It’s been a week since my family and I returned from an epic trip to Vietnam. In a span of 10 days we covered a lot of ground, traveling from Saigon to the Mekong Delta, jumping up to the central coast towns of Hoi An, Danang, and then over the mountains to the imperial city of Hue, and then flying on to Haiphong in the north to catch a junk boat tour through Lan Ha/Halong Bay before traversing over to Hanoi for the final day of our stay. Everything, from the delicious food and kindness of the people to the breathtaking scenery and colorful cities with their frenetic pace, was entirely unforgettable. So to narrow down the experience to a single favorite moment seems nearly impossible. Instead I’m going to pick the one memory that makes my craft-loving soul sing: making silk lanterns at the Handicraft Workshop in Hoi An.
My youngest son found mention of the Workshop in a guidebook and added it to his list of things to do in Hoi An. Hoi An, an ancient port city, was part of the Silk Road long ago. The port eventually silted up, but the architectural and cultural influences brought to the city from traders throughout Asia and beyond remain. The result is a perfectly charming old town–narrow lanes divide the ancient store fronts that are home to shops, coffee houses, and restaurants today.
By night, colorful silk lanterns brighten the streets, transforming Hoi An into an outdoor party (with plenty of tourists in attendance!).
Just before dusk on our first night there, we found a restaurant with a second story balcony and ordered dinner. Then we watched as the daylight began to fade and the lanterns came to light. On the river below us, row boats filled with tourists floated candles on the surface of the water. It was nothing short of enchanting.
So it made perfect sense to seek out the Handicraft Workshop and make lanterns on our second day in Hoi An. The process was pretty straightforward and we had plenty of help from the instructors. My two boys, who are 13 and 11, had no problem making a lantern on their own. Each of us selected a color and we were given pieces of silk, a bamboo lantern frame, a tassel, and two finishing tapes in the color of silk we’d chosen.
To make the lanterns, first we applied a thin layer of glue (later investigation revealed it was a heavy duty shoe glue) to three of the lantern slats. Then we used scraps from the silk clippings to rub away most of the glue, leaving the bamboo tacky, but not dripping with glue.
Next we took pieces of silk, patterned-side up, and stretched them between the glued slats, making sure the pattern was straight and the fabric was taut. The instructors checked our work, tugging and adjusting a little bit more as needed.
Then we repeated the process of applying the glue for the next three slats. Once we’d covered the entire lantern frame in fabric, we used a scissors to trim the excess silk along the edges of the slats.
To finish, we applied a finishing tape along the top and bottom and added a tassel to the base. Voila!
These lanterns are the perfect keepsake from our time in Hoi An…they actually compress into a narrow tube, making them easy to stuff in a backpack!
Now that I’m home, I’m working on gathering the supplies I need to light these babies up in a corner of my house. And, I really want to find a way to make lanterns in different shapes using patterned fabrics. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, check out the projects for luminaries and paper lanterns in my latest release, The Craft-A-Day Book: 30 Projects to Make with Recycled Materials. Keep crafting!