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DIY Paper Earrings or Reversible Pendant from Upcycled Paperboard Tutorial

I have recently been showing my DIY paper earrings and DIY reversible paper pendants in various outfit posts, and today I am finally sharing my tutorial! A shout-out to Michelle of My Bijou Life for her encouragement in putting this tutorial together.

This tutorial covers both the earrings and the pendant because they are made in the same way. The only differences are:

(1) the earrings project requires two paper "forms" (the multi-layer paperboard shape that is the body of the jewelry) and the pendant project requires one;

(2) what findings you add at the end to create the jewelry.

The tutorial is divided into multiple stages with multiple steps, with the supplies/tools listed as we go.

First off, thanks to Claudia Matthews and to Ross Barbera at Realistic Art who have created tutorial videos for similar projects that I used in figuring out some steps of my process and in creating my own tutorial! I recommend these videos:

Cardboard Earrings How To [Part 1] (8 min)

Cardboard Earrings How-To [Part 2] (20 min)

How to Make Watercolor Paper Earrings (30 min)

Let's get started!

Stage 1: Prepare the layering pieces used to create the "forms" (the multi-layer paperboard shape that is the body of the jewelry)


--Paperboard such as a cereal box, tissue box, dry pasta box, or other similar packaging. It works best if the packaging has a rough unfinished side (usually the inside of the packaging) rather than both sides being shiny and smooth. (This is called "coated recycled paperboard" - you can see a list with more examples here under #3.) You need enough paperboard to make 5 layering pieces for each form - so 10 total for a pair of earrings or 5 for a pendant.

--A pen, pencil, or marker. I used a pencil.

--Optional but highly recommended: A shape to use as your template for the layering pieces. Or you can make your own template by drawing your shape on paperboard, cutting it out, and using the paperboard around it as a stencil. I used a water bottle cap to make circular pieces, which is a good shape for the form for a beginner. But there's no reason you can't do another shape like an oval, diamond, square, rectangle, or what have you.

--Scissors that can cut paperboard.

--Large piece of cardboard, paper bag, or whatever else you have on hand to protect your workspace and minimize clean up.

Step 1: Select your paperboard and determine how many "pretty" versus "boring/ugly" layering pieces you will need.

You will use 5 layering pieces of paperboard to make each form. Each finished form will have a front and back side to it. For each side of the final form, you can chose to use the pattern on the paperboard as the basis for how the form looks or you can plan to completely cover the form with a painted or glued-on design.

So the question to ask yourself is: Will you use the shiny, colorful side of the paperboard as the design for the front or back of your form, for both front and back, or neither? From that, you can determine how many "pretty" layering pieces you need of your total number.

Example 1 (shown above): I am using a tissue box with a pretty pattern as my paperboard, and for my earrings I will use this pattern for both the front and back sides of the earrings. Of the 10 total layering pieces, I need to make sure that 4 of them are cut so that the desired pattern will show on the final form.

Example 2: I am using a boring/ugly box as my paperboard, and for my earrings I will not use the pattern for either side - I plan to cover the front and back. I can cut the 10 total layering pieces from anywhere on the paperboard because none of it will show on the final form.

Example 3: I am using a box with a pretty pattern as my paperboard, and for my pendant I will use this pattern on one side - I plan to cover the other side. Of the 5 total layering pieces, I will need to make sure that 1 of them is cut so that the desired pattern will show on the final form.

Note: You don't have to use the exact same source of paperboard for all of your layering pieces, but it's best if they are of a very similar weight and material so that the final form is uniform. I had success in making a form where the layering pieces that will be covered are cut from a boring/ugly cereal box and the layering pieces that will show on the final form are cut from a pretty tissue box. This is one way to save your pretty boxes for the pieces where the pattern will show, if you have limited access to pretty boxes. But in the pictures that follow, you'll see that I used the boring/ugly bottom of the tissue box with a pretty pattern. Many pretty boxes will have a boring/ugly part that can be used this way!

Step 2: Trace around your template on the paperboard. If you're using a pretty pattern on the box in your design, choose your location carefully. If you are making earrings, consider how you want the two forms to look - the same or different from each other? Here I picked a section of the sky blue leaves for my earrings.

Step 3: Cut around your traced shape to remove it from the rest of the box. This just makes it easier to cut the shape cleanly from the paperboard. You can just barely see my pencil circles on the paperboard. Because of the way the pattern repeated on the box, I was able to trace two basically identical circular designs.

Step 4: Cut the traced shapes from the paperboard. Because paperboard is somewhat thick, it's difficult to get curved shapes to cut really smoothly. If you're like me, you will have some irregularity to your layering pieces like in this photo. That's perfectly OK! We will take care of the rough edges later.

