How To: Luminaria with Kelly Wilkinson

Remember when I wrote that post about going dancing? (Of course you do!) Well, one of the people I went dancing with is Kelly Wilkinson. Kelly is an NPR reporter here in the Bay Area (David is always saying, “I can’t believe you know Kelly Wilkinson, OH MY GOD,” because he has that kind of relationship to NPR), but she’s also an excellent crafter who writes at Make Grow Gather. She has a soft spot in her heart for us lazy girls, too. So I’m thrilled to announce that she has a book out called, Weekend Handmade, which is full of beautifully styled super easy projects, perfect for your kind-of-lazy-DIY-ish-wedding. Kelly has created a whole step-by-step tutorial just for us for making easy (seriously, I could do them, and I’m not a crafter) luminarias. She makes them with greenery, but you could clearly go crazy on design choices here. Here is Kelly:

DIY wedding decor

I promise, you don’t need to think of yourself as crafty to whip up these lanterns. If you know how to measure, cut, and iron, you can make these. And you should! The most time consuming part is collecting flowers and greenery to press and waiting until they dry nice and flat. Once the lanterns are made, they give off a soft, gauzy light from the fused waxed paper.


  • Flowers and greenery
  • Heavy book
  • Paper towels
  • Waxed paper
  • Ruler
  • Craft knife (like an X-Acto)
  • Cutting board or self-healing cutting mat
  • Iron
  • Ironing board or cloth for pressing
  • Washi tape (I buy mine here)

Press Flowers and Greenery

1.  Collect leaves, flowers and foliage, keeping in mind that delicate, thin leaves and petals will dry faster than thicker specimens. Put flowers, etc. in between two paper towels and place inside a heavy book to dry.

Measure and Cut Waxed Paper

2.  Measure and cut four 4 ½ x 9 inch rectangles. You can adjust and make these any size you want, but I’m partial to a nice-sized cube, which makes the math easy. If you adjust, cut the rectangles twice as long as they are high, so they fold into a square.

Make Panels

3.  Fold the waxed paper rectangle in half to make a square. Open square, place flower or greenery inside. (photo #2) Close the square so the flower is sandwiched between the two layers of waxed paper.

4.  Working on an ironing board or on top of a cloth, pass an iron set to medium quickly over the waxed paper to seal. This will fuse the two layers together. Repeat until you have four finished square panels.

Assemble Lanterns

5.  Lay two panels side-by-side with the edges touching. Orient the panels so the side you want to be the front of the lantern faces you (not facing the table). Cut a length of tape about an inch longer than the panel. Center the tape over where the panels meet and press in place.


6.  Flip panel over and press the extra tape to the wrong side. “Hinge” panels together and run your finger along the tape to make a sharp crease. Continue joining the panels together until all four panels are taped into a cube.

7.  Set candle (inside of a glass votive) or LED tealight inside the luminaria and enjoy!

Weekend Handmade by Kelly Wilkinson includes more than 40 projects and ideas for inspired crafting, and I think you should get it. I will be getting it. It’s even published by STC Craft, where one of my bridal brigade ladies was an editor for years. Photographs by Thayer Allyson Gowdy. Available at bookstores and online, or signed copies are available at Kelly’s blog Make Grow Gather.


Intro photo by Emily Takes Photos.

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  • mecmec

    These are great! Already thinking of trying it with tissue paper shapes instead of greenery for a more geometric look. This lazy craft book is definitely going on the ol’ Amazon wish list.

    • This can definitely be done with tissue paper. Or with little crayon shavings :-) I’ve totally done this craft before for a sun catcher, but I never thought of using it for luminaria. This will be my backup plan in case my tin can luminaria don’t work out well.

      • I remember doing the crayon shavings between wax paper when I was in elementary school.

        Definitely giving these a try, possibly even this weekend. Oooo, the possibilities.

        • meg

          I almost suggested crayon shavings in the intro (BEST CRAFT EVER) but I didn’t want to upstage Kelly’s awesomeness ;)

  • charmcityvixen

    Sounds super easy and non-crafty, yet it looks beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing… and I will definitely put this book on my wish list :)

  • I’m horribly afraid of crafting, but I will give these a shot! Pretty!

    • Hoppy Bunny

      I bet you could make one side of it double length so that it still folds flat but so that you can also rest your candle on a base (like a 5 sided cube).

  • Hypothetical Sarah

    Simple and gorgeous! I definitely need to try this one!

    One question (since I almost got blown away on my way into work today) — will these hold up to a little bit of wind or do you need to worry about the paper blowing into the fire?

    • Gigi

      I think that would be a concern…Maybe use the battery tealights or candles?

    • Marina

      I bet if you secured the paper to a solid base it’d be fine.

