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DIY paper garlands stretch party-decor dollars

DIY paper garlands that stretch party-decor dollars

From paper dolls to birds and boats, these decorative projects add a special homemade touch to celebrations. (Clare Miers, Special to the Star-Telegram)
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From paper dolls to birds and boats, these decorative projects add a special homemade touch to celebrations. (Clare Miers, Special to the Star-Telegram)

Party mega-stores have decorations that are fast and convenient, but nothing packs a power punch for special gatherings more than handmade decor. Paper garlands and handmade paper mobiles will be remembered long after the party takes place, and they always offer a good backdrop for a photo and selfie opp.

The fact that they are made with only basic materials and a little homemade labor is uniquely welcoming to guests, and such projects are also a great way to get youngsters involved in a special family gathering or event — with minimal expense.

Pinterest boards are filled with inspiring paper decorating ideas, both elaborate and simple. Here’s a sampling of easy-to-tackle paper decor projects, as well as a couple of advanced ideas from paper artist pros.

Paper art inspirations

View a schedule of upcoming paper art classes in the DFW area at www.weare1976.com.

Butterfly paper mobile 3
Butterfly paper mobile Clare Miers Special to the Star-Telegram

Getting butterflies

Dollar stores and teaching supply shops often have precut images such as shapes, hearts, bugs and butterflies made from colorful card stock. They can be found in bulk packages and are ideally intended for teachers wanting to create bulletin board displays. These cutouts also make great elements for paper garlands or large mobiles and are especially convenient. Imagine the look of a long, non-lit chandelier of butterflies hanging over an outdoor patio or yard table for a special summer gathering. This project is easy to make and calls attention to the cake or cupcake table.

Materials needed

  • 1 wire, bendable clothing hanger
  • Roll of thin, silver craft wire
  • Wire cutters
  • 3-4 yards of grosgrain ribbon in a color that coordinates with cutouts
  • Glue gun and glue sticks (low heat preferred if working with children)
  • 5 large pecans, pieces of weighted potpourri elements, or heavy costume jewelry (mismatched pearl or crystal-looking earrings work great)
  • 4-5 sheets of plain white card stock or clear packing tape
  • 2-5 packages of butterfly-shaped card stock cutouts
  • Craft glue
  • Glitter
  • Scissors


1. Make a hoop: Stretch a wire hanger to change the triangular part into a large, round hoop. Cut off the curled top of the hanger and discard it. If you can’t cut it, you can straighten it out instead and then bend it back to make it look like it’s simply part of the larger, round hoop. The butterflies will dangle from the hoop.

2. “X” marks the spot: Create an “X” by crossing two wires at the top of the hoop. Connect them tightly to the hoop so that you’ll be able to hang a strand or two of butterflies from the hoop’s interior.

3. Add the wires to the hoop: Cut five, 2- to 4-foot lengths of wire and imagine the hoop as the face of a clock in order to connect the wires in the 2, 5, 8, 10 and 12 positions. The wires will hang straight down. If you need a shorter mobile, just decrease the lengths of the dangling wires.

Lengthier wires will allow you to hang the mobile from a tree limb in a park or backyard setting. You can always shorten the length of the mobile’s wires, so go long and then shorten it as needed. For a finished look, wrap the hoop with a small grosgrain ribbon. A little hot glue dribbled on the ribbon while you wrap it will keep it on tight.

4. Add weights to the vertical wires: Affix a pecan, a piece of decorative potpourri, a cluster-style earring or a metal fishing weight to the end of the wires to add a “weight.” This will hold the vertical wires steady while you adhere the butterflies, but it will also help to keep the elements of the mobile in place outside in the wind.

You can wrap the end of the dangling wire tightly around the pecan and then glue it down, or you can hot-glue the end of the wire to the pecan and then put a small piece of white card stock over the wire in order to sandwich the wire to the pecan. Another nice idea is to use old mismatched jewelry brooches or earrings. These can be tied onto the vertical wires and can sparkle on the ends of the mobile while giving the wires a little weight.

