Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Make a Flake

I spend a startling amount of time during the winter months making these lacy snowflakes. Here’s the secret, though: they’re just regular old paper flakes like the kind you made back in elementary school.

First I’m going to show you how to make snowflakes, and then I’ll share some tips for making them all nice and lacy like mine. You can trick your friends into thinking that you’re super fancy and decorate your windows at the same time.

You’ll need:

  • Paper. I usually use computer paper; any thicker, and it’s too cumbersome to cut through. I’ve used sheet music before, and that’s pretty pretty.
  • Grown-up scissors.
  • Optional, but recommended: a bottle of wine, some Friday Night Lights on Netflix, and friends you’ve corralled into making flakes with you.

STEP ONE: Make a square.

STEP TWO: Folding, or, the agony and the ecstasy.

Confession: I’m pretty militant about my snowflakes, and boy do I get mad when people make their flakes four- or eight-pointed. Didn’t we learn in the first grade that snowflakes are actually a lot of teensy weensy six-pointed ice crystals?? You owe it to Science, friends, to make your snowflake structurally accurate.

This makes folding the most crucial and yet most agonizing part of snowflaking. Since we need to have six radially symmetrical points, we have to fold our paper into twelfths. (Also, I love the word “twelfths.” So many consonants! Like rhythm. Or angst.)

Fold your triangle (that square we had that was folded in half) in half again by bringing the two smaller angles together.

Next we’re going to use a bit of guess-and-check to fold each of the new triangles into thirds. So I sort of imagine cutting the 90° angle into thirds.

See the image above? I fold first along the leftmost line (without creating a super defined crease, so then I can adjust it later if I totally botched my folding-into-thirds). Here’s a hint: that big flap you just folded over from the right side? (See purple-pinkish photo below.) The middle of that piece should line up with the other side of the flake. (Refer to image below if that sentence made no sense.) Then fold the flap back over to get the last third. If the thirds are uneven, adjust the angles accordingly so that the sides line up.

When you’re folding these flaps, fold them accordion-style (so from above it looks like a Z, not folded into each other like a…confused spiral? hanger? wrap dress?).

Flip over to the other side and repeat. It’s a lot easier now, because you follow the folds from the other side.

You’re almost done with this step! Now we just cut off the New Doodad. It’s the excess paper on the top that we need to take off in order to make our square a dodecagon (for my non-geometry-nerd friends, a twelve-sided shape).

STEP THREE: Make that flake.

You’re ready to cut to your heart’s content! Since this is where you’re supposed to cut loose (get it? scissor humor) and let your imagination run wild, there aren’t really instructions at this point. BUT, I do have some general guidelines to make a lovely flake.


Remember that the top, short side is the outside of your flake. I like to make one end taller and the other shorter, with crazy fun dips and curves in between, to give my flake a distinctive outline.

And DO… Cut from all sides of the flake!


Cut all the way from one side to the other. This might seem obvious, but I’ve seen plenty of new flakers unwittingly make a sudden, careless snip leads them tragically to the other side of the flake, leaving them only with a gaping hole in the middle.

But DO…

Cut a little bit from the bottom point if it strikes your fancy! I like to cut a tiny bit from the bottom, sometimes a sliver along the side, or sometimes straight across, to spice up the center of my flake.

So how DO you make them all lacy like that, Des?

Here’s my secret: don’t just think about the shapes that you’re cutting out; think about the shape of the paper that’s left over. If I cut a shape on one side, I like to cut out a shape from the opposite side that is parallel to it, so that my snowflake looks like it’s made out of intersecting lines.

And the best part…the big reveal!

POST SCRIPT: Uses for flakes.

Hang them from your ceiling.

Make cards.

My favorite: use it as a cake stencil, sprinkling cinnamon or powdered sugar over it and carefully peeling back the paper. Like on this Valentine's Day cake.

Desi Gonzalez looks at pictures during the day and thinks about words at night.

50 Comments / Post A Comment





I love making snowflakes so much. SO MUCH, you guys. This is so so pretty.



This is giving me MAJOR nostalgia. One of my very best friends in college made the most elaborate and beautiful paper snowflakes EVER. She just churned them out. She could make the chains of animals/people/whatever without even having to think about it first, too.

Needless to say, she was the BEST at holiday cards and gifts.

I miss her.


@ellochka Send your friend a snowflake!


This is genius! I love paper crafts!


I am spending the last half-hour of my workday making snowflakes. If we all make a few, maybe the weather gods will notice and send us real snow?


@dinos THIS. And even if it doesn't work, I'll have enough fake snow to go fake skiing.


Aaah! Thank you for posting this! Before last Christmas I got the idea in my head that I was going to make a ton of paper snowflakes to paste all over my kitchen. The effect would be beautiful and just a little old-fashioned and all who saw it would be in awe of my mad decorating skills. First I tried to just wing it--how hard could it be??--and what resulted resembled a snowflake in the way a lion resembles a chocolate chip cookie (that is to say, not at all). Then I looked online for a tutorial and tried again. Then another tutorial and another attempt. And again. Finally my roommate staged an intervention, tossed the paper carnage, and bought me some silvery cardboard snowflakes.
But...the dream lived on and I am determined that this time-THIS TIME-I will be successful. Will report back after the first flake.


@Jinxie Argh. Am already confused. The folding part is so hard!




@klaus So, so much, apparently.


@Jinxie and @klaus The key is accordion folds, I think? I just did it and I got an acceptable snowflake (not quite lacy enough, but I can feel I'm on the right track).


@Limaceous Yes! I tried it again and it worked, sort of! I just went superduper slowly and made sure I followed the folding picture exactly and had my accordion folds and now I have a thing that's kind of like a snowflake!

