7: Inflatable Paper

7: Inflatable Paper

Remember the origami balloons, or water bombs, we learned to make in elementary school? I taught my after school paper club kids to make them today, and the high energy group had fun tossing and kicking them around the room like hacky sacks. But here’s another idea – use them as holiday light covers.

origami paper balloon light covers, by JuuniOrigami

When I was in Japan in the late 80’s, I picked up a few of these inflatable paper balls. They come packaged flat, and with just a breath of air they inflate.

I made a large version (5′ in diameter) of this ball out of tracing paper in 2006. The Text Ball has part of a poem by Ezra Pound printed on it using rubber stamps: “The Book Should be a Ball of Light in One’s Hand”.

Text Ball, by Helen Hiebert

Instructions for how to make an inflatable ball that is one foot in diameter are included in my new book, Playing With Paper. Here’s a picture from the book, featuring van dyke brown prints by Alyssa Salomon on handmade abaca paper that I made.

inflatable paper ball by Alyssa Salamon & Helen Hiebert

Another project featured in the book is how to make a hot air balloon that you can launch with heat from a heat gun, hair dryer or propane stove into the sky. I read an article by Brian Queen in Hand Papermaking Magazine in the summer of 2006, just prior to teaching a class at The Penland School. I decided to have my class make a collaborative hot air balloon. We constructed one from tissue paper which was about seven feet tall. Here’s my class trying to launch the balloon in front of the breakfast crowd near The Pines. That attempt failed (it was too warm outside), but it still looked pretty good.

We tried the launch again a few mornings later. I don’t think any of us expected it to work, but we hooted and hollered as that balloon soared up into the sky and over the photo studio and landed, sigh, high up in a tree.
This is a great website which enables you to plot out how to construct various hot air balloon shapes. Be forewarned, the website is in Spanish, but if you know how tall you want your balloon to be, how many gores (sections) it should have, and how much overlap you want between the gores, it will make the computations so that you can create a gore pattern.
Check out this inflatable sofa made from recycled paper, by Malafor in Poland.

blow sofa, by Malafor

What other sorts of inflatables have you seen? Please share by e-mailing or leaving me a comment below.
About the 25 Days of Paper: I’m going to be a crazy blogger in December, featuring cool paper products, projects, blogs, books, or papers each day. Join in the fun by reading along! I’ll also post links on my FaceBook page. Enjoy the season!


  1. Linda K. Fendley says:

    The ball you made with the Alyssa Salamon paper is such a treasure. Thanks again for taking the time to post these for us all!

  2. Jim says:

    The balloon site is a real treat, and Google Translate works pretty well. Thank you for all your holiday posts. So many fun and varied surprises. Well done!

  3. Cate Fitt says:

    Thanks for prompting this memory. My mother and I attended Penland in about 1976 to take a kite and hot air balloon class with Tal Streeter. Our class launched quite a few giant tissue paper balloons that made it over the trees and disappeared into the distance. He used the type of barrel then used at construction sites for warmth.
    Your balloons are beautiful.

  4. i’ve had these little rainbow balls for years, and they always enchant my students. i love the text and the image balls, too. not sure about the comfort of the blow sofa, but it looks grand.