{DIY} St Martin Lanterns

22 October 2013

With a little over two weeks to go, it’s time to get your St Martin lanterns at the ready. I posted a short two part guide to St Martin traditions last week, and lanterns play a big part in it. 

You can buy lots of different ready made lanterns at the shops here in Germany around this time. A popular variety, and one of my favourites, are these round sun and moon shaped ones:


Just as popular, is making your own lantern, and in the bigger craft stores – such as Modulor at Moritzplatz in Berlin Kreuzberg – you’ll find all the supplies you need, including either traditional candle holders (below bottom left) and wooden lantern sticks, or modern plastic sticks with battery powered mini lightbubs (below right).


A common variety for DIY lanterns, because they are easy to make, are cylinder shaped ones. You can buy the circular cardboard boxes – which basically look like two lids, one of which has a hole in them – needed for the main structure, or you can just use an empty cheese box. Here are the other basic supplies you’ll need to make a cylinder lantern:


  • A3 sheet of thick tracing paper 
  • a pair of scissors
  • glue
  • sticky tape – single or double sided
  • and your cardboard lids/ cheese box

You’ll also need either some wire or a store bought lantern handle (not pictured), and of course your source of light.


Step 1: Prepping your cardboard lids

If you’re using store bought lids, the top and bottom will come ready prepared. If you’re recycling a cheesebox, you’ll need to cut a circle in to one of the lids, leaving a small rim for stability. This is the part that goes at the top of your cylinder, where the lamp (whether battery powered or candle lit) for the lantern will hang through.

If you want, you can also paint your cheese box to cover over what’s printed on it, or if you’re not too fussed you can leave it as is. The lantern the boy made at nursery last year still reads “Camembert” on it :)


Step 2: Decorating your tracing paper

When decorating your tracing paper, remember to work in landscape format, i.e. keeping the longer sides at the top and bottom (as in the picture of the supplies above). Before you start, you should also wrap the paper around one of the cardboard lids to measure the width. You’ll want some overlap, but if it overlaps too much you may want to trim off any excess.

There are lots of different ways to decorate your lantern. Last year, the kids at the boy’s nursery decorated theirs by splattering the tracing paper with paint (see above). Mind that you don’t cover it in too much paint, as you’ll still want the light to shine through.

Another easy decorating tip is to stick different colours of tissue paper on to the tracing paper for a stained glass effect. Again, don’t layer the tissue paper to thickly.

For the lantern I made this year, I used a template from ‘Sweet Paul Magazine’ and cut out some spooky Hallowe’en cats from black craft paper to make silhouettes. Sweet Paul also suggested adding a layer of translucent textured silk paper for extra effect, but if that sounds too complicated to you, you can just stick with making silhouettes.


Step 3: Attaching the tracing paper to the cardboard lids

To assemble your lantern, cover the sides of your lids with glue, and wrap your tracing paper around the lids – remember, the lid with the circle cut out of it goes at the top! Where ends of the tracing paper meet/ overlap, secure them in place with sticky tape (see picture above).


Step 4: Attaching your lantern handle

To be able to carry your lantern, you’ll need to attach a handle to it. In Germany, you can buy pre-prepared bits of wire that are already cut to the right length and bent in to the right shape. Or you can just cut a bit of wire to the right length yourself and bend it in to a U shape.

To attach the lantern, punch a hole in to opposite sided of the top of your cylinder, then pull the ends of the wire through, bend them up the way and twist them a little with the rest of the wire to secure in place (see picture above).

In terms of how long the wire handle should be, if you’re using a battery powered lamp which hangs in from above, you might want to hold it in place and check for length before securing the handle in place.


Step 5: Adding a light source

As I mentioned at the beginning, you can buy wooden sticks and candle holders – in fact, many store bought lanterns such as the sun shown at the beginning of this post come with a candle holder inside – but personally I am very nervous about mixing small children and open flames. Especially as I’ve see how the boy likes to swing his lanterns about. So we’re sticking to the plastic, battery powered ones. They come in different sizes, as shown above. 

Both the wooden and plastic varieties come with a little hook, to attach to the handle of your lantern. With the candle lit ones, the candle holders usually sit at the bottom of the lanterns, with the battery powered ones, the light bulb is attached to the stick and hangs in the lantern from above. 


And you’re ready to go out in to the dark Autumn evenings with your lantern! Here’s the Sweet Paul inspired cat lantern I made :)

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