Handmade Luminaria How-To

Luminaria are little glowing paper lanterns, a holiday tradition in the American Southwest where they are used to line rooftops and walkways. Placed in a circle around a special spot, or outlining a path, they give such a sense of festive magic – and they couldn’t be easier to make!

One friend made over two hundred luminaria for an outdoor winter celebration in a surprisingly short amount of time. The results – lovely little fairy lights glowing by a pond, down a snowy hill, and on either side of a curving path – were well worth it. Here are the easy steps to make two different kinds of luminaria:

Paper Bag Method:
These are perfect for the outdoors.

1. You may use any kind of lunch-sized paper bag for this project (recycled brown ones are inexpensive and easy on the environment.) You could make cut-out designs with stencils for the light to shine through, if you wish. Fold the top edge of the bags down about an inch for extra sturdiness.

2. Pour sand or clean kitty litter into the bag to a depth of about 2 inches. This will keep your luminaria stable and less likely to tip over.

3. Place a tealight in the middle of the bag, anchored firmly in the sand. (We have found that tealights, in their own little recyclable aluminum cups, are a safety-conscious alternative to tapers—which can tip over—or votives.)

4. Put your luminaria where you want them to go and light carefully. Keep away from very small children or companion animals. Not recommended for use in a strong wind.

Special Paper Method

Using special handmade paper makes fancier luminaria that look as beautiful inside the house as they do outside. Surrounded by greens and placed in the center of your holiday table or on a mantelpiece, these lovely lanterns will add a unique character to your holiday lighting.

1. Use any sturdy, decorative, translucent paper for this project. (If you make your own, now is the time to show it off, or you can find lovely papers at your local art-supply store.) Cut paper to measure 13- x 8-inches.

2. You will need a small shallow can for a base: a clean empty cat food can is perfect.

3. Apply a strip of double-sided tape to the wrong side of the 8-inch edge of your paper.

4. Remove the protective strip of the tape and place the bottom edge of the paper (the 13-inch, untaped side) on the edge of the can, making sure the tape on the opposite edge is facing in toward the light.

5. Wrap the paper around the light until it fits snugly. Carefully attach the tape to the other edge of the paper.

6. Put a tealight in the center of the can, anchoring it with a drop or two of wax, place the luminarium where you want it to go, and light the candle carefully. Be mindful around children and pets, and be sure never to leave indoor luminaria burning unattended.

Handmade Luminaria – How To Adapted from Paper Illuminated by Helen Hiebert (Storey Books, 2001). Copyright (c) 2001 by Helen Hibert. Reprinted by permission of Storey Publishing.
Handmade Luminaria – How To Adapted from Paper Illuminated by Helen Hiebert (Storey Books, 2001).

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aj E.
aj E.2 years ago

nice idea.

Oana Vasiloiu
yonette VO3 years ago

Very nice! Thanks!

KS Goh
KS Goh3 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Robert O.
Robert O.4 years ago

Thanks Annie.

Natalie J.
Natalie Away J.5 years ago

I've tried the sand in the bag one and they looked lovely, all in a row.

Donna B.
Donna B.5 years ago

sounds beautiful.

Louise Fisher
Past Member 8 years ago

Oh lovely, I will be making these, thanks

Arifa Sher
Arifa Sher8 years ago

Thanks. I was looking for this.