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Covering your lantern

Paper, cloth and plastic

Now you've built your frame and wired up your lights, you're ready to cover the frame.


Paper is the thing that most often comes to mind, and for good reason. It's lightweight, can be translucent (and can be made more so, treated properly) and come in lots of colours. It can be cut and pasted easily, and if chosen carefully can be fairly strong and even a bit water-resistant.

To adhere paper to your frame, mix a starch-based paste such as Yamato Rice Paste, or wheat-starch paste by Lineco, with PVA or ordinary white glue. The white glue allows the paste mix to dry a little faster and stronger, and the paste slows down the drying time of the white glue (increases the "open time") so you can slide the paper around a little to place it properly or stretch it a little tauter on the frame.

This longer open time means that you will need to use something to hold your paper in place as you work your way around the frame. Wooden spring clothespins are just the ticket.

What you'll need:

What to do:

A note: Paper does not usually stretch very well around curves. The more of a curve you have to cover, especially a complex curve (where it curves like a saddle in two directions), the smaller the paper pieces will be - you will, in effect, be making a series of small flat planes rather than a curve. Try to plan your design accordingly.


Cloth is much more flexible than paper, and has its own characteristics. It can be very translucent, can be sewn into shape more easily, and can be more durable. If you want to make large lanterns that can be disassembled, folded down and stored more easily, this might be a good choice.

Cloth can be cut and adhered in much the same way as paper, although cut edges have a tendency to fray. To prevent that, paint a little clear acrylic medium along the edge.

If it is thin enough to let lots of light through, the chances are that a liquid glue or paste will soak through the fabric and show up along the pasted areas. The glue lines can be concealed with a strip of ribbon or trim, or even glitter if that seems to suit the occasion - the Chinese dragon lantern you see here looks like it has glitter concealing glue lines - very festive!

You can also try double-sided tape (scrapbooking stores carry narrow but strong double-sided tape and also things like glue dots for small areas) but if there is a lot of tension on the join, it may not stick permanently.

Cloth can be dyed or painted, as well as embroidered, sewn and embellished in many ways but you will have to take those things into account with your design. It may be that your design will a distinct look without a light in it, and once the light is lit, you will have a completely different effect. Always think about how something will look with light shining through it. Experiment!


Plastic is harder to work with - and to be honest, it's not always as attractive as the other choices here. Some plastics melt easily in proximity to heat, and some burn quickly and give off nasty toxic fumes to boot. Obviously you don't want to use those!

Film gels, which are meant to be used with the hot lights used on film sets, might be suitable. They are transparent and come in a broad range of colours. Try Googling "film supply" or check out Lee Filters. We will be doing field testing with Lantern Lab soon.

If you are using sheets of translucent plastic, be sure it will with stand the heat of your light source. Double-sided craft tape is probably the best way to stick plastic to a frame.

If you need a plastic lantern for a damp location or for an event where there may be more physical hazards to the lanterns, a Pop Bottle Lantern may do the trick. Apply a coat of acrylic varnish to the surface for more protection.

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