design on it, I suggest using a somewhat thick paint like acrylic and not runny watercolor. Simple Chinese lanterns usually have a small cylinder at the top and bottom (these would both be openings but not in ours) rimmed with gold fringe. To make the small cylinder, cut a piece of cardstock an inch or so wide and long enough to fit the circumfrence of the opening. Fold the long side over about 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Then snip this side with scissors about every 1/4 inch. Doing this will enable the paper to bend more smoothly. Make two pieces like this for each lantern. The top piece should be bent so that the snipped tabs stick outward then overlap the ends slightly and glue the ends to make a circle (a clothespin will hold it). The piece for the bottom should be bent and glued so that the tabs stick inward. Glue the tabs to the bottom center of the lantern (you may need to keep a hand inside the lantern a few minutes to help it stick). Put glue on the tabs, then work the top cylinder into the top of the lantern. Press the tabs against the top inside of the lantern, with the top of the cylinder sticking out.
Cylinder for the bottom, cut, folded and glued
Once this dries, you can add ribbon, fringe or paint to the top and bottom. To make a handle, I simply sewed a piece of twine through both sides and tied it. You could also glue a cardstock handle in the top.
YouTube video: making paper lanterns with folded and stapled paper.
YouTube video: making traditional lanterns with bamboo and paper, step 1.
Chinese characters: coloring pages
Chinese characters: good luck characters
Other Chinese New Year coloring pages
Other Chinese New Year crafts
A good overview of some Chinese New Year activities
Wonderful lanterns made by two young friends.