Paper Flowers

Look closely at Renato Alarcão’s illustrations in Finding the Music, and you’ll see many examples of Mexican folk art, from tin work to papel picado.

One of my favorite Mexican folk traditions is the paper flower. Just like mariachi music, paper flowers brighten birthday parties, weddings, festivals and parades with joy and celebration. (Check out the folk art guide at Copal for a cool exploration of the artisanship and history behind Mexico’s paper flower tradition).

And they’re a lot of fun to make:

You’ll need
  • Colored tissue paper
  • Scissors
  • Pipe cleaners (garbage-bag twist ties or a fine-gauge wire would work too)

  • Cut your tissue paper into rectangles. For my large flowers—a bit bigger than a grapefruit—I used 8-by-10-inch rectangles. For the smaller ones—about the size of an orange—I used 4-by-6-inch sheets. You can experiment. Just keep the length and width within a couple of inches of each other.
  • Put together a stack of four rectangles. Make an accordion fold (like folding a paper fan in kindergarten) across the length, with each fold about an inch or inch-and-a-half deep. Try your best to keep things nice and straight here, but no big deal if it’s not perfect.

  • Create a crease in the middle of the folded paper and cut out small notches on either side of the center line.

  • Finish the raw edges by rounding them off or cutting them into points, depending on how you want the flower petals to look.
  • Take a 3- or 4-inch length of pipe cleaner, fold it over one notch and twist it around the other. You want this to be secure, but be careful not to rip the paper.

flowers 3

  • Fan out the folds on either side of the pipe cleaner.Gently pull each layer of tissue paper apart and up toward the center. Then arrange the paper until the flower looks the way you want.
  • To make multi-colored flowers, just layer different colors together before you fold. Here’s a hint: A single sheet of green paper on the bottom of the stack will look a little like leaves.