Handmade Summer Luminaria

Most of us just love sitting outside on a summer evening watching dusk turn to dark, fireflies winking on and off as we eat a late supper under the stars. After Annie was invited to a party where hundreds of handmade luminaria added magical light to the scene, she learned how to make them herself. Now you too can make these lovely little glowing lanterns that echo stars and fireflies.

Luminaria work beautifully to give a sense of special festivity to parties, celebrations, or meals. You can use them outdoors to line a path or driveway, or to encircle a table, or indoors to highlight a special spot. They’re wonderfully easy to make and the results are completely charming.

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 flowers and placed in the center of your summer table or on a mantelpiece, these lovely lanterns will add a unique character to your 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.

Adapted from Paper Illuminated, by Helen Hiebert (Storey Books, 2001). Copyright (c) 2001 by Helen Hiebert. Reprinted by permission of Storey Books.
Adapted from Paper Illuminated, by Helen Hiebert (Storey Books, 2001).

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Robin Meredith-Kramer

so pretty and so simple to make!

Sonia Minwer-Barakat Requ

Love candles,thanks for sharing

aj E.
aj E.2 years ago

pretty idea. maybe use fake candles?

susan k.
susan k.3 years ago

Is this not rather a fire hazard using a paper bad ,

Oana Vasiloiu
yonette VO3 years ago

People can be creative! Nice to hear good ideas! Thanks for sharing!

Tim C.
Tim C.3 years ago


KS Goh
KS Goh3 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Robert O.
Robert O.4 years ago


gerlinde p.
gerlinde p.5 years ago

some good ideas to try, thankyou

Ireena W.
Past Member 5 years ago

Lots of fun ideas for making luminaries and other lights out of paper for use with candles or other lights. I used this when I made luminaries for our libraries Grand Opening last summer.