Lantern making is a nice winter craft activity – for families, schools or community groups. Here in Cornwall lantern parades have become a real tradition, and part of the fun lies in actually making the candlelit lanterns themselves out of willow stems (‘withies’).
These instructions come from Emma Myers, who’s running free drop-in lantern-making workshops at the Eden Project in the run-up to Christmas, where you can then use your own lantern for the evening procession.
You can also download a summary of these willow-lantern-instructions – useful for reference when working with groups.
You will need:
- Wet strength tissue paper
- Masking tape
- 1mm-thick wire, eg galvanised gardening wire (about 80cm per lantern)
- Plastic-coated gardening wire (about 30 cm per lantern)
- 1 sturdy cane
- PVA glue and bowl to put it in
- A paintbrush
- A candle
- Metal piping (5cm per lantern)
- A drill
- A saw
- Waterproof tape (eg gaffa / duct tape)
- A plastic surface to work on (or a table with a plastic tablecloth that you don’t mind getting glue on)
- Willow withies (about eight x 1.5m lengths per lantern). Buff willow is best, which you can get from a willow supplier.
To prepare the willow
1. Soak the willow in a bath of cold water overnight – the longer the better.
2. Before you use it, give it a wipe off so that it’s not dripping wet.
To make the frame
TIP: When using willow stems, take care not to get the tips in people’s eyes, especially when big groups of children are doing this activity.
1. You’re first going to make a very long piece of willow from two shorter pieces. So, take two withies in your hand, one with the thick end at the top, the other with the thin end at the top. Pull one of the thick ends up about 30cm, and the other down, so extending the length of the two to about 170cm.
TIP: It’s worth cutting some 10cm-strips of masking tape before you start, so you have them to hand when you’re joining the willow together to make the frame.
2. Twist them around each other gently to intertwine a little, then use masking tape to attach the two together at the thin tip of each stem.
TIP: To make neat joins with your masking tape, place the willow stems you want to stick about 2cm along the tape strip, and fold this 2cm-protruding end of the tape over to stick to the tape on the other side. The remaining tape should be neatly wrapped around the willow stem until all the tape is stuck down.
3. Create a second long piece of willow in the same way.
4. Now make a ‘dog leg’ – or a slight bend – at about 10cm from each end of the first long piece of willow you have just created. To do this, hold the stems firmly in your fists and bend them gently until you hear a snap. Now you can bend them into a slight angle. Be careful not to snap the stems right through.
5. Next, measure 60cm from the dog leg bend and bend again.
6. Measure 30cm from that and bend again.
7. Finally, measure 60cm from that and bend again!
8. Join the willow piece into a triangle by joining near the ends with masking tape, just at the point where the two dog legs bend. You’ll end up with a tipi shape, with the dog legs sticking out of the top.
9. Using this triangle as a template, do exactly the same with the second piece of long willow you made.
10. Next, you need to join the two triangles together to make a pyramid-shaped frame. Do this by cutting two pieces of willow 40cm long. These are going to form the missing two base sides of your frame.
11. Now give these pieces dog legs at 5cm from each end.
12. Using masking tape, join each of the dog legs at right angles to the bottom of the vertical sides of your two triangles.
14. Now join the tops of the two triangles together to form a pyramid shape.
15. Take another two strong pieces of willow to serve as diagonal supports for the base of the pyramid. These will need to be about 50cm long, but you should measure the actual length needed for your lantern by holding them at a diagonal to the base of your pyramid – and adding 5cm at each end for dog logs.
16. Attach these ‘cross braces’ to the base of the pyramid using masking tape around the dog legs.
16. The next job is to attach a variety of pieces of willow to fill in the four sides of the pyramid – using masking tape at each junction, and dog legs if helpful. These pieces support the tissue paper that you’re going to stick to the sides. They could even be curved, or could form a pattern, which will show as a silhouette once the candle is lit.
To make the candle holder
1. The candle holder sits in the centre of the cross braces. At the Eden Project we make ours out of a 5cm-section of metal piping, with four holes drilled at intervals at its base.
TIP: If you’re making lots of lanterns with a group, get one person to prepare these candles holders and the strips of wire beforehand; it’s not a great or particularly safe group activity! You’ll definitely need to clamp the piping as you saw and then drill it.
2. Next, take a piece of your galvanised wire (30cm long) and feed it through one of the holes and out of the opposite one. Do the same with a second piece of wire the same length – using the other two holes.
3. Place the pipe at the centre of the cross brace, with the holes at the bottom, and wrap each of the four protruding pieces of wire around the diagonal cross braces on the base of the pyramid. Your candle holder should now sit steady inside your willow structure.
To cover and decorate the lantern
You can simply cover the lantern in white tissue paper, get creative with coloured sheets, or even stick little balls of coloured tissue paper on for effect. You could consider using a touch of paint for your design as well. But remember, the candlelight against the willow shapes will make great effects anyway.
1. Lay a sheet of paper on a plasticated surface and paint a layer of PVA glue over it. Then slowly and evenly lift the sheet up, taking care not to rip it, and place it over the sides of the lantern, wrapping it around the corners.
2. Continue until all four sides of the lantern are covered. The sheets should overlap.
3. Now do the same to cover the base, leaving just one of the four sections of the bottom open so that you can get your hand in to light the candle.
4. Leave to dry – ideally overnight where there is good air circulation, for example hanging from a washing line or under cover in the garden, or even in the garage.
To hang the lantern
1. When the lantern’s dry, snap off the dog legs and wrap masking tape over and under the willow stems to form a sturdy tip at the top of the pyramid.
2. This is where you’ll hang your lantern from. Take a 15cm-length of your thicker, plastic-coated and feed it through the top of the frame, twisting the ends together to form a loop.
3. Now feed your second piece of plastic-coated wire through this loop and attach each end of the wire to the top of your cane with the waterproof tape. Your lantern is now ready to be carried, Dick Whittington style!
Come and take part in our free drop-in lantern-making workshops at the Eden Project in the run-up to Christmas, where you can then use your own lantern for the evening procession. Or find out how to arrange a lantern parade in your own community or school.