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Everything You Need to Know About How to Make Garden Lanterns

Taking pride in your garden and its design is natural, and it leads to a number of beautification projects that let you show off both the beauty of your garden and your own creative abilities. Several different creative craft projects can lead to a great garden design, but perhaps one of the most enjoyable and most rewarding is making garden lanterns.

One of the best things about making garden lanterns is the diverse nature of the project. You can literally choose dozens of different materials to start the process, and you have the option of determining the size, shape, color, and more with each individual homemade garden lantern, you design. Most of these designs require almost nothing you don’t already have available to you in your home, and they can be quick and fun to put together or take a little more complex creation if you like digging into a slightly more challenging project.

Here are a few ideas for garden lanterns that can be fun to make and become a gorgeous personalized addition to your garden landscape.

Punch Tin Garden Lanterns

One of the most interesting sorts of garden lanterns to make is punched tins. With punch tin lanterns, you actually create the design to punch out of the tin through which the light shines. While there are a few extra supplies necessary, and it takes some time and a bit of a process, the reward is worth the wait.

Materials:

  • Leaves – choose a variety, and make sure they have interesting designs
  • Vellum paper – several sheets
  • Permanent black marker
  • Masking tape
  • Sand
  • Water
  • Towel
  • Metal cans – remove labels
  • Hammer and nails
  • Spray paint – white and the colors of your choice
  • Copper wire
  • Votive candles

How to Prepare the Can

In order to make sure that the can doesn’t dent or get misshapen while you’re working on it, fill it up with sand with enough water to make the sand moist. Then, freeze the can. Using the sand will prevent the can from being damaged as water freezes and expands.While it’s freezing, you can move onto the next step.

Creating a Template

You will need a leaf that is both unique in design and the right size to fit nicely on the can. Spread the leaf out on a long sheet of vellum paper, and trace it with black marker. Details don’t have to be perfect – you’re going for the general shape since pounding out minute details in the punch tin garden lantern would be extremely difficult.

If you don’t have suitable leaves or wish for something a little more ‘standard’ you can find a leaf stencil you like and use this to trace your pattern on the vellum instead. Alternately, you could find a four-leaf clover and blow up the size on a photocopy machine so that it’s large enough to imprint on the side of the can. Flowers and flower stencils can work, too. It’s really a personal choice.

Creating the Design

When the water in the can has completely frozen, take it out and use masking tape to adhere the vellum paper around it, making sure the vellum paper is pulled taut against the can. Make sure that the stenciled template is exactly where you want to see it on the can and assure that your tape is tight since the paper itself will not stick to the can as condensation forms on the outside while you work.

With the vellum paper in position, fold a towel and place it on a durable, sturdy work surface. Then, lay the can on its side on the towel. This will keep it from rolling around while you work, as well as assure that you don’t damage your work surface. Make sure your design is facing up at you.

Now, it’s time to work. Grab your hammer and a sharp nail and start punching holes in the traced line of your template. Consider whether you want to have a pattern to the size of your holes in your pierced tin. For example, you can emphasize the points of a leaf or the center of a flower with larger holes. Think about how far apart your holes should be as well. For example, you may want the smaller holes around the petals or along the veins of the leaves closer together than those in the center. It’s your choice. Be sure to change nails often, since they will dull quickly when used to puncture tin cans.
 

Final Touches

When you’ve finished punching out the design, punch two more, larger holes on opposite sides at the top of the can. This will be used for hanging with wire. Then, remove the vellum paper and turn your can upside down in a bowl so that it can defrost, allowing the water to run out and the sand to fall into the bowl without a mess.

When the can is emptied, be sure to rinse it well and allow it to dry completely before painting. The white spray paint is on the inside of the can. This will give the light a brighter glow, diffusing it better than the bare metal. It only takes a couple of quick sprays from a few inches away to accomplish this, and then you’ll move on to the outside.

Coating the outside of your punch tin garden lantern not only beautifies it; it also helps protect it from the elements. The spray paint should be applied in two light coats, letting the first layer dry entirely before adding the second coat. If you prefer a more natural look, you can leave out this step and let the cans rust over time, giving a more rustic décor appeal.

To hang, cut about 20-24 inches of copper wire and feed it through both holes at the top of the can. Double it over and twist it together at the end. Insert the votive candle into the can inside a glass holder, or use a tea light candle instead. This makes it easier to take out the melted candle and replace it later. Your punch tin garden lantern is now complete!

Paper Garden Lanterns

If you want to decorate a table or maybe a stone pedestal in your garden, consider a paper garden lantern. These are fairly simple to make, as long as you use the right kind of paper.

