Brighten Your Homes (and Lives) with These 5 DIY Ideas for Homemade Lanterns

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My Brush With Frugality Amidst Festival Season

It was in the mid of September 2011 that I found myself without enough spare money and with a household full of kids and to-dos. It was around that time that I decided to stop spending on anything I could manage and try as many DIYs as I could. Near the holiday season, when the kids (son, 8 and daughter, 6) began cheering for some lighting in and around the house (we do have a little garden), I decided to put two and two together and make a few lanterns of my own. I already had a few ideas shooting off the top of my head, most of which needed little to no investment and then I also searched the internet for more. I started when I had shortlisted a few easy and cheap lantern ideas.

With my job long lost, I had been doing odd internet jobs from home and had quite some spare time to try out stuff that promised to save me a few bucks. Home made lanterns were just the beginning of my new fetish. I even tried selling a few of these over my personal blog and managed 5 sales (all added up to my little piggybank savings account) over a period of month. Over the entire holiday season that year, I was able to clear $250 - not bad, huh?

Here are a few lantern ideas that you can try out. They are simple and don't cost a bomb. Do let me know what you think of them.

Pumpkin Lanterns

Let’s get wild and crazy and cut up some pumpkin lanterns! These traditional jack-o-lanterns have been in style for at least a century. The top step lid of the lantern is encircled then the innards carved out. The pumpkin seeds can be tossed in the trash or carefully cleaned, salted and baked for a tasty autumnal treat.

Funny faces, scary faces, toothless grins and any creative design you can think of will make your lantern a hit. Again, LED lanterns are desirable – but even a well situated candle can be the light in the center of your delightfully homemade traditional pumpkin jack – o’- LANTERN

Ideally used on Halloween, they can be used in the harvest months throughout November.

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Make most of the pumpkin lantern time. Here's how ...

  • Have your kids carve - will give them confidence for their art projects and also improve their hand-eye coordination.
  • Have a pumpkin carving competition amongst your family members (or include your friends and neighbors too). Of course, the scariest one takes the prize.
  • It's a great way of carving out some family time for yourselves.
  • Create a family of pumpkins. Buy pumpkins of varying sizes, each representing a member of the family. Have each person carve out their own and then take a photograph with that family with yours. It will be great for each year's memory-sake photograph.

Here are some books you can try for your own DIY projects.

Gourd Lanterns

Gourd Lanterns are a great outdoor project for kids and their parents. The hard shell skin of the gourd provides a great exterior for a wearable, long-lasting lantern that will last the season long, ideal for Halloween and other Autumnal festivals.

Of course, it takes time and preparation. They must be fully air dried before proceeding. In ancient times, fishermen used gourds as floatation devices with bait. Later, they would return to see if they had netted any unsuspecting fish.

They also make ideal lanterns! Once your gourd is fully dried, it becomes wood-like and can be cut and drilled with simple tools. All you need is a place to work, preferably outdoors, because the inside of the gourd can be kind of messy.

1. Soak the gourd well, scrubbing the outside with a scratchy sponge. Use a tub and let all the sides get wet so the dirt and grime can be removed easily.

2. Cut of the base of the gourd with a sharp knife. Slice off the lower section up to about two inches deep and prepare to clean out the insides.

3. Place newspaper under the gourd. Lightly and clean the insides with a large tablespoon and dump them into the trash.

4. Now it’s time to get creative. Use a pencil and sketch an original design on the exterior.

5. Using a knife or an electric drill, cut out your design – either with tiny holes or in chunks and pieces. It can be as simple or elaborate as you choose!

6. Spruce up the outsides with a light oil – from cooking oil to mineral oil - to provide a lustrous shine to your lamp.

7. Place a small LED lantern in the interior – and your lantern is ready to use!

These lanterns can sit on a ledge or shelf area near an outdoor seating area. They add ambiance for children, like Trick-or-Treaters. They also add a glowing touch to an outdoor dinner table or opportunity to serve hot toddies to evening guests on the terrace, who may want to enjoy the slightly cool and crisp autumn air.

Glass Jar or Drinking Glass Lanterns

Again, these are some of the simplest ideas of making lanterns. They don’t require any investment on your part and can be simply made from old jam glass jars or chipped glasses. You can even use candles instead of a bulb or LED.

Just “dress-up” the glass jar a bit. Using poster color and a brush you can paint random patterns on the glass jar. Alternatively, you can simply cover the jars with cloth cases which have their own patterns printed/painted on them (see pic). These can be hung by using the cloth case handle in case the a cloth cover is used. If not, you can simply wire them and create a case type mesh and use those wires for easily hanging.

Paper Lanterns Using Tissue and a Balloon

Easy as One Two Three, all you need is a balloon and some tissue paper to get started. Blow up the balloon of your choice and paste tiny strips of tissue paper all around, until the balloon is about four layers thick. Let it dry over an hour or two so the paste is no longer gummy and the surface is hard and bumpy – dried. Now – pop the balloon! Remove the rubbery remains and using a scissors, begin cutting out the details. It can be hung by a string.

Lighting choices can include a tiny string of miniature Christmas lights or an LED lantern. Enjoy the season with a festive – and nearly free – (tissue) paper lantern!

Paper Cube Folding
Paper Cube Folding

Paper Lanterns from Translucent Hard Paper or Bristol Sheets

This one is easy to make. So much so, that even your kindergarten going child can help you with this one. Take a sheet of paper (preferably a Bristol sheet) and draw 3 inch X 3 inch square (or you can take larger squares but be sure that the cube is able to hold up its own weight). Draw these squares adjacent and aligned like a cross (see figure). When you fold up the cut out sheet of paper, it easily folds into a cube shaped structure. If you wish you can also cut “flaps” on the two sides on the squares (shown in figure) – this will make sticking together the ends and closing the cubes much simpler. Now, use a Christmas light or wire together a simple LED lantern and put inside the structure. Decorate the outside of the lamp with crazy color paint or stick some oriental cut-work patterns from a glazed color sheet.

Additional hints

Instead of stand-alone 3 inch cubes, you can make smaller cubes and string them over the Christmas light streamer. You can also make other 3D shapes. Just go over to any Origami website and you’ll be spoiled for choices regarding the shapes you can choose for your little project.

Here is a great video for String/Yarn Lantern

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