bbb craft sistersDIYdiy projects

diy project: paper bag lanterns

by Grace Bonney

the bbbcraft sisters love parties! and what’s more important at a party than lighting? with a couple of photographers in our family, we have always had to focus on both indoor and outdoor lighting at parties, making it soft and cozy and above all, inviting. nothing captures this more than a little bit of diffused candle light. we wanted to create an inexpensive way of creating our own indoor and outdoor lighting and came up with these paper bag lanterns. –bbb craft sisters

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!

what you need:

1. white paper bags (3.5” x 6.5” we found these , paper bags online on amazon)

2. bone folder

3. pencil

3. stencils and/or stamps and white stamp pad

4. x-acto knife

5. small piece of cardboard

6. 22 gauge wire, cut in to 17” segments

7. grommets and grommet pliers

8. tea lights

9. long matches or long lighter
what you do:

1. fold over about 1” of the top of the bag. this was a little tricky but after ripping a few, we got the hang of it. start slowly, moving in a circular motion and going little by little. when you have the entire 1” folded over, pull out the gussets on both sides and use the bold folder to make the top that you folded over a clean fold.

2. slide the small piece of cardboard in the flat bag, so you have a surface to cut on without cutting through the other side of the bag.

3. using a pencil, trace your stencils and use an x-acto knife to slowly cut out the design. (or, we used our rubber stamp collection to stamp on the bags in white, let dry and cut around the stamp. this way if you are not exact in your cutting, the white ink blends with the bag, leaving room for a few mistakes!)

4. on the middle side of each bag put a grommet about 1/2” down from the top.

5. use the cut wire to form a “handle” by looping it through each grommet and twisting it up to secure on both sides.

6. put a tea light in each bag and hang on a porch, deck or even inside a dining room. light each tea light using a very long match or lighter.

bbbcraft makes it a gift! we also put 6 flattened bags, twisted wire and 6 tea lights in a decorated (slightly larger) white paper bag (along with two long matches) and took them to an outdoor party in los angeles. the hostess took them out and lit them right away for us all to enjoy!

Suggested For You


  • They look beautiful but isn’t it dangerous? What precautions were taken so that the bag didn’t catch fire?

  • i love these! they’re going in my wedding inspiration folder. they’de be perfect for an evening reception in the adirondacks*

  • Are the cutouts just holes? The finished ones look like there’s a white film or something placed on the stencil/stamp/cut side…?

  • i’m with the others, on the tea lights not burning the bag, that was one of my first thoughts. would it help to stick putty or something to the bottom of the tealight and stick it to the bottom of the bag? AND one more thing…if you have a really intricate design that you want to use, would it be possible to paint the stamp with an oil of some sort (like olive oil, although it might make it more flammable) to make the bag translucent?

    other than that, this is beautiful and i cannot wait to try it!

  • What a great idea. I went to a party that just had bags and tealights but these personalized ones are the way to go!

  • I love these. They look so lovely. I wanna make some of these. I just wonder if the bags can catch on fire with the tea lights, just wondering.

  • If the bags are on the ground you can put sand or rice in the bottom to weight them and keep the tea light in the center and away from the sides.

  • love this idea! I think I will use soft glow LED lights instead – too scared to use the real candles for safety reasons.
    Thanks for posting!!

  • I love this idea, but I too would be afraid of burning the place down. I would definitely try this with the led tea lights.

  • Wow this is a great resource for making my own paper lanterns. I have always bought my paper lanterns, I throw a lot of parties so I use them often. Now I will follow these instructions and mix in some home made lanterns as decorations thank you.

  • I wouldn’t bother with this- the tealights burn out so fast you’ll be awkwardly trying to re-light them 30mins into your fete. Props for the idea though- someone’s trying to come up with new things. (Wedding?? Ha tealights def. not good for a wedding). heather- LED lights idea is much more logical. :-)

  • i have been thinking about doing these for my wedding reception. they are simple but have a huge aesthetic impact. thanks for sharing this diy.

