Introduction: DIY Cocktail Umbrellas

About: I may be an electrical engineer by trade but that won't stop me from tinkering in the domain of mechanical engineers and artists:P

I will be blunt. I wanted an umbrella in my cocktail. On it's own that wouldn't result in me writing about making cocktail umbrellas but since essential businesses don't carry cocktail umbrellas in their stock, I had to improvise (don't worry, I didn't check if I can buy them, I am a responsible citizen:)

A quick (followed by a thorough) google search on DIY cocktail umbrellas shows a variety of faked up cocktail umbrellas that can't be closed down. I, being a perfectionist, wasn't satisfied by that, which brings us to this instructable. It will teach you how to make a fully articulated cocktail umbrella!

NOTE ON DIMENSIONS: all dimensions are in metric. If you have imperial rulers, don't bother converting them perfectly but pick closest match you have marked on your ruler.


Since the lockdown is still in effect at the time of writing this, I had to use what I had at hand - cardboard was salvaged from a promotional a tear-away notepad and paper was upcycled old piece of Chinese paper (received a gift wrapped in it a long time ago).

Everything you will need is shown in the photo above. For those who prefer written lists, I put the requirements below.

Required tools:

  • a sharp crafts knife
  • a ruler
  • a pen
  • a compass
  • scissors
  • tweezers (not strictly required but very handy)
  • a pin (a skewer will do just fine)

Required materials:

  • glue
  • wooden skewers
  • soft paper (or fabric; plastic paper doesn't seem to work well)
  • cardboard (medium thickness; salvaged form a tear-away notepad)

Step 1: Basic Cuts

You will need two pieces of cardboard: one 55 x 55 and one 55 x 40 mm. Both pieces receive a score 5 mm from the long edge and the smaller one also gets another score at 25 mm mark (dashed line in photo above). Ideally you would cut about half way deep but going too shallow is better than cutting too deep.

Next use a sharp pencil to mark two lines on the bigger piece, one 25 and the other 40 mm from first edge (dotted line in the photo above).

Follow that by cutting out a chunk 25 mm from the side, leaving a 5 mm band intact (scribbled portion, outlined by full line). Don't try to cut through in one single pass as this increases chance for your knife to slip and ruin your part. Cut through in multiple lighter passes.

Please note that the last cut might need to be adjusted accordingly to your skewer diameter. More on that later.

Step 2: Director's Cut

Now that the easy part is done, it is time to cut the spikes. The following will be done on both pieces of cardboard:

Use the pin and ruler to mark eight points 2 mm apart along the score mark you made in previous step. Do the same along the shortened outer edge. I found making the second set of marks with a hobby knife handier than using a pin. Reference photo N°4 to see what you should en up with.

Now cut the spikes between pairs of marked spots, staring with the spike with least support (left, when referencing photos above). Apply firm pressure with ruler and cut in multiple lighter passes to prevent spike being accidentally torn away. Cut all eight spikes in this manner. Ensure that spikes are cut all the way through or you will regret not making sure in the next step.

Lastly remove the remaining chunk by cutting along the previously scored line. You should be left with with a somewhat T shaped piece as shown above.

Step 3: Every Good Story Has a Twist ...

Now that you have the two pieces ready, it is time to roll them up around a skewer. Start rolling with the longer part and roll it as tightly as possible. When rolled up completely, make sure that the last spike overlaps the first one just the tiniest bit. If overlap is too big, you must go back and make some corrections to my blueprint - cut away more than 25 mm section. On the contrary, if spikes don't overlap at all you need to shorten the same dimension. You can simply cut a portion of it away with scissors. Note that any adjustments to the shorter section aren't necessary as it functions as a stabiliser and isn't dimensionally critical.

Aside from testing the fit, rolling it dry will help you roll it when glued. First apply glue with a pin on the section between after one turn and first spike and roll it. After that, apply glue along entire edge and finish rolling the umbrella. Once everything is glued, open up the spikes one by one. If desired, you can glue the top part onto the skewer but I recommend putting that off until the very last moment.

Do the same with the bottom part of umbrella but make sure to leave just the tiniest bit of slop when rolling to make it easier to move up and down. This shouldn't affect spike's overlap enough to notice.

Lastly exercise the lower spike's secondary bends - fold them out all 180° as it will help when folding the umbrella.

You should be left with something resembling photo N°4. If nothing goes wrong, all spikes should be evenly spaced.

Step 4: ... That Ends in a Sticky Situation

Apply glue to bent parts of bottom spikes, working on one at a time. Being greedy will just make the glue start drying before you come around to pressing spike in place. Apply a very thin (and even) layer of glue and don't count on squeeze-out to help with the even part because it won't!