5. Release the butterflies: Now that the framework is in place, it’s time for the fun part. Brush the cutouts with craft glue and sprinkle them with glitter. Let dry.

Add the paper butterflies in single layers or put two together to “sandwich” the hanging wire. If you use single butterfly cutouts, use small strips of white card stock to mask the wire on the back of the butterfly. A small piece of strong, clear packing tape works, too. Add a wired strand or two in the center of the hoop, tying onto the “X” wires at the top, in the hoop. These can be shorter or just as long as your outer wires of butterflies. This fills in the center of the hoop and gives the mobile some body.

6. Hang the mobile: Hang the paper sculpture over a party table or garden/patio entrance, or wire it to a tree limb with craft wire.

Children will marvel at the festive butterflies. Don’t be surprised if someone asks to hang the mobile in their room after the party.

Ballerinas finished on chair back
This garland uses cutouts of ballerinas that have been hand-colored and glued to a ribbon. Images used must be in the public domain. Clare Miers Special to the Star-Telegram

You’re a doll

There are many websites that sell or have free public domain images to create paper garlands. Look for old paper dolls or bird sketches on special sites. You can even use vintage paper doll books. Just keep in mind copyright rules while searching for images. Some sites offer free image downloads as long as you are not re-selling their materials.

The British Library recently released a million images on Flickr for public use from old books and documents at https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/. They are available for download with no copyright restrictions or fees. You can color and tint black and white images, and there are a lot of monogrammed initials in this collection, too.

Paper dolls or other images with wedding attire are great for wedding shower decor. Look for unique, vintage wedding paper dolls and print as many as you need. Cut them out, add a card stock backing and hot-glue to a white satin ribbon.

Paper birds on twine vertical best
Paper birds on twine Clare Miers Special to the Star-Telegram

Birds on a vine

Materials needed

  • A group of printed bird images that are the right style and scale for your application (keep in mind where you will string your garland)
  • Colored pencils to tint certain parts of a sketch (optional)
  • Glue gun and glue sticks
  • Twine, ribbon, string or yarn of choice
  • Scissors
  • Card stock or cardboard


1. Print and cut out small bird sketches.

2. Color the wings of some of the birds with colored pencils. Trace the bird’s shape onto cardboard or old shipping boxes, then glue the sketch onto the thicker backing.

3. Glue the cutouts directly onto a ribbon, jute twine or string.

4. Weave finished garlands through chandeliers, pin them to table linen edges or put them in trees or topiaries around a patio area.

sailboat garland cu
Sailboat garland Clare Miers Special to the Star-Telegram

Setting sail

Sailboat garlands set a lake-friendly signal for late summer pool parties or a waterside picnic. Hang some light and cheery sailboats from a cotton rope to set a nautical theme. Make your own simple two-sail design by tracing two triangle shapes (sails) and a crescent moon (boat), or look for a simple sailboat template here.

Materials needed

  • Scissors or box cutters
  • Scrap shipping boxes (Two folding box tops will usually do the trick.)
  • White card stock or any thick decorative colored paper that looks nautical (found at craft stores in the scrapbook areas) or watercolor paper if you plan to use paints
  • Colored markers or watercolors and a craft brush
  • Wooden BBQ skewers
  • Glue gun and glue sticks
  • White cotton rope, at least 4 to 6 feet in length (clothesline rope works well)


1. Cut the boat piece: Cut out a crescent shape from the cardboard box to make the boat part of the sailboat.

2. Cut two sails: Cut the sails, one slightly larger than the other, from card stock or decorative paper. Make the sails any color or use any paper pattern you like.

3. Color the sails: If you are using white paper only, you can lightly watercolor the sails. I like to use soft yellows, light blues, light greens and reds for my sails. You might need to create a backing for these, however, because watercolors may curl or ripple the paper. If you want to use this technique, consider buying watercolor paper for the sail portions. Using colored, ready-made craft card stock in nautical colors is faster, but the watercolors do give the sailboats a more homemade, artistic look.