  • hi everyone!

    while it’s a good idea, as with any burning candle, not to leave these unattended, we have found, as d. points out, that tealights burn out more quickly than not–their flames are more often put out than they are fueled (for this reason, we actually like using the slightly larger, 2.5″ diameter tea lights that burn a little longer).

    we have successfully (and safely!) used these for a couple of parties now, but if you’re at all worried about them, the LED lights idea is a fantastic one–thanks for all of the input!

    –bbbcraft sisters

  • ‘d’ when was the last time you used a tea light? My tea lights burn for 9 hours?? And can I just say, I have never had a single bag burn in 8 years of making these. Common sense though, don’t use them indoors and don’t leave them unattended. Kate, I stamp mine with oil to get the translucent look and it works a treat!

  • Wedding + children + ANY kind of fire = BAD idea… although a beautiful one. These bags are definately rated A for Adults!

    • Marla

      If the children aren’t around the bags, and if they’re supervised, I don’t see the problem. Comments these days seem to suggest that children should be kept away from anythig that’s not a stuffed animal. If children are supervised and common sense is used I don’t think there’s a reason for people to get too worked up… I feel like people jump to the worst possible outcome sometimes. Children aren’t even mentioned as part this post or the project….


    • I missed the part about the wedding- adults aren’t allowed to have candles either now? I don’t think I’ve been to a wedding that didn’t have some sort of candle, and all of those started and ended without a fire.

  • these are adorable! in my small hometown there’s a whole subdivision where every single house puts out “luminarias” every Christmas Eve so I always think of this as a Christmas thing..but great for summer parties as well!

    grace, you are hilarious and oh so right. obviously it goes without saying that if you have children you should supervise them around candles, and this blog isn’t exactly centered around children anyway. i would hope parents would be able to use some common sense without needing a disclaimer or warning for everything!

  • Great project! I, too, buy the larger tealights that last about 8-9 hours.I have those Ikea cheap glass holders, which eliminates worries about fire.
    I like the idea of the LED lites, as well.
    Definitely making these are gifts! thanks

  • I love these paper lanterns. They would definitely look lovely at a evening party or wedding on the tree branches of hanging at a balcony! Such an inspirational idea! But I think it could be a bit dangerous though …

  • Grace! I totally agree. No candles at a wedding? They are as integral as flowers, or music. haha. I think this beautiful.

    I would opt for the LED lights, simply for the fact that you don’t have to worry about switching them after they burn out.

    I have a 13 month old, and am definitely using candles at my wedding!

  • I saw this at an outdoor wedding in Corfu last year, and they also used rice lamps laid on the ground, with candles inside. The effect was stunning, it was absolutely magical. I wouldn’t worry about using them outdoors.

  • These look beautiful! and just the inspiration I was looking for. I think I will use fire-retardant bags (readily available in most craft shops or online) just to be sure. Thanks for sharing.

  • My church lights the walkway each Christmas Eve this way. It even looks lovely with plain brown bags, if a little more rustic. What we do is put sand in the bottom to keep the candles in place and keep the lanterns from blowing away!

  • In New Mexico, we call these luminarias. We use them as Christmas decorations, but we fill the bottom with sand.

  • The fact is that we need and use both types of bags. At the grocery store, wet or cold items should be placed in a plastic bag first or else they will cause a paper bag to rip apart.

  • Years ago my uncle had a trail of plain paper bags along the walkway to his front door. Each bag had a votive candle in it and there was a little water at the bottom of each votive cup (so the fire extinguishes itself…) It was absolutely lovely to me. I’m thinking that using a cut out bag on the ground will give it so much class – rather than hanging it from a tree. – Just a thought.

    Thank you very much for the ideal and the instructions.

  • Pretty. I’ll see if I can find white paper bags at the art store.
    Would it work with light blue paper bags?

    If fire is an issue, you can buy electronic candles that look like candles at some $2 shops.
    I don’t know if you can get pretend t-lights. Maybe small tent lights might light it up the same without the fire. I might test that idea.

    Would spotlight have a Grommet gadget? Does it go by any other name? Like, an eyelet tool?