Materials

  • Heavy duty drawing or white construction paper or wax paper
  • Hole punch or scissors and stencil
  • Votive or tea light candle
  • Tape (masking tape preferable)

Working with the Paper

To create the exterior of your garden lantern, start by punching holes in a pattern or at random in the paper. Make sure they are far enough apart that you don’t compromise the sturdiness of the paper, or you won’t have good results. However, there should be enough holes that you have plenty of light coming through. Alternately, you can trace stencils and patterns on two or four sides, folding the paper so that the patterns are spaced evenly when placed on the paper.

Next, decide if you want round or square lanterns. If you want round ones, simply align the two short ends of the paper so the edges are slightly overlapped. Then, tape together on the inside, using plenty of tapes to assure a solid shape. Anchor the bottom with another piece of paper, cut in a circle to fit the circumference of the lantern, and tape to the bottom.

For a square lantern, fold the paper into four even parts, making the edges crisp. Then, line up the two ends of the paper and tape together on the inside so no space is left between them. This time, cut a square piece of paper to adhere to the bottom.

Place your garden lantern on a surface, and insert the candle you’re going to use. This is perhaps the simplest garden lantern design and requires the fewest supplies and least amount of work.

Glass Jar Garden Lanterns

Using glass jars, you can create any number of exciting garden lanterns that can sit around the garden. Use old doilies or sheer, lacy curtains to cut and wrap the glass jars, find cloth that you can cut patterns out of using a stencil, or simply leave open.

Materials

  • Canning jars (12 oz jars work well)
  • Material of some kind, preferably light in color
  • Twine
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Candles
  • Stencils (optional)

Preparing the Cover

If you’re going to leave the glass jars wide open, you can skip this step. Otherwise, you’ll need to cut the material – whatever you’ve chosen – to a size that will cover the entire jar. It’s better to cut a little extra and trim later than to cut too little. When you have a cut-out, if you’re going to use a stencil, make sure you trace it in a spot that will be visible on the lantern after you’ve adhered the material to the jar.

If you are tracing stencils, follow the same procedure you would for punch tin lanterns. You can either cut-out the entire shape, which is probably preferable if you’re using darker or thicker material, or you can use a hole punch to make the pattern as you would with a nail on the tin cans. This is a personal preference, which may also be influenced by the amount of time you have to put into the project.

Putting it Together

Using tape, wrap the material around the jar, gathering excess at the bottom. Make sure the material lines up evenly at the lip of the jar. Snip extra cloth away, and adhere to the jar with clear tape, double-sided if possible. Tie the twine around the top for decorative purposes as well as to hold the material in place.

Now, insert your candle and find the placement you want in your garden. Alternately, you could hand these with sturdy wire wrapped around the lip beneath the twine and some copper wire for hanging. However, these garden lanterns tend to be heavy and might not fare as well hanging.

Twine Garden Lanterns

Much like paper Mache, twine lanterns can be a little messy to make but very creative and easy, with a lot of fun involved. And when you’ve completed the process, they look extremely complex and high-design.

Materials

  • Twine – lots of it
  • Glue – also quite a bit
  • Balloons
  • Pin or another sharp object
  • Hanging lamp cord
  • Spray paint (optional)

Preparing the Materials

Fill a bowl with glue. Remember, you’ll need to work quickly enough that the glue doesn’t dry in the bowl, but not so quickly that you have glue dripping all over the place while you work. Using Elmer’s or some other white liquid glue would be best. Blow up your balloon as large as you can, making it as round as possible. It doesn’t have to be perfect; that adds character to the final design.

Now, you’ll need to soak the twine in glue. You’ll want it to absorb as much as possible not only to assure that it sticks where you want it and holds together but also so that, when the glue dries, it is stiff with the glue. Next, wrap the twine around the balloon over and over in nice, random circles, creating a firm ball but with plenty of spaces through which the balloon is still visible. Cut the twine at the end, when you’re done, and twist the end into one of the other strings of the design.

The Finished Product

When the twine has dried completely, use a pin or other sharp object to pop the balloon. Make sure to remove all the pieces from within your twine garden lantern. Your twine should be stiff and white, and you can choose to leave them this sophisticated color or use spray paint to give them a popping color. If you spray paint them, you’ll want to use two light coats all over to make sure they’re covered completely, drying in between coats and again after the second coat.

Insert the end of a hanging lamp cord with a small bulb, taping it to the lantern if necessary. You can hang these from trees or eaves in and near the garden, using a daisy chain connection to take the electricity from an extension cord by the house. Your garden lanterns will give you the feeling of a garden party every day.

Glow Stick Garden Lanterns

While these are ‘temporary’ they are also easy to make and extremely fun, especially when you’re having guests over.