  • Perfect! Sis has been bugging me to get on the decor wagon here and I have been resisting because it is just too much work for a destination wedding, but these are just the thing!

    I’m using vintage botantical/taxonomic prints for table numbers, and the venue will be providing LED tealights. These will be the perfect complement, plus they are easy, practically free, and most importantly for destination weddings: THEY PACK FLAT. I just love it when the universe conspires to make everything work. Thanks APW!

    Just one question: how long do you need to press the flowers before doing the ironing bit?

    • meg

      I bet just a few days would be fiiiinneeee.

  • Hoppy Bunny

    I was JUST racking my brain last night for a way to have flowers without having to pay for them! How perfect is this? Wildflowers are FREE, y’all!

    Thanks again APW!!!

  • Those are gorgeous. And they would totally be a fun party craft!

  • Caroline

    This is really great and would be awesome for fall parties as well. Yay for non-terrifying crafts!

  • Hi everyone, I’m so glad you’re inspired — this makes me so happy! Re drying: the thinner the flowers/leaves, the faster they will dry. A few days is usually fine.

    I’ve used these outside and without wind, they’re fine. But they are lightweight so if wind is in the forecast or you want to make sure they stay put, you could just tape them in place on the inside. Run a piece of tape at the bottom to whatever the surface is.

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  • These are simply gorgeous! Thank you for sharing!

  • What a great idea for a DIY wedding and they would be very dramatic – love it! We used A4 vellum sheets taped around glass jars to form cylinders with candles in them for my daughter’s engagement party and these were lovely – the addition of the dried flowers and foliage is beautiful.

  • ildarabbit

    I made these for my wedding! Thirty beautiful luminarias for the tables and dotted around the reception hall. Thank you so much for the lovely tutorial – me and my bridesmaids really enjoyed making them. And I was particularly tickled when the florist asked where we got them and I was able to reply that we made them ourselves and observe the impressed looked on her face :)

    And I bought the book – it’s really lovely!

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  • I really liked this idea! I’m sharing it on my blog about DIY Thanksgiving decor ideas. Thanks for sharing!

  • Hello, i feel that i noticed you visited my weblog so i came to return the choose?.I’m attempting to find things to improve my website!I guess its good enough to make use of a few of your ideas!!

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  • This is such a great way to add something extra to your wedding for relatively cheap!
    Thanks I love the tutorial.

  • FCS

    Hi everyone, great post! I thought I would share a quick way of pressing plants and flowers. Coming from a humid place, depending on the time of year a lot of my flowers and plants would go mouldy and brown when pressing them. I’m sure I was doing something wrong as well as not being patient! But along the way a friend told me to try drying them in the microwave. You place the bit you want to dry between two paper towels on a flat dish (eg. a pyrex baking dish or straight onto the microwave plate) and then place something flat on top of it so the plant lies flat. Then put a glass in teh microwave with some water in it, but try not to put it on top of the plant in case it boils over! Then microwave it for small periods of time until it is dry. I would usually do it for a minute then check then again in 30-60 second bursts depending on what it looks like.(check the water too) It would usually take between 1-4 minutes depending on how thick and how moist the sample was. The best thing about this was that it preserves the plants with their proper colours – no more faded flowers and brown tinged leaves. Have fun and good luck! P.s the plants can smell while cooking them so i would open windows and doors and I wouldn’t put poisonous plants in as who knows if the fumes are toxic – DIY is not worth that!

  • CuriousLiz

    Quick question – how long will the dried leaves stay usable? I got really giddy and excited about this back in November and went around collecting leaves and have them pressing…for our August wedding. Is it better to keep them nestled in their book sanctuaries? Should I go ahead and iron them into luminaria? Or just scrap them and start agin in a couple months with fresh springy flowers?

    P.S. Also, thank you so much…this idea very much helped transform anxiety into eager anticipation back in the early stages when I was trying to picture how to decorate our silly-swanky reception hall in a way that felt natural and fun and authentic (on a budget!). My mother-in-law-to-be is also pressing flowers to bring frommy fiancé’s hometown :)

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  • I absolutely love this idea! It is so creative and unique! Would it be okay for me to repost this amazing DIY project with your photos? I will credit it as your idea and will link it back to your post. I work with a local wedding company on Oahu and I am looking to share some amazing ideas with my Hawaii Brides. I think this is such a neat idea and I know many brides will love it!

  • Kestrel

    So I know I’m commenting on this really late, but I previously just had a bare bulb in my (rented) room and decided to make one of these to diffuse the light a little.

    Seems to be working pretty good so far!

  • Simply gorgeous and nice little project easy to do. I love it.

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  • Candles Recharge

    Definitely going to share this idea!

    And perfect to use with our flameless tea light candles! Thank you!

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