I made a paper lamp shade and it looks like this:
End of story, thanks for visiting.
Just kidding, of course there’s a more behind it. This is a long one, so settle in…
DIY Paper Lamp Shade
I’ve done lots of do-it-yourself projects. I started as a kid, so my lifetime count is probably in the hundreds (thousands, if you count cooking experiments and studio projects in college).
I have a decent track record, but you know what happens when start blogging about your projects? They all start to go wrong. Murphy’s law, I guess.
This one started when we were given an unwanted lamp by a sweet friend. It has a marble base and the structure is solid (important for a floor lamp). The only thing missing was a shade.
Right away I knew I wanted to make the missing shade. It’s fun working with lighting since you have so much freedom – practically anything can be made into a light.
For this one I wanted a white shade with modern lines, so my mind went to paper.
There are loads of paper lamp shades out there: folded paper origami-types, molded paper sculptures and Chinese style lanterns, to name a few. A quick look at Pinterest, Google, or IKEA and you’ll be overwhelmed with options.
Take 1: Origami Lamp Fail
I came across this site a few weeks ago. I loved origami as a kid, so feeling nostalgic, I decided on making an origami shade.
I wanted origami shapes that would extend higher than the wire base that I had (see the wire structure in the previous photo). After exploring a little, I landed on one intermediate shapes that make up an origami crane (see step 2, here).
Isn’t it nice? I like the elongated shape. It’s almost flat, but the folds and pop-up layers add depth and make some interesting patterns. I also see a little bit of an art deco vibe in it.
Then I made a few more shapes to test how the pieces would fit together and how the light would shine through.
Laid flat the pieces make some nice patterns. Like a kind of pop-up, tessellated wrapping paper.
Next I had to take a leap of faith. The way the lamp shade was flared and curved calculating the pattern precisely was just too complicated. So I decided to go ahead and make enough shapes to wrap the shade and then figure out the details at the end.
I wrapped the wire frame in a double layer of clear plastic wrap (polypropylene) just so I’d have a surface for the origami pieces to stick to. It’s a mess of hot glue and Scotch tape. But that doesn’t matter – it’s covered by paper. I wanted it clear to not block the light.
Then I got to making origami – with regular printer paper, nothing fancy.
I was rocking my way through these, they weren’t so time-consuming. I’m a dork, I timed it. It took 6 minutes a shape average – while semi-distracted watching a movie and listening to podcasts. So it was about 2 hour of origami making in total.
Next step was to jinx myself by posting this to Twitter:
And so it starts to go wrong.
I was hot gluing the origami pieces to the plastic base and just couldn’t get the pattern right. They were very close to fitting together, but needed to be tweaked a tiny bit align as they curved around the shade.
In the end, the places where the pattern was mismatched were noticeable and the paper was worn from my wrangling it into place.
Here it is:
And this is what it looked like without the light off:
I still like the general shape and the concept – wish it had worked.
I think there’s a fine line with projects like this. I like having handmade things mixed in with mass-produced decor. But I think it’s a tough balance between quirky and sloppy. The judgement call is different for everyone… but I feel like I know it when I see it, and this one just wasn’t working.
I don’t regret the attempt when projects go wrong – especially since it’s usually a learning process. At the same time I don’t want to see that attempt in my living room every day either.
So yeah, I tore it apart and started over.
If anyone would want to pick up where I left off, I think it would work if you built a base to fit the pattern instead of making the pattern fit a pre-existing base, like I did. Also a sturdier paper would hold up better, although if it is more opaque the light won’t shine through in the same way.
Take 2: Cut Paper Lamp Shade
I kept the plastic base and stayed with white printer paper but wasn’t in the mood for more origami. So I moved on to cutting strips of paper.
This is what they looked like. This is the long edge of an A4 page.
It’s hard to see, but there are six 5mm strips cut. The cuts don’t go all the way through. They’re still attached at both ends of the strip.
I tried this first with a paper cutter, but it didn’t work. So I cut several sheets at a time with an X-Acto knife and a ruler. It wasn’t too bad, the cuts don’t have to be perfectly precise.
Then I started attaching the paper strips. Each one overlaping slightly. I taped them to the top lip of the frame and then gathered bottoms and attached them in groups of several strips
For whatever reason, it worked out best to attach the bottoms in clumps of strips instead of taping them individually.
It was like making a ponytail with unruly hair. It wasn’t going to be perfectly smooth, so it’s more of a “messy updo”.
I took it back to the lamp base to check how it looked.
I was much happier with the polish of this shade compared to the origami version. But I’d lost the extra height. As you can see here, this one also left the light socket exposed – I wasn’t crazy about that.
I happened to have another bare lamp shade frame (a coincidence, I swear I’m not a hoarder). So I came up with this, and actually got lucky here because it perfectly fit below the first shade to cover the light socket.
I like the way the second frame pushed the top shape too. So I went ahead and covered the rest of the top frame and the bottom. I used the same method on the bottom frame that I described above.
Here it is:
One more time with the light on:
I’m happy with it! It looks good in person and it adds to the room in the way that I’d wanted. There’s also a nice play of texture and layering that I don’t think is coming across in the photos.
Yes, I have an orange leather couch and an old trunk in need of restoration. Doesn’t everyone?
So that’s it, the tale of two paper lamp shades. Would I recommend them? Not unless you’re extremely patient. I have a lot of patience for this stuff, and these were pushing my limits.
By the way, if anyone has an idea of how to use 20 slightly tattered almost-origami-cranes, I’m all ears. I haven’t brought myself to throw them out yet…