Here’s a way to use up extra paper grocery bags AND decorate for fall at the same time. This might even be considered “up-cycling”—the new trend in the “reduce, reuse, recycle” movement. How hip is that? Since most of us have cupboards or closets brimming over with used paper bags, you’ve got most of the supplies you need for this craft already! You might need to pop out to Michael’s or Jo-Ann’s for the paint and brushes, and maybe for some Aleene’s tacky glue or a hot glue gun as well. But these supplies are pretty cheap, so this isn’t a break-the-bank project, even if you didn’t have everything on hand already. Here’s the supply list:
- Craft paper bags, preferably with twisted raffia handles
- Twisted raffia cord in natural, if your bags don’t have raffia handles*
- Sponge paint brush
- 2-ounce bottles of metallic acrylic craft paint (in fall colors)
- Fall leaves to trace—maple, oak, birch, aspen
- Hot glue gun or Aleene’s tacky glue (not pictured)
First step: Take a walk and look for good leaves to use as your patterns. If you want to use these as a grouping on your table, mantle, or whatever surface needs a touch of fall whimsy, try grabbing leaves from a variety of trees. Heck, you could even offer to rake your neighbor’s yard to find some choice specimens!
Once you have your leaves in hand, you’re ready to begin. Cut the paper bag down one side, and cut off bottom. Discard bottom of bag, as the folds and double-thickness make it not usable for this project. (If you think of another use for the bottoms of the bags, please let me know! If I think of a project using bag-bottoms, I’ll be sure to let YOU know.)
Remove handles from bag. (I’ve got a Chipotle bag pictured here, but a lot of places use bags with the twisted raffia cord handles. I suppose this would work with white bags as well as the brown. Would need more paint to cover, probably…) Cut each handle into 4 pieces, for a total of 8. If you’re using purchased twisted raffia, cut pieces 3-4 inches long for leaf stems. (*NOTE: I could not find the twisted raffia cord at Michael’s, Jo-Ann’s, Hobby Lobby, or Walmart, places where I’ve found it in the past. But I did find it online at www.papermart.com.) Set aside.
Trace leaf shapes onto printed side of bag with a pencil. Trace as many as you want! The bag pictured here would yield you about 8 leaves, perfect for the number of leaf stems you get from cutting up the handles. Making a bunch at a time is easy, and then you’ll have more to work with when decorating later on.
Next, tear out the leaves along the pencil line. This works best if you use both hands, and keep your thumbs and index fingers tight to the pencil line—that way you will be able to control the tear best, and keep your leaf shape in tact. The leaves look the most natural if you squiggle as you tear. So don’t aim for perfection.
Glue your stem to the printed side of the leaf, which will be the back side. If you use a hot glue gun to adhere, you can continue on with the project right away, perfect for the impatient crafter. If you use Aleene’s tacky glue, let stems dry for 30-60 minutes before continuing. Aleene’s tacky glue is MUCH preferred over Elmer’s school glue, which takes forever to dry, and makes paper soggy.
Here comes the fun part. Fold your leaf along where the main veins of a leaf would be, and then crumple it. Doesn’t that make it look like a real leaf? Well, you’re getting there. Some paint will help…
Paint front side of leaf with metallic acrylic craft paint, let dry a bit, and then flip and paint back side and stem. Once dry, flip and give front a second coat, if needed. I’m using purple paint in this tutorial so it shows up against the craft paper, but for my leaf grouping, I used gold, bronze, copper, rust, burgundy, and dark green. (See final picture.)
Once, your leaves are dry, you will need to crease at veins and crumple again.
Place all your leaves in a grouping in your fall display, and enjoy! And when it’s time to put these away and pull out the Christmas decorations, throw these in a Ziplock bag or a box, and they will be ready for service next fall. I’ve had the leaves you see (pictured last) for about 15 years now. I came up with this project when we needed a cheap fall craft for kids ages 6-12 at my kid’s school one year, and it was a hit. But there’s no reason to let the elementary crowd have all the fun! Make your own batch and enjoy fall colors indefinitely.