I made a slew of origami lanterns for a friend's wedding a few years back, and it seemed only right to add lights to the design. After all, they are lanterns! As I have no desire to burn my apartment down, I decided to use some flickering LEDs from Evil Mad Scientist that give the appearance of a candle, without the paper-eating flame. You can use whatever LEDs you like.
As these were made to look like Chinese lanterns, I chose red and yellow for my colors. You can obviously make these in different colors/shapes/sizes and customize to your heart's content.
You'll find me telling you to experiment a lot, because it's fun to tinker, and because it allows you to make this project your own. I want to see pictures of what you've modified!
Step 1: Gather Materials
Hot Glue Gun
Skewer or small screwdriver
Coin Cell Battery (optional)
Soldering Iron and Solder (optional)
Electrical Tape (optional)
6" x 6" paper
Embroidery floss or other string
Metal Nut or Washer
LED (flickering or otherwise)
AA Battery Pack with switch
Batteries for Battery Pack
Step 2: Fold the Body
A note about paper: I am a bit of a paper enthusiast. I do tons of origami, but rarely use that omnipresent standard washi paper because a) it's overpriced, and b) I find it boring. You do want something translucent or thin enough to see the light, and you can use washi, but you can also find big sheets of thin mulberry paper (~$4-5) or vellum (~$2) and cut into appropriate sized squares. I used red vellum for this example, which shows the creases more readily, but also works better with the light.
The base shape of this lantern is your basic origami ball, with the addition of a hole cut in the closed end. You'll find photos here of all of the steps to make one from a 6" x 6" square. If you need some more detailed instruction, check out this very fine video tutorial.
Step 3: Make the Beads
As I wanted this particular cylindrical shape, I opted to make the beads myself. Paper beads are so durn fun, and you can make them any size and shape you like. This is also a great use for all of that junk mail you get. Cut long strips of paper that are equal width the whole way down. Experiment to see how wide you want it.
Now for the winding! You'll need something to wind that paper around and form your beads. You can use skewers, a small screwdriver or hex wrench, anything a bit wider than the two wires you'll add later. Grab a strip of paper and get a curl going. Before you start winding, add a little dab of glue to the inside of the strip and then get rolling. It'll get a little messy with glue coming out the sides, but that's good. Just spread it around the bead as you go - it'll make it more sturdy. When you get to the end of the strip, add some more glue and finish wrapping it. Once again, work any excess glue around the outside to help it stick better. You only need glue any time you start or end a strip, and if you'd like the bead to be thicker, continue with another strip when you've finished the first.
If you want them to look a different color than what your mail carrier brings you, cut a small piece of your desired color (I used yellow) and wrap it around when you have the bead the size you want.
Finally, slide them off and let them dry for a few minutes. Make at least two of these. Unless you want more. Or less.
Step 4: Make the Tassel
There are plenty of directions on how to make tassels - this is my method. I like embroidery floss for this, but you can try some other types of string if you like. Cut a piece of cardboard at least 1.5" high and wrap floss around it as shown. Wind your embroidery floss at least 20-30 times around the board. Yarn and thicker string may need fewer. Experiment.
Cut a longer strand (at least 10 inches) and slide it beneath the wrapped threads. Tie a couple knots to join all the threads together at the top. Take another long strand and tie the front threads together about 1/2" from the top using a cow hitch (fold in half, slide the loop under, pull the ends through the loop). Now it's time to free yourself from the cardboard. Bend it a bit so you can slide it out of the tassel. Take that doubled thread you just cow hitched, and start wrapping it around all of the threads together, still about 1/2" from the top. When you're happy with how the top looks, tie the strands off by stringing one through some of the little loops at the top. If you want it to look slick, you can thread the ends down inside all that wrapping you've just done. Cut the loops at the bottom and trim it til it looks even. Tada! Tassel!
Step 5: Wire Up the Electronics
The lantern hangs from the wires that go from the LED to the battery, so this step is actually creating the whole top part.
If you're not familiar with electronics, here are the basics you need to know for this:
- Circuit and circle come from the same etymological roots. We're making a circuit, which means that you need to complete a single "circle" using the LED, the wires, and the battery case. I suggest using a battery case that has a switch on it. A switch isn't technically required, although you might want to turn off your lantern eventually. You could pop out the battery whenever you want to turn it off, or you can create your own switch. A switch is just something that breaks or completes the "circle," so experiment with different ways of doing that. It could be as simple as cutting one of the wires, stripping it to get some metal showing, and making a couple loops that you hook together. My 6-year-old niece once made a switch by taping wires to aluminum pie plates and stacking them together. I was not expecting her to do that. It was awesome.
- LEDs have a right and a wrong way to be hooked up to power. The positive leg (usually the longer one) needs to be connected to the positive wire from the battery (usually red), and negative leg (shorter) to the negative wire (black). You'll notice that I included an optional coin cell battery in the materials list. Sliding it between the legs of an LED is another way of checking which leg is positive and which negative. If it lights up, the + side of the battery is touching the positive leg. You can make things easy for yourself and color the positive leg with a permanent marker before you start bending it. It's easy to lose track of which is longer otherwise.
- Turn off the switch and take out the batteries from the battery pack while you're assembling this, especially if you plan to solder. Just do it. I've never actually set any kids on fire while wiring up batteries, but don't risk it. Children are the future. And flammable.
I bent the legs with pliers to make it easier to attach the wires (you'll also notice that bending them outwards makes it harder for the wires to accidentally touch and short the circuit). You have a couple options for attaching the wires to the LEDs and battery leads, but for either one you want to strip at least 1/2" and twist them together securely. Soldering the wires to the legs makes the connection more reliable, but it isn't absolutely necessary (which is handy if you don't have a soldering iron or are afraid of really REALLY hot things). Another way is to make sure the wires are in very good contact and then cover them with electrical tape or hot glue. I actually soldered and hot glued, because putting hot glue over the connections makes the potentially fragile LED legs less likely to break, and it insulates them. If the wires from the two legs touch each other, you get a short circuit and it won't work. Fun fact: hot glue is also great for diffusing light from LEDs.
DON'T FORGET to string one of your beads onto the wires before attaching them to the battery pack like I did. It's a pain to go to the assembly step and realize you have to undo your soldering/taping.
Step 6: Assemble!
Start from the bottom. The long string at the top of your tassel is going to run up through everything and attach to the wires above the LED. Unfold your paper ball and string it all together as shown. Been wondering what that metal nut was about? This lantern is very light (pun not originally intended), which is why we can hang it from the wires. It's so light, in fact, that the wires can make it hang crooked if we don't weigh it down a little. Hence we're using a little heavy object like a metal nut or washer.
Once you've got it all in place, you can reinflate the origami ball. This is harder the second time around, because you've got a bunch of stuff inside and a hole at the other end. You can use a skewer or other pokey tool to help shape the inside. Be careful of the opening, as it's more likely to tear here than anywhere else.
Turn it on, hang it from the battery pack, enjoy!
Step 7: Customize
Some thoughts of things you can experiment with: Different colors/sizes of paper or LEDs. More paper beads and in different shapes. A chain of multiple balls with LEDs powered by the same battery pack (in series or in parallel). Multicolor tassels! Drawing on the ball. Tie-dying the ball. Using opaque paper for the ball and cutting holes for the light to escape. If you come up with your own variation on the Origami Lantern, please share!