Nothing says “summertime” like shells, and this (faux) capiz shell chandelier is so summery and fresh. Plus, it’s very easy to DIY in an afternoon, which means plenty of time to hit the pool, the neighborhood barbeque, or the hammock with your favorite book.
Even though these “shells” are nothing more than laminated rice paper, they certainly give off the feel of translucent capiz shells, whether the light is turned on or off.
And, as with any DIY project, you can customize this to fit your space, as bit or as small as you want it, and as sparsely or as thickly “shell”ed as you like. Enjoy!
- Wire grating, cut to size
- Laminated rice paper (example uses four laminated 15”x23” sheets)
- One or two paper punches in the size/shape you like (example uses 1.5” circle punch)
- Sewing machine & white thread
- Hot glue& hot glue gun
- Aluminum foil & wax paper (optional)
Begin with some wire grating for the top of your chandelier light.
Cut it down to the size you want with tin snips. (Note: If you want a circular shell pendant, you might consider using grating with a smaller grid, or find something that’s already round.)
Trim any sharp wire ends, then flatten out your grid. You can spray paint this white (or whatever the color of your ceiling is) if you want for a more “invisible” grid once the pendant light is installed.
Now it’s time to create your faux capiz shells. You need laminated rice paper and a circle paper punch or two. (Note: Rice paper is sold near the calligraphy things at a craft store. This example uses a 15” roll, cut into 23” lengths and taken to an office supply store to be laminated.) Trim the lamination up to the edge of the rice paper.
Use your paper punch to punch circles along the edge of your rice paper. I took this photo to show this step…
but really the punching effort looked more like this. It’s not easy on your palm, but if your circle punch is sharp, it’ll be better.
Work your way all around the perimeter of your laminate rice paper, keeping the punches as close together as you can without letting them overlap.
Use scissors to trim off the circle shadows, then repeat the process on the now-smaller perimeter.
Empty your punch periodically (every 5-10 punches) so it doesn’t get jammed up.
Keep going until (a) your hand falls off, or (b) you run out of laminated rice paper. No guarantees on which of those will come first.
You may or may not find your circles starting to have fuzzy edges and be harder to punch after a while. This is because laminated rice paper isn’t the same as regular craft paper; it’s much harder for these punches to muscle through.
If you start to notice this, take some aluminum foil and fold it over two, three, or even four times. Flatten it perfectly.
Run this folded-and-flattened aluminum foil through your hole punch a bunch of times.
This is to help sharpen the blade. As you can see, I did this a number of times.
If you find your punch sticking, pull out some wax paper and fold it over.
Flatten the wax paper, and punch through it a few times. (Note: I would recommend doing this aluminum step from the beginning; after each perimeter of your laminated rice paper, I would punch three or four aluminum circles to keep the blade sharp. I made the mistake of going too long without sharpening it at all, and the blade on my circle punch became too dulled that I just couldn’t sharpen it after that.)
With your bucket full of punched shells,” it’s time to start sewing together our strands. Pull out about 8” of lag thread on your machine.
Set your first shell down with the back arc directly below your needle. Lower your pressure foot, and sew straight down the center. Slide another shell along with it as you sew so that when you reach the edge of your first shell, the second shell is right there to take the seam.
I found it easiest to sew two strands at a time. So, for the outer capiz shell strands, I wanted each strand to have six shells, which means that (after the initial 6”-8” of lag thread) I would sew 12 shells together with no gaps.
After the 12th shell, I lifted the pressure foot and pulled the final shell away from the machine to create another 8” lag thread.
Holding the final shell away from the machine at that 8” distance (roughly), I then placed the first shell of my next 12-shell strip under the needle, lowered the pressure foot, and began sewing the next strand of shells.
After three or so strands are sewn, cut the 8” lag thread (between the strands) in half to separate the strands. Lay these out straight and flat so the shells don’t get tangled.
Then cut the thread between the two middle shells (in this case, between shells #6 and #7). You will now have two strands of six shells. Each strand should have enough lag thread on one end of each strand to tie the strand to your wire grating.
Carefully tie a strand onto the outer rim of your wire grating with a square knot. Don’t pull too tightly, or the thread could rip; you want your shell just loose enough to dangle freely right below the wire grating.
Continue working your way along the outer rim of your wire grating.
It’s helpful if you have enough room to be able to let the strands lie flat out to the sides, so they don’t get tangled and so you can tell exactly where you are in the tying process.
Trim off excess lag thread after tying, to about 1/4″.
Work all the way around your wire grating perimeter.
At this point, you can hold it up to check fulness. Remember that you’ll have several layers, but you can get a feel for how thick the faux capiz shell look will be. Feel free to add more strands (especially on this outer layer) if it feels skimpy.
Once you’ve completed the perimeter to your satisfaction, hot glue the very top of each square knot so it maintains both the knot and the position on the wire.
Before beginning on the second and third tiers, I found it helpful to balance my wire grating on a couple of blocks, which were on top of a box, so that the strands could drape over the sides.
This also allowed me to thread the strand down through the wire grating before tying it, which kept the strands out of my working way and also away from getting tangled with others. (Note: In this example, the second tier had 8-shell strands.)
After the second tier, go ahead and hold up the pendant at this point to check on capiz shell density. Once it’s to your satisfaction, move on to the third tier.
The third tier used 11-shell strands. You can increase the drama of your faux capiz shell chandelier by increasing this center section significantly; I wanted less drama and more charm in this particular pendant light, so I kept the center length more moderate.
I continued to sew the strands together in a back-to-back fashion (with lag thread, then shells for strand A, then shells for strand B, then lag thread). Each double-strand was cut in half.
After your third (or whatever number is your final) tier, you should be able to hold it up and really get a sense of the shell fulness. If for whatever reason you find a section less full than you’d like, simply sew some more strands and tie them on in that section. It doesn’t have to be precise! I added an extra 6-shell strand on all four outer corners for this very reason.
With your shells all stranded, tied, and glued in place, it’s now time to prepare to mount your fixture. Begin by using tin snips to cut out the center wires, whichever wires (or sections of wire) that aren’t being used.
You can see here the now-empty center of the fixture, to allow for the exposed bulb hanging from the ceiling.
Screw at least four eye hooks into your ceiling at whatever points you feel would best support your fixture. Keep in mind that this pendant light probably looks more substantial (weight-wise) than it actually is. It’s very light, so you don’t need a million hooks for weight. Just for stability, really.
The hooks don’t need to be on the outer tier, either. They certainly can be, but they can also be on the second or third tiers as well. Whatever works for your space.
Go ahead and hang it up, making sure it’s stable and even. Viola!
A new, deceptively simple, and ultra-feminine DIY chandelier light!
I like this method of sewing the laminated rice paper together because it allows the shells to dangle freely, even spinning and swaying with the slightest breeze, just like real capizshells might.
The sewing method also is surprisingly “invisible.” That is, you might worry that the sewing lines down the center of each shell would be obvious and off-putting.
In reality, when the light is all assembled, and the strands are all together, the sewing is hardly noticeable, if at all.
Here’s a view of the light from directly below. Even though it won’t really be seen (much), I still recommend using a pretty Edison-style light bulb if you can. Because the bulb is completely exposed from directly underneath the pendant light.
This photo doesn’t do the fixture justice when it’s lit. The shadowing is just beautiful. Very romantic and sweet at the same time.
I hope you enjoy creating your own DIY faux capiz shell chandelier light. Even more, I hope you love the end result.