One of my Christmas traditions is making paper snowflakes. I love the surprise each time you unfold a new one. I think they make lovely decorations for windows and trees and presents.
I started making them when I was really little and I was always inspired by the beautifully lacy ones that my artsy older sister made. I learned that the secret is to not focus so much on the shape you're cutting out, but the amount of paper that you're leaving behind.
The most common way to make them results in 8-sided snowflakes. If you want a slightly more accurate snowflake with six points, here's how to fold your paper.
1. Fold a square of paper diagonally in half. (Trim off any excess if your paper is not square).
2. Fold in half again.
3. Now for the slightly tricky part, you need to fold it in thirds. First fold one side across to the two-thirds point. (If you want to be really precise, you can measure it with a protractor -- the two-thirds mark will be at 60°.)
4. Then fold the other side all the way across, matching the edges. If you fold it underneath as I did here, the paper forms a zig-zag.
5. Trim off the uneven top edge.
6. Cut out a bunch of shapes, then unfold and admire (you can always fold it back up if you want to cut out more).
To flatten your snowflake, gently press it open, then carefully iron it on a low setting with a tea towel in between the iron and the paper.
If you like colourful ones, make them from old magazines or leftover scraps of wrapping paper. You can also colour or paint your paper or decorate the snowflakes with glitter after they've been cut out. Though, to be honest, when I tried the glitter idea, I managed to get more glitter on me than the snowflake. I think making them out of sparkly wrapping paper is a better method.
Lacy Paper Snowflake Tutorial
The following tutorial explains my method for making the "lacy" or "stained glass window" style of snowflakes (and it assumes you already know the basics of snowflake making).
A pair of sharp scissors with good points (I have some little red Singer sewing ones that I bought at a grocery store several years ago). If someone in your house likes to sew, do NOT steal their good sewing scissors as cutting paper will dull the blades.
Paper, one of three kinds: wrapping paper, old magazines, or printer paper. Avoid anything thicker than printer paper as it will be too bulky to cut nicely once it's folded.
Plain silver or gold wrapping paper is really pretty and since it's thinner than printer paper, it's easier to cut.
Magazines tend to be very thin and will rip easily if you're not careful. It's also slippery since it's glossy on both sides. However, it's essentially free, easy to cut when folded, and you can get a huge variety of colours from a single magazine.
White printer paper is cheap and plentiful in most households and it creates the classic white snowflake.
Optionally, you can use a protractor and/or pencil to help with folding precisely or even planning your pattern before cutting, but mostly I don't use either.
As for size, it's entirely up to you. I aim for slightly smaller ones -- usually I fit about 4 snowflakes to a sheet of A4 or letter-sized paper. If you make some larger ones, remember you can make tiny ones from the scraps.
The Snowflake Secrets
On to the tips! I've drawn on the paper in some cases to demonstrate the point, but I don't do this when actually making snowflakes. I tend to make it up as I go along.
1. Leave Less Paper
Most people make snowflakes that look something like the snowflake on the left (pretty, but a bit plain). But, it doesn't require an exacto knife or great skill to make a snowflake like the one on the right. The truth is that it's no harder, you just need to cut away MORE paper before unfolding! (I just folded the snowflake on the left back up and did exactly that to get the snowflake on the right).
Focus on the paper left behind more than the shapes you're cutting out, since once you unfold it, the paper will be the "positive" space and the shapes the "negative" space. To use the stained glass window metaphor, the paper will form the "leading" of the window.
If in doubt, keep cutting away until you only have thin lines of paper. Your snowflake may look quite boring when folded, but that all changes when you unfold it! (For the mathematical amongst you, the bit that you see when it's folded is 1/12th the final snowflake).
2. Use Simple Shapes
Start with cutting out only simple shapes. The easiest are triangles or wedges that require only two straight snips into the paper. You can still get a beautiful result just by cutting away most of the paper.
3. Use Large Shapes
Don't be afraid to cut out large shapes. It may be easier to cut a large piece out in several steps, especially if it's a complex shape.
4. Cut Methodically
Work your way from one end to the other (ie. top to point or vice versa), rather than randomly cutting stuff out. This makes it easier to ensure you don't have big bits of paper left in the middle.
5. Pointy Snowflakes add Variation
To make a snowflake with decided points, remember that you will need to cut off most of one side of your wedge to achieve that effect.
6. Make Lots of Snowflakes
Practice is obviously always helpful. My first few are usually less successful than the ones I make later.
7. Display Together
My final tip is to always display your snowflakes in groupings. They invariably look more impressive together than individually.
I hope these tips help you make snowflakes you love. I've got a stack made to go on our tree. This year it will just be our potted ficus tree, rather than a proper "Christmas" tree. I will be waiting until the Winter Solstice to decorate it, as is tradition in my family. So exciting to think that there will be a little one next year, with whom to share these traditions and begin new ones.