"Papel Picado" kaleidoscope window décor

April 21 |

You may not know it, but lighting is a very important part of your wedding-day décor. As a professional photographer, I can tell you FOR SURE that the more natural light there is at your wedding venue, the better! Pull back the curtains! Open the blinds! Light light light! But what if the view leaves something to be desired? You mean you're not excited for your guests to see the passed-out transient in the alley? Perhaps we can come to a compromise. With some translucent window décor, you can simultaneously have your gorgeous light and a pretty sight too.

What you need:

  • "Floating" frame 11" x 14" or larger
  • Papel Picado decorative paper
  • X-Acto knife
  • SHARP X-Acto knife blades
  • Picture-hanging supplies to secure the frame into the window (optional, depends on your particular window).

Papel picado is made up of elaborately cut, colorful paper flags that are strung together into a banner. Traditionally, the art of making papel picado has been passed from generation to generation in Mexico. Papel picado panels are very thin, not unlike tissue paper. These panels are about 12" tall by 18" wide.


We are going to press three sheets of papel picado together into a frame. Because they are so thin, the light can pass through all three sheets. The color and design of the panels will mix with one another to make a beautiful kaleidoscope-like pattern.

First you need a "floating" frame. Floating frames are like regular frames except the back panel is also made of glass so that the whole frame is see-through. You can turn almost any regular frame into a floating frame by having a piece of glass custom cut to fit in where the back panel goes. Or you can just do as I did and buy a floating frame all retail-like.

Depending on how you are going to display your final piece, you may want to install picture-hanging hooks onto the back of your frame. It is definitely easier to do this before you start your project! Remove the glass before you install these suckers.

Next we get to choose which three colors to sandwich together into the frame. My first guess is to try yellow on top, then pink, then orange.

I hold these up to the light (or rather, I have my son Peyton hold these up to the light) so I can get an idea about how they will visually mix together. It looks okay but ultimately I decide that it is too orange.

Next I try yellow on top, then pink, then green on the bottom.

Yeah! That looks great!

Now I need to cut the papel picado to size. I lay my largest glass panel onto the paper and center it as best as I can.

Next I use an X-Acto knife to cut off the edges of the papel picado, using the glass to guide my cut. This may seem counter-intuitive, but you need to have an ESPECIALLY sharp blade to cut such thin paper. So put a new blade on your knife! And change that blade often, lest you rip your papel picado.


Repeat this process for all three panels of papel picado, and seal them in your frame.

The result is… not that awesome at first.

But wait until you put it up against the light! Cooooool!

For my second frame I put a light blue panel on top, yellow in the middle, and pink on the bottom.

I hold it up to the light (er, my sexy boyfriend Chico holds it up to the light) so I can see whether it looks good.

Yeah! I like it!

Here are the finished pieces up against my screen door. The one with the light blue on top is on the left, and the one with yellow on top is on the right.

For my final presentation I am able just to have the frames sit in the windowsill and lean up against the window. If this doesn't feel secure in your space… secure it! You can do this with something like sticky tack or adhesive picture-hanging strips. Or if you want to hang your piece centered in the window, you can install screw-eyes into the top of the windowsill and use fishing line to hang the frame in place.

It looks great! You can't even see how ugly my neighbor's house is! :)

  1. THIS IS SO AWESOME i want to do it now..right now. RIGHT NOW.

    2 agree
  2. I am most definitely inspired by this, but feel that it should be cross-posted to Offbeat Home, because this crazy stuff might just work on the beautiful, but awkward lower windows in our loft. Everybody who walks in or out of their apartment down to the pool or parking lot has to walk on the "deck" that connects building B to building C, right in front of everyone's windows. Something pretty like this (provided I like how it suits my decor) may just do the trick.

    4 agree
  3. This gives me something to do with the papel picado I will be using in my Dia de los Muertos wedding next Oct! This is very coolio!

    2 agree
  4. Love it! Maybe I can make one with the left over papel picado from my Cinco de Mayo birthday party!!! You're such a craft bug :)

  5. i think a great alternative to papel picado (for i have NO idea where to find some in the small town i live in) would be to fold up tissue paper and cut out pretty designs (like paper snowflakes) and then iron out the folds. ive done something like it before and the result is similar and just as pretty :D

    1 agrees
  6. If you're using this for a wedding, beware of color casts from bright colored paper. You might want to stick with pale colors to avoid color shifts that the human eye won't notice much but the camera will pick up every time.

    1 agrees
  7. Genius!
    So you could theoretically use tissue paper….just wouldn't look as cool ;)
    And if you used poster frames they're lighter and bigger….but then you'd have to get creative with the layering….oooo the IDEAS!

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