4. Add the mast: Holding the sailboat piece upright, skewer the middle of the cardboard craft as though you were installing a steel mast to hold the sails. Add a drop of glue to hold it in place in the cardboard. You can trim the top of the “mast” with scissors if it seems too tall.

5. Raise the sails: Attach the sail pieces directly to the wood skewer and trim off the top of the wood stick to fit the sails. You can also space the second, smaller sail out by using 2 or 3 small tabs or rectangular pieces of white card stock. Glue one end of the tab onto the larger sail and one end connecting the smaller sail, while placing a little glue on the skewer, too.

6. Connect the sailboats to a cotton rope: Hot-glue the sailboats directly on the cotton rope. Space them 4 or 5 inches apart. Drape the rope around an entrance, in front of a party table or along a bridge or pathway leading to the outdoor gathering area.

book club paper garland
Book club paper garland Clare Miers Special to the Star-Telegram

The book nook

Make tiny paper books for chair and table garland for your next book club gathering. These are also cute for college dorm rooms or for back-to school-gatherings.

Materials needed

  • Box cutter or scissors
  • Shipping cardboard box scrap
  • Floral wrapping paper, old notecards or printed paper designs
  • An old book that you can part with or newsprint
  • Glue gun and glue sticks
  • Staples and stapler (optional)
  • Twine


1. Cut cardboard rectangles: Use scissors or a box cutter to cut small rectangles (about 2 by 1 inches) from old cardboard box scrap. Fold the pieces like a book.

2. Cover your books: Use floral papers or old flowery notecards to give the miniature books a romantic look. You can also find certain words from newsprint to make book titles. Cut words from old magazines or newspapers and glue them on.

3. Make them look like books: You can glue the books shut or you can fill the inside of the books with newsprint, old book pages or blank paper. Cut the papers to fit the inside and glue or staple the pages into the binding.

4. Hang the books on twine: Hot-glue your books onto a piece of jute twine. Drape them around the backs of chairs or in key serving areas.

ShamsyGarland Courtesy Shamsy Roomiani
Shamsy Roomiani with a hand-tied and dyed batik paper on a main cord comprosed of recycled t-shirt material and “silk tidbits.” Shamsy Roomiani Courtesy

Botanical inspirations

Shamsy Roomiani of Dallas just finished her “Flora Obscura” exhibition at Atama in Dallas. She teaches courses such as botanical printmaking at We Are 1976 in the Bishop Arts District. When asked to share a favorite paper garland design, Roomiani produced one made with hand-tied and dyed batik paper on a cord made of recycled T-shirt material and “silk tidbits.”

The colorful paper garland is a great party decoration but also can be used as room art long after the party is over. This style can be used in front of a main cake table or at a sign-in table to add extra color and texture.

Roomiani will have her unusual products on display Aug. 23 at a pop-up shop at West Elm in Dallas’ Mockingbird Station. Learn more about her paper and printmaking designs at www.shamsy.co.

A click away

Even if you don’t have much time for crafty projects, Etsy and Pinterest have your back. Search “Paper Garlands” on Pinterest and be prepared to be bombarded with boards and pins of fabulous paper garlands, buntings and mobile ideas. Or take your quest to Etsy (www.etsy.com) to find a variety of talented paper artists who are making unique and lovely paper garlands by hand for sale. You can order them from all over the world.

Here are a few favorites:

Banner Blitz

Based in Dallas, Banner Blitz offers colorful paper flower garlands and buntings. Customized, festive party messages and holiday garlands are available. Blog: theartofhandmades.blogspot.com; Facebook: theartofhandmades.


Located in Belgium, LaMiaCasa has a large variety of colorful garlands ready to ship. You can’t procrastinate on this one, though. You must allow time for international shipping if you are ordering for a special event. LaMiaCasa has great reviews and a large selection.


Started by Alysia Cleys in Portland, Ore., ProsttotheHost got its start with an impressive offering of massive papered poms, followed by DYI kits that walk you through the process of making them yourself. These are especially lovely at weddings. Blog: ProstToTheHost.com; Pinterest: ProstToTheHost; Facebook: ProstToTheHost.

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