Introduction: Paper Mache Lampshade

About: Costume and experimental fashion designer and artist. Maker of clothing and accessories for time traveling cyborg superheroes, and lucid dreamers. Interested in fusing couture design and leatherwork with weara…

In this Instructable I'm going to use a paper mache technique with glue and floral tissue paper to create a simple yet beautiful lampshade for a pendant lamp. If you are trying to make something that has a translucent skin, like a lamp shade or light fixture, glue is great because it dries clear, letting the color and texture of the paper show when light shines through. Because glue also makes for a stronger surface than flour paper mache paste, you can get away with using more fragile paper and fewer layers.

Since we are using paper here, you will need to use a relatively low powered led bulb for a safe lamp. This means it will be more decorative than functional in terms of lighting, but it will still be beautiful!

To create the shape of this lamp I cast the paper mache over some simple found objects. This is an easy technique that can be used to create a lot of fun shapes with paper mache that can be used as anything from vessels to sculptural elements in larger pieces.

For more in-depth instruction in paper mache techniques, check out my free Paper Mache Class!

Step 1: Tools and Materials


There are a few kinds of paper that will work for making something like a lampshade, tissue paper, kite paper, and some kinds of rice paper are all good choices.

Tissue paper is the cheapest and easiest translucent paper to find. It is important, however, to get the right kind of tissue paper! What you want is the kind that is used to wrap flowers, not the kind used to wrap presents and sold in stationery stores. That kind is much more fragile and will disintegrate if you try to use it for paper mache. The kind you want can be found at florists or floral supply stores. You can tell the difference because the floral kind has one shiny side and one matte side. It is also sometimes called waxed floral paper.

One of the most common, and easiest, ways to create paper mache is to use glue and water as the paste. A few different types of glue will work, but most people use wood glue or white Glue-All.

Step 2: Choosing a Shade Base

Now you need to find an object to mache over that seems like it would make a nice lampshade shape. If you wanted to make a lot of smaller shades to cover the bulbs on LED christmas lights that would also be a great use of this technique. The base for your shades could be anything you find that has a relatively simple shape and will allow you to insert a bulb later. A lot of dishes, and other stuff you'd find in the kitchen will work well. Keep in mind that if your object has undercuts or is too narrow, you may have to cut your shade to get it off your object.

It is sometimes hard to tell which objects will create shades that need to be cut, for example, since this thermos that I decided to use as a base tapered outwards towards the bottom, I thought I would be able to remove the shade without cutting it, but, because the paper shrinks a little as it dries, it ended up being too tight fitting to remove whole. This is ok, you can reattach the two halves, but it does add an extra step and more drying time. If you are using an object like a wide bowl that you can mache inside of instead of outside of, this will make it easier to to remove the shade because as the paper shrinks it will pull away from the form slightly.

Once you’ve decided on your object, cover it with plastic wrap or something else to help release the paper when it’s dry. If you think your paper is going to be hard to remove, you might want to use plastic wrap, bud if you are going to work, for example, inside a bowl, you can get away with using something like Vaseline or dish soap smeared on the surface of the bowl.

Step 3: Covering Your Base

When you are using tissue paper like this you are better off using a paintbrush to apply the paste to the rather than using your hands. The tissue paper is thinner and more absorbent than the newspaper, and also more delicate. It will soak up the glue mixture easily, and if you handle the strips while they are wet they will tear pretty easily. Using a paintbrush is also nice because it stops your hands from getting super sticky, making the whole process a bit easier and less messy. You can use any flat paintbrush, but wider ones will be more efficient of you are making a large shade and using large strips.

Tear your tissue paper into strips. You can vary the width depending on the size of your object, remembering that wider strips won’t fit smoothly over small curves.

Mix your glue paste and set out all your supplies. Start applying strips to your object by laying the strip down and then painting paste over it with the paintbrush. You don’t need a layer of glue under the first layer of strips.

You can apply strips however you want, but I think it looks nice to position them so they are radiating out from the top of the thermos, or the center of the bowl. Overlap one on the other working your way around and making the edge uneven on the bottom.

You will need to add at least 3 or 4 layers of strips to create a strong enough structure. When you’ve finished adding these layers, leave your shade to dry overnight.

Step 4: Removing and Reconstructing

When your shade is dry, you can remove it from the form. Test to see if you can take it off without cutting it, but be careful not to tear the paper. Use a butter knife or another flat object like a pallet knife to gently separate the plastic wrap and paper from the form.

If it doesn’t seem like it’s going to budge, take your craft knife and cut your shade in half. You will still probably need to use something to carefully pry it off the form.

Now you need to re-attach the two halves of the shade. You can do this by putting them back over the thermos, but leaving a small gap between the two halves. Then add a few new strips over the gap and a new layer of strips all the way around.

Before the whole thing dries and shrinks again, carefully remove it and then set it to dry over a narrow tall object. Once it has dried a little, take it off and make sure it is keeping the shape you want, then turn it upside down to continue drying.

Step 5: Adding a Light

Once your shade has fully dried, you can give it a nice shiny surface by coating it with a finish like an acrylic gel medium, a few coats of an acrylic spray coating like Krylon Crystal Clear, or a resin-like compound such as Smooth-On XTC 3D. Something like the XTC 3D will also stiffen the paper quite a bit, helping it keep its shape. Make sure these finishes have fully dried before you add a light, and if you are using a spray, be sure to apply it in a well ventilated area.

To make your shade into a lamp, you just need to add a lightbulb. The simplest way to do this is to buy a pendant lamp socket with pre attached cord at a hardware or home store. Depending on the shape of your lampshade, make sure you get one with a switch in the cord, not on the socket so you will be able to reach it. When you get a bulb for your lamp, make sure get an LED bulb that won't get to hot. Test your bulb before you put it in your lamp to make sure it doesn't get too hot. Since you are using a paper lamp shade, you need to be safe and get a bulb that could have any chance of setting fire to the shade.

If you want to learn some really pro techniques for creating your own lamp fixtures, check out Paige Russel'sLamp Class!

To be extra safe, it’s a good idea to create a wire frame to hold the shade away from the bulb. You can do this by just bending a piece of wire into a circle slightly smaller than the base of the shade. Bring the ends of the wire across the middle of the circle and wrap them around the socket to hold it in the center of the shade. Secure the wires together by wrapping them with thinner wire.

Cut a slit in the top of the shade that will just accommodate the plug at the end of the wire, and use scissors to cut a hole in the middle big enough for the very top portion of the socket.

Put the bulb into the socket and feed the plug through the shade from the bottom up.

Slide the wire frame into the shade so it is secure and holds the bulb away from the edge of the shade

Step 6: Illuminate!

Now turn on your light and see how nice it looks! This is a very simple technique, but it makes for a lovely lamp and casting over even very simple shapes like this can allow you to create some beautiful pieces that often look nothing like traditional paper mache.

If you've made a version of this project, feel free to post and 'I Made It' in the comments section below, and for more paper mache instruction be sure to check out my free Paper Mache Class!