Hi, I’m Kelly Wilkinson.
Crafter, journalist,
middle sister, more...

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summercraft: tomato cage lanterns


It’s funny how some projects are born. Like this one: I recently created fabric lanterns out of old tomato cages for an upcoming Washington Post project. I first tried making them with tissue paper paper-mache, but that bombed. So I sewed the fabric into the cages, which made them lovely and taut (I’ll share that version when it publishes next week). But I still wanted to try another method that would be a faster, more lazy way to transform the humble tomato cage into a July Fourth-worthy lantern.

That’s when I tried homemade fabric stiffener. I dunked the whole piece of fabric into a bowl of diluted glue, squeezed out the excess, and draped it over the frame. At first, I didn’t think I liked the effect because it was so different to the drum-tight version. But after it dried, I became enamored of its relaxed, crumpled vibe. And the lighting-fast way the project comes together and then dries to a hardened shell.

I used an old ripped sheet for the base fabric and appliquéd red and blue stars onto the fabric, but you can use any material you like, and skip the appliqué step if you’d prefer

You’ll Need:
Tomato cage (I used the 33 inch size)

Strong wire cutters or hacksaw

1 yard fabric


Fabric scissors

Elmer’s glue


Battery operated votive candle


1. Wearing safety glasses (and being careful!) trim upright prongs from the tomato cage just above the smallest circle.

2. Working with the wider end of the cage on a table, drape fabric over the top of the cage, with at least ½” of fabric extending up and over the top of the cage. Secure fabric in place with clothespins.

3. Now pull fabric to the bottom and secure, again with clothespins. Continue around the entire bottom of the cage.

4. You can trace along the top and bottom openings with fabric pen, and then cut out the fabric. Or you can cut while the fabric is on the frame – you don’t need to be very exact. Just leave about ½”-1” excess fabric around the top and bottom of the cage, and where the fabric will overlap. Remove clothespins. If you are adding appliqué, do this now so you can see where to add the decorative elements.

5. Here’s where you get to get a little messy. In a bowl, mix 2 parts glue to 1 part water and stir. Dunk the fabric in the glue mixture until it’s thoroughly saturated, then squeeze out the excess glue and drape the fabric over the cage, turning the top and bottom edge over the frame to seal, and let dry.

6. As it dries, check to make sure the top, bottom and side seams are drying closed. If necessary, re-pinch the seam into place as it dries and flip when the lantern is partially dry to better seal the bottom fabric.

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Reader Comments (11)

These may win the prize for your coolest craft yet. Seriously! Just think about how less pathetic our oven burger, Rolling Rock 4th would have been if we were charmed by these lanterns...! xo

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKMA

looks messy and fun...very cool

July 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterv8grrl

I love this idea. What kind of light source did you use that illuminated it so nicely?

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteremily

LOVE this. May have to make it my own weekend project. Actually, too ambitious for this lazy summer-er. I'll make it my month project. thanks for the ideas and inspiration.

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterpint-sized

have been looking for a sticky craft for the kids to help out with. How fun and absolutely gratifying! :)

July 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMama DB

Hi Emily: I used a chunky candle, probably 3" across and the same height, within a glass hurricane. I know I'm supposed to recommend battery operated votives for safety reasons these days. And they work perfectly well, but I just love a real flame. And what can I say, I like to live dangerously.

But don't leave an open flame unattended -- we all know this, right? I don't know why I feel compelled to say it here. Safety first, people!

July 2, 2010 | Registered CommenterKelly

I made these the other day after I saw the post and just loved how they turned out. Thank you for the inspiration.

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August 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercoach bags

I bought lanterns, not made it by myself. lol

November 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMary

This is a very good article, and provides for me some useful information, thank!

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