Whether you’re celebrating Chinese New Year or just want to get into the spirit of the Auckland Lantern Festival, making a flying lantern is an exciting way to participate in the festivities.
Working on the same principle as a hot air balloon, flying lanterns are a spectacular sight as they rise gracefully into the night sky. Care must be taken to avoid fire-risk and the lantern itself requires a little work, but these glowing orbs, floating off to an unknown destination, are a poignant metaphor for our own dreams and hopes.
What You’ll Need
To make your flying Chinese lantern you’ll need:
- Tissue paper.
- A spray can of flame retardant.
- A strip of bamboo.
- Tin foil.
- Stiff cardboard.
- Sticky tape.
- Rubbing alcohol or methylated spirits.
- Cotton balls.
Making Your Lantern
1/ Take two rectangles of tissue paper 60 cm x 90 cm, lie them on top of each other and cut off the top right and the top left corners. Removing the corners in this manner will give your finished lantern an approximation of curvature on the top of its “balloon”.
2/ Thoroughly spray both sheets of tissue paper with flame retardant and allow to dry. Hanging the paper from a clothes line makes spraying and drying the paper easy.
3/ Place glue along the top, corner and side edges of one of your sheets of tissue paper, stick to the other sheet along its corresponding edges and allow the glue to dry. Don’t glue the bottom edge as this is the open neck of the lantern where the fire source will be placed. Effectively, you’re making a large paper bag.
4/ Take a strip of bamboo and bend it into a hoop the same diameter as the open neck of your lantern. Secure the hoop with either wire, staples or glue. Note: the bamboo needed for a Chinese flying lantern is not a whole, round, bamboo cane, but a pliable strip taken from such a cane. You can find these at a craft shop or split your own.
5/ Cut two lengths of wire and tie them tightly to the edges of your bamboo hoop, north to south and east to west, so that they form an X in the middle of the hoop.
6/ Take a 15 cm square of stiff cardboard and cover it in tin foil. Use sticky tape to attach this to the centre of your wire X. This square of board is the supporting platform for your “fire-cup”.
7/ Mould a cup about 8 cm in diameter from several sheets of tin foil. Be sure not to split the foil as this receptacle must be watertight. Fix this cup securely to the centre of the board platform on your wire X.
8/ Take the whole hoop and fire-cup assembly and glue it into the open neck of your tissue “balloon” with the cup facing up towards the top of the tissue bag. Allow the glue to dry.
9/ Soak one or two cotton balls in rubbing alcohol or other flammable spirit and place them in the fire-cup.
You’re now ready to launch your flying lantern. Have a friend hold the sides of the tissue balloon apart while you light the cotton balls.
It will take a minute or two for hot air to fill the balloon, during this time continue to hold the sides of the tissue balloon apart. When your lantern becomes buoyant release it.
There is something magical about a flying lantern, something almost alive, as it rises, glowing into the dark sky and your friends and family are sure to delight in sharing the experience.
To ensure all this beauty does not end unhappily, though, take care to release your flying lantern in a safe area and only when there is little or no wind.
For some beautiful scenes of flying lanterns, check out this video.