As y’all know, we DIY’d a lot of wedding projects. I reeeeeeally wanted to incorporate paper lanterns in a creative way to give our decor a sense of whimsy, so I landed on the idea of a paper lantern chandelier. Yes this was a project for our wedding, but I really think it could be used for any party, and a scaled down version could even be cute in a nursery!
Isn’t the finished product pretty? This is the prettiest picture you’ll see in this post for a while, bear with us while we get our hands dirty putting this thing together!
I had seen a lot of cool paper lantern chandeliers on Pinterest that were basically hula hoops with paper lanterns attached to them. But the problem with those was that you were limited by the size of the hula hoops. We wanted something a bit larger, so we had to get creative.
It was puzzling to come up with something light enough to be suspended, but sturdy enough to hold its shape. We browsed Home Depot trying to look at building materials and imagine them working. We considered building a wood frame but thought it would be too heavy. Then we thought about PVC piping but thought it might not be too pretty with all the joints. But that led us to the idea of using our good ol’ buddy PEX piping for the basic framework- and we just so happen to have some leftover from our pipe replacement last year!
The cool part about choosing PEX piping for this project is that it already wants to be in a circle and you can easily adjust the size. We decided on a 54″ diameter. To attach its ends to each other, we actually used a cheap PVC fitting and kinda forced it to work. Technically the fitting is sized for something a hair smaller, but the PEX is flexible so we were able to make it work
This large circle gave the the basic framework for our chandelier, but we had to come up with some way to hang it. We decided to attach pieces of thin nylon rope across the diameter at regular intervals. At the center where all the rope pieces met, we would use a hook that it could be hung from.
We used a long piece of wood from another project to trace lines in pencil directly onto our garage floor. And we used a right angle to make sure we got the spacing/angle accurate.
You know, math stuff. This left us with a lovely design on our garage floor that we could center our PEX circle on top of.
Once we got it centered, we made a mark on the PEX wherever a line met it. This showed us each spot on the circle that we needed to attach our rope to.
To attach the rope, we bought some eye hooks that were long enough to go through the PEX. Evan drilled holes through the PEX at each mark so that we could pop the eye hooks in.
Make sure you drill holes that are the correct size for the hooks; you want the hooks to fit snugly inside. After the holes were drilled, we popped in our hooks with their loops facing the inside of the circle. We secured them with nuts on the other side.
Then we cut 4 pieces of rope to go through our 8 hooks like so.
We were worried simply tying the rope in a knot at each eye hook would look messy and not be secure enough. So we used a trick Evan knew to secure them better. First we looped the rope through the hook and got a small zip tie ready.
The w pulled the zip tie as tight as we could around the loop of rope. We used pliers to grip it tightly so we could really pull. Sorry the photo is a bit blurry. Clearly we were pulling so vigorously that the camera couldn’t handle it.
Then we cut off the extra plastic from the zip tie as close as we could, and repeated the steps with a second zip tie (since we wanted to be super secure).
We repeated this all the way around your circle, pulling our rope tight so that there’s not extra slack.
At the center where all the ropes met, we hooked on a quick link (you can find them at Home Depot) which gave us a point to hang the whole deal from.
To test it, we used the same type of rope, tied one end to the central link, and hung it from our garage ceiling. The good news about using the link to hang it from is that you can adjust it from side to side until it is balanced. Sucess!
We decided it was good enough to bring inside and hang some paper lanterns. But once we added that extra weight, things started to get weird. Although the warping was kind of cool in a way, we worried once we added lighting to our lanterns it would be too heavy and the frame wouldn’t be strong enough. Womp womp.
We knew we had to call in reinforcements. And by “call in” I mean browse Home Depot again til we figured something out.
First we were thinking dowels, but then we came across these lightweight wood trim pieces that were actually cheaper. Score!
We hoped that 3 pieces going across our PEX circle would be enough, so we snagged those and headed home. We laid them out on our garage floor and put one long screw through all 3 of them from the top down. Because it was a screw (not a nail), this allowed us to adjust the wood pieces little by little until we got them evenly spaced.
Once we had the spacing right, we secured them with a couple nails to keep them from moving anymore.
The next part was a little tricky. We wanted to use the tension from our wooden pieces to push out from the center against our circle in order to keep the PEX from warping. So we decided to make holes in the PEX that the ends of the wood could pop into. Evan used his drill to make the hole, wiggling it back and forth to make it wide enough for the wood. He did not make the holes go all the way through the PEX, just through one wall.
Then he sanded down the corners of the end of the wood so it would pop in more smoothly.
It was a little tricky measuring the spots for the other holes. Once we popped in the first wood piece, it pushed against the PEX and made it oblong. So much so that we were worried it would pop off our PVC fitting! So we secured it with a couple nails before moving forward.
Because the first wood piece made the circle want to turn oblong, we had to hold it into a circle and mark the places we thought we needed to drill, then try it and see if it worked. It required a little trial by error but we got it!
Next came a very satisfying part… spray painting! Up until this point our paper lantern chandelier frame looked a little mish moshed, but painting it all pretty silver really brought it all together.
Now that our frame was sturdy, we decided to try hanging paper lanterns again. But let me back track a bit. We had to find a way to hang them that would make it very easy and quick to disassemble and reassemble our chandelier (since we would have to transport it from our house to the wedding and back).
We went with fishing line because it is pretty invisible. We tied one end of each piece of fishing line to the PEX, tight enough that the paper lanterns wouldn’t slide around on their own, but loose enough that we could easily move the line from side to side as we determined our final layout.
On the end of each piece of fishing line, instead of tying it directly to the paper lantern itself, we tied it to a small washer, like this:
This allowed us to more easily switch lanterns around as we determined the layout, and it let us remove the lanterns for transportation. The lanterns easily hooked into them.
Once we decided on a final layout, we added a tiny drop of glue to each string where it was tied to the PEX so that it stayed in place permanently. I also added a label to the bottom of each string to make it easy to reassemble at the wedding (I just used colored sticky notes and a sharpie, you can sort of see the little squares above each paper lantern in the photo below).
The photo above puts the scale into perspective. This thing was pretty big! Lastly, we wanted to add lights so that all our hard work was still visible even once it got dark outside. There are a lot of ways to add lights, like making throwies or ordering LED’s meant for paper lanterns. But because this was for a wedding and would need to be set up that morning, we wanted something that we knew would last a really long time and remain bright throughout the night.
We bought LED under cabinet lights on Amazon, and I forgot to take a photo of just them but they are basically little discs with lots of LED bulbs within them. Evan put his engineering skills to good use and printed hooks that we could glue to the back of the lights and hang them from each lantern’s metal frame.
Note, in the photo above we had not glued them, we just used the stickies that came with the lights to stick them on. But those ended up not being strong enough to we had to glue the hooks on instead.
We turned on the lights and hung the hooks off of each of the lanterns, and voila!
It was awesome to get to use this at the wedding! And even with the lights, which were the most expensive part, it was thousands less than having a professional vendor set up light paper lanterns at your wedding venue. Woohoo!