String Light – An Exercise in Patience

Post-Hurricane Greetings to everyone!

Well it truly is a miracle, but we didn’t lose power yesterday!  Approximately 98% of our town lost power, but we were miraculously spared, so last night we ended up having an impromptu party at our house for all our friends who had lost power.  Overall we faired pretty well, though we did have a bunch of smaller branches down on our lawn.  Here’s a shot of the branch pile, waiting to be picked up and carted off the dump.

But, since the power is on and we have internet I am so glad that I am finally able to sit down and write a post about that light that I had teased so many months ago.  I think the final result is really exquisite, especially with the intricate shadows it casts, but as my title suggests, it was quite an exercise in patience!

The process is nothing new, I certainly have seen it all over the place before.  You inflate a balloon, and then dip string into glue as you wrap it slowly around the balloon where you want your shade to be.  However, while it may sound simple enough, the whole thing is actually both tricky AND time consuming (and quite a bit messy as well.)

First, I knew I wanted a very round shaped light so I made sure to draw my guide lines on my balloon pretty high up where it still looked like a perfect sphere.  Make sure you draw carefully where you want your cord opening to be, and where your shade will end because its hard to get a good sense of that once you’ve started wrapping the string around.

Then, you basically take any sort of string that you want, I used left over white yarn I had lying around, and you start running it through your glue and wrapping it around your form.  I had originally hang up my balloon over my table, but I found that it kept swinging around and out of my reach, so I ended up just sitting it down in a bowl.  I also found it tricky to be continually running the string through the glue as I wrapped, so I would cut off a long piece, and dunk it all into my glue mixture, before beginning to wrap it around.

I had a bit of a problem with the string not sticking to itself or the balloon all that well.  So I decided to build up the layers slowly, letting my light dry in between every few layers of string.  While I think the result was much cleaner and more organized with this technique, it made the whole process seem pretty endless.  I think if I had had a helper who could have held the balloon or dipped the string in the glue, that might have helped.

Overall my assessment is that I love the look, I think its a great light, but you are not going to see me trying to mass-produce these any time soon!!  I have even greater respect for people who make these, and I am certainly wondering if they have any secrets they could share with the rest of us.  I had seen one post where the woman used twine, which I thought looked really rustic and cool, so part of me still wants to try that some day, but for now it will have to wait!

I hope everyone on the East Coast survived Hurricane/Tropical Store Irene in safe condition without too much wind or water damage, and hopefully I’ll have another post for everyone in the next few days with another project I’ve been working on in the last few months.

Ciao, Allison

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6 Responses to String Light – An Exercise in Patience

  1. Leah Busch says:

    This is a bit off topic, but I have decided to tackle the straw pendant project and unbelievably cannot locate white (translucent?) drinking straws. Where did you get them? And what size did you use?

    Thanks so much

  2. katerina says:

    I poor some oil or Vaseline over the balloon before start wrapping, it help glue stick just on the string and lives no traces when it’s finally dry. Twine & 100% wool string is somehow easier than using synthetic strings. It’s a dirty job and it’s impressive easier if you have someone to help you.

  3. Interesting, I would have thought the Vaseline would make it harder for the string to stick, not easier. And yes, a partner would be helpful and I can see that twine might be easier as well. I’ll have to try it again if I find a friend up for the challenge!

    As for the straws, that’s a good question. The white straws I used were actually ones that a friend found for me in bulk, and I’m not sure where she got them. I have found the best place to find cheap straws (and they aren’t the cheapest of supplies) is online through restaurant distributers. You might be able to find clear/translucent straws that come wrapped in paper, then all you need to do is pull off the wrappers. It seems like a big job but it goes quickly, I collect a straw every time I go to Chipotle (I figure I’m owed one straw per burrito) and once I’ve gathered a bunch I pull all the wrappers off and store them away. But I know you can purchase them online in bulk if you want to. Just be careful of the bendy straws, you don’t really want to deal with the bendy joint. Really the size is only important depending on the size of the holes you are putting them through, since I used the larger mesh laundry bag it didn’t really make a difference because the holes were large enough no matter what. But for the wall sconce where I used the smaller metal mesh basket it made a bigger difference. If you want to purchase straws in person I also recommend cheap grocery stores and 99 cent stores, they usually have some sort of assortment.

    Good luck, I’d love to see the results when you’re done!

  4. losingitagainhrf says:

    I’ve had problems with this project too. Tissue paper collage over balloons come out beautiful. The one time I tried the same process with cotton string the whole thing collapsed as the balloon shrunk. An inflatable beach ball would be stringer – maybe that work better.

  5. sama says:

    can i ask something doesnt it burn after wards?i mean from the heat>

    • The light bulb doesn’t really get all that hot, certainly not hot enough to burn the string. Plus since the shade is so open there is plenty of fresh cool air for ventilation. I doubt the string would even feel warm to the touch, since it is at least 3-4 inches away from the bulb on all sides.

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