Setec Astrology

The flake on the front of your "Let in Snow" card looks like it has a couple raccoons wearing sunglasses in it.


@Setec Astrology But does it look like three raccoons standing on each others' shoulders?


@Setec Astrology Or Stormtroopers.

Setec Astrology

@wharrgarbl - Thank you for alerting me to a comment meme of which I was previously unaware (busy October/November). Will keep in mind vis-à-vis future raccoon sightings on The Hairpin.


I have always felt pained about the 8-sided flakes my 4th grade art class training allowed me. Thank you for teaching me how to rectify this situation!!!


I always think I'm doing a really good job at paper snowflakes, and then I unfold the paper and it's this terrible, awful, ugly thing. I just can't picture what the white space is going to look like when I unfold it so I'm like, "Yeah, that's enough cutting!" But then when I do unfold it, real snowflakes everywhere weep.


I somehow got tricked into babysitting my nieces one day when we were with my in-laws for Thanksgiving, and I totally BLEW THEIR MINDS with my paper snowflake skills. At ages 5 and 8, they had never seen it before. (Yet they already both owned Nintendo DS and iPods.)



You guys, USE ROUND COFFEE FILTERS! Thin so you can make more elaborate detail and easy to fold into the 6-sider.

Judith Slutler

@Brunhilde I use rolls of transparent tracing paper, but then again I have that shit laying around for grad school projects, so.

I wonder how they would look on wax paper? Could be a cool texture for some crafts...


@Emmanuelle Cunt I wish my grad school projects had involved transparent tracing paper. I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more.


@Xanthophyllippa: My unfortunate inheritance of somewhat of an OCD gene from my Ma (genuinely OCD, not the funny joke kind) makes me iron snowflakes after I cut them, so anything wax coated is out. BUT, along with an extensive Exacto-Knife set that I recieved as a present, I've made some of the laciest snowflakes that are fucking awesome. Glad I held on to that thing after exclusively using it to cut myself in college (really not proud of that, just true talk).


@Brunhilde Uh jeez. Someone take away my computer after a few drinks. I'm depressing. But FYI for anyone else who's going through that personal hell, you can barely see my scars 12 years later, and therapy and Paxil and Xanax help :/


@Brunhilde Hey now, you are not depressing... I like the real talk. And I am glad you have found such good use for your fancy knives, and that you don't feel the need to hurt yourself any more. Hugs and lacy snowflake love!


@Brunhilde : 's all good here, honey. I've been there, too, and it's a sad, scary place. Glad you're out of there.


Since we're on the topic of paper crafts, YOU SHOULD read this story.



Thank you for posting this!! I basically just emailed it to everybody I know... so good!


@joythemanatee I KNOW!

Like someone said in the comments, it makes you believe there's still magic in the world :)


@pinesy So amazing! Thanks for sharing!


I actually gasped when I saw the lacy cake after the jump - beeeeautiful!

Imaginary Ship

@rararuby Yeah, I'm loving the cake decorating tip. And the snowflake card. AND the thought of using sheet music to cut lacy snowflakes.

So many good ideas here!

ms. alex

Ahh I love making snowflakes! I'm pretty good at it, but not this good!
I used to hang them up in my apartment in the winter when I was in college but sometimes evil roommates confused them for Christmas decor (It kept snowing until April, what were they thinking) and took them down and then put up ugly, ugly Valentine's day decorations.


@contrary I'm so incredibly jealous of these. That's my next project.


@contrary OMGR2D2


@contrary Those are amazing! I've been doing figures on the edges of my snowflakes for ages, but those would take some real planning!

(Mine look like this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/14228968@N03/6682113747/)


@HeyLookAChicken WOOAAAAHH, those are some next level snowflakes. I really like the big one on the right with the trees. Also, your cat is really cute!


@HeyLookAChicken oooh your snowflakes are so wonderful! can we do a snowflake swap?


@contrary Thank you! Prana the Cat also says thanks-- she works really, really hard on the cuteness.

@desi Sure!

The Lady of Shalott

OH MY GOD, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! My fifth grade teacher taught us how to make beautiful six-pointed snowflakes, but I lost that knowledge sometime after middle school. You have taught it to me again!!! THANK YOU!!!

Hints for other crafters: If you want to get really involved, get GLITTER into it!!! A little glitter goes a long way, but try putting a tiny bit of glue onto some of the edges and dusting white or silver glitter onto it. (Or whatever colour you prefer, but those are very snowflake-y). Or sequins/rhinestones on some of the tips/strategic points to make them even sparkly-er!

Get them all glittery, then suspend them from the ceiling, then make @Lucia's star crown and wear that at the same time.


@The Lady of Shalott I'm putting googly-eyes on mine.

What do we think of mod-podging these suckers onto cardstock and then using that as the case art for a multi-volume Christmas-music bonanza?


I cut a bunch of these out of tissue paper and used spray starch to affix them to my window--it looks kind of lace-curtainy.

Porn Peddler


ayo nicole

@Third Wave Housewife Seriously! These are the most gorgeous paper snowflakes I have ever seen.


Love all the next-step suggestions (glitter! tracing paper! ooh ahhh). I want to see everyone's snowflakes! Take pictures and send to me! I'm always on the hunt for a snowflake protege.


@pinesy Thank you so much! This article is so amazing.


You would not believe how many of these I made at work over Christmas week--it's strangely soothing.


AMAZING! I am gonna make some of these and also some of these Star Wars snowflakes (OMG THE R2D2!!!!!!!) http://mattersofgrey.com/diystar-wars-snowflakes/

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