Align lower spike with marked lines on upper spike and firmly press them together. Pay close attention to squeezing the area around the hinge as it will take the most beating during use. Tweezers will be your friend in this step.

Repeat this for all spikes. When done, gently fold the umbrella by pressing on the hinges from the top. On first few folds paper fibres in the hinges aren't yet broken and tend to tear the hinges apart.

Make sure spikes are reasonably even in open position. Minor mistakes will be camouflaged later on but if it is all crooked, you might want to start over.

Step 5: Running in Circles

Use a compass to mark a circle wit 50 mm radius (100 mm diameter) on your paper and cut it out with scissors.

Fold it in quarters without making creases and cut the tip off (see photo N°4). Make it slightly smaller than what would fit the top of your umbrella's skeleton. Marking the centre spot will help you with folding.

Follow that by enlarging the hole by making a few short nicks from centre hole outward - just big enough to fit the umbrella (reference photo N°1 - small orange lines)

Now you are faced with two options - you can go with flat top or a conic one. If you choose the former, move on to next step, choosing the latter subjects you to two more cuts and applying some glue. Please keep an eye on the first photo while reading on.

Make a straight cut from outside to the centre. Test fold how much of a fold you want in your umbrella and mark the overlap. Make a straight cut about 2mm towards to the first cut. Apply a thin layer of glue about 2mm from the first cut and make sure to spread it all the way to the edge (dotted line). Now fold the glued part over the other end and press it firmly.

All done. From now on, follow the same instructions as if you didn't do that.

I would mention that I find the flat design to be perfectly fine, making it conical is an overkill.

Step 6: Sticky Situation N°2

Time to join the two parts. Apply a thin and even layer of glue along the length of one spike at a time and press it firmly to the paper. Just like before, work on one at a time and make use of tweezers if you have them.

Order in which you glue the spikes is important as it will ensure you achieve even spacing. First spike should be glued on top of the seam (if you went with the conical design). Next glue the opposite spike, ensuring it is perfectly straight in relation to the first one. Pick one 90° from that and glue it next, ensuring it is glued at a right angle in reference to the first two. Move to the opposite side and glue down that one, again making sure it looks nice. You can do the last four in any order you want just make sure they are evenly spaced. To put that in numbers: do them in the order 1 5 3 7 2 4 6 8.

Note that you can fold the umbrella half way closed to make glue application easier and open it up to make alignment easier. Later spikes will be harder to apply glue on as you will have less room for manoeuvring but do your best to apply an even and thin and layer of glue. Poorly glued sections will come of and excessive squeezeout might glue your umbrella in a fixed position.

On that note - don't close the umbrella before giving the glue time to set. Don't ask how I know to warn you about that.

Step 7: Add a Pinch (of Salt)

All done right, your umbrella should have a natural curl to it. If I was making umbrellas for immediate use, I would leave it as it is since I like the look of it. For it to be folded, natural crease has to be exaggerated by pinching it with three fingers (see photo N°2).

Don't try to fold the umbrella "the proper way" yet as paper isn't exercised enough yet and it's fibres are still very stiff. Fold the umbrella by gently pressing on it from the top. Once closed, twist the "wings" around just as if you were folding an actual umbrella.

Step 8: I Ran Out of Clever Titles

Put it in the storage? Not quite yet.

At this point umbrellas are very hard to open and they don't look all too pretty when unfolded - the folds are too large.

To compensate for that, each fold is folded in half.

Add a tiny rubber band to help keep the umbrella open (excess dental bands and braiding bands work perfectly), if not done already, put a dab of glue on the top to fix it and that is it.

Close it shut, twist it folded again, put a rubber band around it and leave it waiting for the need for a fancy cocktail to arise.

Step 9: Spirited Away

Last step is to fetch a glass, ice and family friendly liquids and go wild with decoration!

I would be lying to say that making cocktail umbrellas at home is feasible, not when you can buy 50 commercially made ones for 2 €, but it is a fun experience! And it was made entirely from scraps! And it can be any dimension you want! ...I would say something about being any colour you want but that would be somewhat ironic given my use of dull green paper... anyway it is fun!

Please leave any thoughts and suggestions in the comments below, don't forget to share photos of what you make!

I already have an idea for a simple umbrella-making machine so don't forget to follow me to be notified as soon as I publish that one!

Also like, share (and subscribe:) this instructables to help bring some fashion to our staycation-fuelled drinking problem!

(Mind voting for me in the scraps challenge as well? Prize money would go a long way towards funding my umbrella making machine:)

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