Technique Tuesdays: Paper Lanterns with Helen Hiebert

Looking for a fun new project? Try your hand at making paper lanterns! In this tutorial from our March/April ’17 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, artist Helen Hiebert walks you step-by-step through the process of making beautiful Japanese-inspired paper lanterns. By finessing the collaged paper, you can turn this project into a true piece of art. The lanterns will make a great addition to your home, and you’ll love Helen’s easy method for making them. Follow the instructions below to get started.

DIY Paper Lanterns with Helen Hiebert
Paper lanterns designed by Helen Hiebert (this photo by Sharon White Photography; step-out photos by Jenn Guneratne unless otherwise noted.)

Sculptural Collage by Helen Hiebert

Years ago, I learned how to make traditional Japanese lanterns, or chochin, the spherical lanterns that were originally hung on Japanese shop fronts and bore the symbol or name of the business. The results were lovely, but the project was time consuming. Don’t get me wrong—I’m a firm believer in carrying on traditions, but I found a way to simplify the process.

The paper tubes in this project contain a similar design element to the chochin forms, but the process is streamlined by eliminating the construction of an elaborate armature. Instead, thin bamboo reeds are wound around a readymade form, which is then collaged with paper. I used thin basketry reed, but I’ve had fun experimenting with wire and string, too. It doesn’t take long to make one of these simple designs, and finessing the collage can turn it into a work of art.


  • Masking tape or artist’s tape
  • Basket reed, 1/4″ flat (I get this from
  • Scissors, sharp, or a reed-cutting tool
  • Plastic tube-like container (A large yogurt or other flexible plastic container works well.)
  • Decorative paper, thin, flexible, and strong (I used Thai Unryu, a fibrous mulberry paper imported from Thailand, and one of the most common decorative papers. It’s widely available in art supply stores and online, and comes in a variety of colors.)
  • White glue
  • Glue brush, small

NOTE: These sculptures can be cast on any type of vessel, but a plastic container with a uniform shape is best, because it can be manipulated or even cut away if necessary for removal after collaging. Don’t try casting onto an undulating form, like a vase, or you won’t be able to remove your finished work.

How to Make It:

1. Tear several pieces of tape, approximately 1″ in length, and place them on your work surface.

2. Cut approximately 10′ of reed and wind a loop around the top of the tube. Pinch the end of the loop between your fingers, and carefully slip it off the container. (FIGURE 1) Wrap a piece of tape around the overlap, hiding the end of the reed, and securing the loop.

TIP: Angle the tape as you wrap it around the join to make a thin, strong joint.

DIY Paper Lanterns with Helen Hiebert

3. Slide the reed loop back onto the container and hold it in place by putting a piece of tape over the taped loop and wrapping it over the top of the container. Affix the loop to the container on the other side of the container with tape as well, aligning it directly across from the first piece of tape.

4. Wind the reed around the container, spacing the rounds a couple of inches apart and taping each wrap of reed to the container, all the way to the bottom of the container. Try to line up the tape. This will make it easier to remove later. End with another loop at the bottom. Trim the reed end, slip the loop off of the container while carefully holding the reed end, and tape the reed to itself, forming a loop similar to the loop you made at the top. Slip the loop back onto the container and tape it in place. (FIGURE 2)

TIP: Try winding reed around various containers or even PVC piping to make a long tube that can be twisted into a ring or wreath.

DIY Paper Lanterns with Helen Hiebert

5. Cut or tear pieces of paper that are at least 3″ x 3″. I tore long strips to cover a tall plastic tube. (FIGURE 3) Hold a piece of paper over a section of the container. Remove the paper and apply a thin bead of glue on the reed sections, eyeballing where the paper will lie. Lay the paper down on the glued area and press it into place. (FIGURE 4) Don’t worry about getting glue on the container.

DIY Paper Lanterns with Helen Hiebert


DIY Paper Lanterns with Helen Hiebert

6. Continue to glue paper to the container in a similar fashion. When overlapping paper pieces, apply glue to the edge of the paper that has already been placed. Continue adding paper until the container is almost covered, leaving the taped area for last. (FIGURE 5)

NOTE: Once most of the container is covered with paper, it will hold the reed in place and the tape can be removed. Then the last pieces of paper can be applied.

DIY Paper Lanterns with Helen Hiebert
FIGURE 5 (photo by Helen Hiebert)

7. Holding the bottom of the container in your lap, remove the tape from the container, removing the tape holding the ring at the top of the container last. Grab the top lip of reed and, with both hands, gently pry the paper-covered reed off of the container.

NOTE: Removal will be a more difficult if there is a lot of glue on the container. If the paper rips, it is patched with more collaged paper.

8. Add paper(s) to cover the gap. Trim the paper at the top and bottom edges, desired, leaving about 1/2″ of paper reed ring. Apply glue to the paper edges fold them to the inside to create clean edges.

Helen Hiebert constructs installations, sculptures, films, works in paper, and artists’ books using paper as her primary medium. She teaches, lectures, and exhibits her work internationally and is the author of five paper-craft books. Helen writes a popular blog, The Sunday Paper, and lives and works in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

To learn more about Helen, visit

Ready for more? Find these paper lanterns and more in the March/April 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. Print and digital copies are available to purchase in our online shop.




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