Materials

  • Glass Jars
  • Glowsticks

A Simple Process

Glow stick garden lanterns require the least amount of material of just about any garden lantern project you’ll find. Grab a jar and a glow stick, and you already have the ingredients for your first lantern.

Glass Jars

Glowsticks

Snap the glow stick and shake it well, so that the glow is bright and full. Then, cut the glow stick open and shake the contents into your empty glass jar. Don’t touch the liquid that comes out of the glow stick, and make note that this isn’t the most kid-friendly option for a family project. However, most glow sticks are non-toxic now; you just don’t want to take any risks.

Once the glow stick is empty, close up the jar and place in your garden. Several factors weigh into how long these will last, including the strength of the chemicals in the glow stick and the temperature outside. The glow lasts longer in cooler weather, and you can get up to about a week from these simple but exciting garden lanterns. Best of all, they are reusable for your next event with just a few more glow sticks to refill!

Stocking Garden Lanterns

Are you interested in designing something a little out of this world? Then consider these stocking garden lanterns, which are also temporary but can be the life and topic of a party.

Materials

  • Balloons
  • Glowsticks
  • Stockings

Glowsticks

Balloons

Creating the Glow

Yet another form of a DIY garden lantern that doesn’t require a power source or fire, these stocking lights are just as simple to make as the glow stick garden lanterns. Start with a balloon and a glow stick. Snap the glow stick and shake to activate the glow. Then, cut the end and put the mouth of the balloon around it. Shake the contents of the glow stick into the balloon until you have a large glowing ball. Tie off the balloon.

Stockings, which come very cheap in bulk, can be hung from trees or hooks or anything else you have available. Simply stuff the glowing balloon into the tow of the stocking, then take the open end and knot it around a branch or hook, letting it hang like an ethereal teardrop over the garden. These garden lanterns are some of the cheapest and quickest to design, and they are a delight no matter the occasion.

Cone Light Garden Lanterns

You probably have leftover party supplies lying around and a string or two of Christmas lights not being used over the summer, which can lead to a fun design for stringed garden lanterns that doesn’t cost you anything but a little bit of time.

Materials

  • Cone party hats (New Year’s, birthday, etc)
  • Scissors
  • Hole punch
  • String of lights

Scissor

String of lights

How to Create Cone Garden Lanterns

If you don’t have some excess party hats lying around, you can grab them at a party supply store for a few bucks, and it’s totally worth it for the end results. Take the party hats and cut off the tip of the cone so that you can insert the light into it. Punch holes in the hats at random intervals, making sure enough, light can come through without destroying the structure of the hat.

Take your string of lights and pull one light through the tip of each party hat so that it’s now a cone lantern. Then, string your lights through the trees, on a trellis, or over the eaves in your garden for a super fairy-like lighting scheme.

As an alternative to party hats, you can use snow cone cups, create funnels with colored paper, or find other cheap ways to make cones around your string lights for the ultimate garden lantern design.

Umbrella Garden Lanterns

With the same idea in mind as your string garden lights, you can use old umbrellas that are on their last run to create a different sort of atmosphere with garden lanterns.

Materials

  • Old Umbrellas
  • Icicle lights
  • Scissors

Creating the Garden Lanterns

Take all your old umbrellas and make a hole in the top big enough to feed a set of icicle lights through. If your umbrellas are different colors and designs, even sizes, that’s okay. It adds to the eclectic ambiance of the design.

Make sure your string of lights is well supported as you hang them since umbrellas can be heavy. You might need extra reinforcement, such as some copper wire or similar, to make sure you haven’t put too much weight on the lights. String them from trees, eaves, or other places high enough so the handles aren’t dangling dangerously above your head, and you have not only great garden lanterns but some added protection should it rain while you’re outdoors.

To Conclusion

Crafting your own garden lanterns can be a great delight, and they add something special to the atmosphere. Choosing your design is important because it reflects who you are and what you like. Of course, with such easy and inexpensive projects, you can change your mind as often as you like and try something new, which keeps things fresh and exciting. Whether you want an in-depth project that takes a little extra time and effort or something quick and easy, there’s a design out there for you. Take a look at the various ways you can create your own garden lanterns, and decide what’s right for you. Then, get busy decorating so you’re ready for your next outdoor event!

About The Author

Candace Osmond

Award Winning Designer, Candace Osmond has been in the industry for over a decade. She studied Interior Decorating & Design and is also an accomplished writer and multi-published author. When she's not typing away from the comforts of her desk, Candace can be found travelling to warm destinations, tending to her garden, or enjoying the outdoor haven that is her backyard. Candace currently resides in the breathtaking Maritimes of Eastern Canada with her husband, two beautiful kids and one slobbery bulldog.

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