Origami Star Christmas Tree Topper

Welcome to 2013, and I hope everyone has had a safe and happy New Year’s Day! Before we get too far into January, I wanted to post one more Christmas-related thing, this time to share a fun little craft project I tried out.

Longtime readers of this blog may remember how our budget Christmas tree last year didn’t have any kind of topper — no star or anything — and so for this year’s tree, that seemed like one area we could definitely improve upon, just to make it feel a little more complete. But when browsing the selection of toppers in the store, none of them really seemed to jump out, even though they do seem to have quite a variety these days — stars that light up with LED’s, and all that.

So we put it off, until one day with Christmas looming only a few weeks away and still a naked tree top, I stumbled upon the idea of trying to make our own topper. There’s a great tutorial here for folding a 20-pointed origami star (the technical term seems to be “stellated icosahedron” based on what I can gather from Wikipedia) and on a whim I decided to try it out.

As far as origami goes, this is easily the most complex thing I’ve ever attempted. It requires that you fold 30 identical paper modules, which you then connect together to make the star. (I just used regular printer paper, which seemed to work out fine in terms of thickness.)

The tutorial gives good detailed instructions, with photos for each step, but unfortunately I didn’t take any “in progress” photos except for this one which shows the partially-completed star along with some of the modules:

All of the folding took a while — I probably spent about three hours on it. I had to keep consulting the instructions for the first few modules, but got more efficient as I went, and at some point I figured out that it seemed easier to mindlessly make the same simple fold 20 times in a row (assembly line style) than to fold an entire module, then another, then another. But it’s a good project to work on while watching TV, I think, and I was able to do all of the folding in one evening after Lillian was in bed.

One thing that you may notice from the in-progress photo above is that the star seems to have lots of loose flappy edges. I’m not sure if I was doing something wrong, or if that’s just the way this particular origami recipe goes, but I had a rather difficult time assembling it and getting it to stay together nice and neat.

Update: A helpful commenter¬†pointed out that the flappy edges may actually be a result of assembling the origami star inside out — it’s perfectly likely that I misinterpreted something in the instructions, so I just wanted to give a quick heads up to anyone else who might be running into the same issue!

So my experimental solution was to coat the entire thing in mod podge, which had three happy effects: (1) It held the modules together better at the seams, since I made sure to get some into the cracks with the brush, (2) It smoothed out all of the loose-looking and unnecessarily flappy edges, and (3) It generally just made the whole thing feel more solid and sturdy. The only drawback is that the paper seems to start to warp if you layer it on too thick, so it takes some caution. Here’s a shot of the finished and mod podged origami star:

And then just for fun, I thought it would be neat to see if it could be lit up from the inside, since regular printer paper is fairly thin and all. So I made a slit on one of the sides and shoved some Christmas lights inside to produce this result:

I thought it made for a pretty neat effect — though for general safety reasons I don’t think I’d recommend leaving it on for too long unattended. (Our Christmas lights don’t seem to get too hot or anything, but since it’s made of paper and all I tend to worry about that kind of thing.) It was lit up for the pictures in the post about this year’s Christmas tree, which you can check out here.

Oh, and it’s just sort of balanced on the top of the tree — I was thinking I should figure out a way to attach it properly, but then I kind of lost interest. Maybe next year.

Anyway, that’s the story of the crazy little origami tree topper project I tried out in the lead up to Christmas! It was fun to be able to put together something semi-unique for the tree, and it almost made me want to try making other origami things. Has anyone seen any interesting-looking ones around the internet? I’m open to suggestions!


  1. Wow, that’s beautiful! And add to that the satisfaction of making it yourself! I’m impressed! You could probably make these up into a kit and sell them on eBay!

    • Thanks! And that’s an interesting idea about eBay — might be something to think about when next Christmas rolls around! :)

  2. That is absolutely amazing Sarah! I was wondering where you had gotten your topper, (I am particularly fond of star toppers, as opposed to angels and whatnot) so it is especially exciting knowing I can make one like it!! You’ve inspired me for next Christmas! ^_^

    While I don’t know of other origami tree-toppers, I have dabbled in the art of paper-folding a bit. We had “sister” schools from Japan when I was in elementary and middle school, and the students from Japan would come and visit us once or twice a year, and show us how to do calligraphy and origami. I can show you how to make a rocking pigeon!! Lol…and also those little paper-lantern type boxes that you puff up with air. :) I used to know how to make those flapping cranes, but I forget… :(

    • Thanks! I’m glad this fun little project could be inspirational for somebody! :D And I think I like stars the best too as far as Christmas tree toppers go, they’re just so nice and simple and traditional. Those sister schools from Japan sound really neat (we didn’t have anything like that where I went to elementary or middle school) and rocking pigeons and puffy paper lantern boxes sound like fun — I may have to try them out one of these days! :)

  3. I always have to consult books for most origami . . . but I have the flapping-winged crane down pat! I learned it in 4th grade, and it has been a favored “bored in the doc’s waiting room” and “entertaining restaurant tricks while waiting for food” item ever since. And that tree topper IS fabulous, kudoes for the mod-podge coating and the internal lighting. I wonder if there’s a flame-retardant for paper, like there is for home-made baby apparel?

    • I remember making those paper cranes way back when, but it’s been such a long time that I think I’ve forgotten how to do them. And that’s an interesting idea about special kinds of paper to make it from — definitely worth looking into. Thanks for commenting and I’m glad you like the topper! :)

  4. I’ve started making one, and I figured out why yours was flappy… you have to flip the pieces around. Basically, you’ve used them inside out, so the inside of your star is probably nice and smooth ;-) It’s really unclear from the instructions in the link, but I played with it until it worked. Hope that helps any future projects!

    • Haha! Thanks for the tip, Rebecca — when I was working on this last year that never even occurred to me, but it makes sense and sounds like it would explain a lot. I’m going to update the original post with a quick note to look out for this, for anyone else who may be attempting this ambitious origami project!

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