Note: After cutting out your 5-10 layering pieces, you might be thinking, there's got to be an easier way! And there is. Instead of tracing a shape and cutting it out with scissors, you can use a thick material paper punch to cut the shapes. I purchased this approx. $20 Fiskars Thick Materials punch (from Amazon) after searching around online and finding this video review (7 minutes). (I cannot recommend that you use a regular paper punch intended for cardstock etc. to cut paperboard - I've seen people say it ruined their punch because the paperboard is too heavy.) It is very easy to use, cuts nice clean shapes (1.5" circles), and saves you a lot of time and effort. I don't know how many punches it will do before dulling, but so far (I've cut about 30 shapes), it's felt worth the money to me.

At this point, you should have all your layering pieces cut. Here I have the 10 pieces for my pair of earrings with the boring/ugly pieces that won't show in the middle and the pretty pieces at the ends. I ultimately chose the 2 pieces at the left to be the front of the earrings and the 2 pieces at the right to be the back of the earrings.

As we move forward, I will refer to the shiny colorful side of the layering piece as the "shiny" side, and the dull rough brown side of the layering piece as the "back" side.

Step 5: Rough up the "shiny" side of any layering pieces that are not the pretty design you want to show on the front or back of your finished form.

Supplies: A file for scratching up the paperboard. I used a half bastard file (from Amazon, about $8.50), but other files would also work. I also tested it with rough sandpaper and that worked also, though I personally found the file a bit easier.

In my case, the 4 pieces with the pretty leaf pattern will show, but these 6 pieces will not, so these 6 got filed (see the white marks and slight gouges across the surface on the bottom section of the image). I placed a paper grocery bag underneath the pieces so I didn't scratch up my work surface in the process! The purpose of roughening up the shiny side of the pieces is that it will be easier for the glue to hold the layers of paperboard together this way. The shiny coating doesn't give the glue a good a material to adhere to so we scratch up the shiny side to remove some of that coating from the surface.

We have our layering pieces so it's time for Stage 2!

Stage 2: Prepare the eye pin and channel for the in-built bail


--1 eye pin of your desired metal per form (1 for a pendant, 2 for earrings) or wire to make your own eye pins.

--Wire cutters.

--Thick tipped marker or other writing implement to mark the paperboard.

--Scissors (from Stage 1).

--Large piece of cardboard, paper bag, etc. to protect your work surface (from Stage 1).

Step 1: Lay the eye pin over the middle of one of the boring/ugly layering pieces that you filed in Stage 1 and place the rounded end of the pin just above the edge of the layering piece. Judge where you will cut the eye pin (if needed) - somewhere around 1/3 of the height of the layering form is good.

Step 2: Cut the eye pin to the desired length. (Throw away or save the leftover wire; you won't need it for this project.)

Step 3: Use your marker to indicate the area you will cut away from the paperboard to make a channel for the eye pin...

Like this.

Step 5: Use the scissors to cut out the channel(s) you have marked...

Like this. Notice that my channels are not at all neat and even! That's OK. No one will ever see them. This is going to be the middle of your finished form.

Now we are ready to create the form!

Stage 2: Create the form from the layering pieces and the eye pin


--Super glue - I used Krazy Glue ($6 from Amazon).

--A toothpick for spreading out the super glue, if needed.

--Tacky glue - I used Aleene's Tacky Glue ($5 from Amazon).

--A paintbrush for applying the glue - I used a 1/4" one or so ($9 for 20 pack set from Amazon). You will dampen the paintbrush in water, removing the excess water with paper towel before gluing.

--A small container with water for cleaning the glue brush.

--A burnishing tool - I used a bone folder ($6 from Amazon) but anything you can use to rub across the top of the glued layered pieces to push the layers together will work.

--A couple pieces of paper towel. One for your glue brush, one to protect the glued paperboard when you burnish them.

--Large piece of cardboard, paper bag, etc. to protect your work surface (from Stage 1).

Before we start constructing the form, let's review what the layers are going to look like and set out our layering pieces. It's a little odd because we build the form from the center out, but I have labeled the pieces as we go so I hope it will not be confusing to follow along!

If you are using pretty pattern pieces for the sides of your form like Example 1 above, lay your pieces out like this. The important part is that the piece with the channel for the eye pin is in the middle and that the pretty pieces are on the outside with the shiny side exposed when the form is complete.

If you will not being using the shiny side of your layering pieces as the outside of the form, lay your pieces out like this with the back sides up. (If you are using 1 pretty piece and 1 boring piece for the outside, one outside layer will be shiny side up and one will be back side up.)

Step 1: Place some tacky glue on the back side of the Inside 1 layering piece. Spread out the glue with the damp paintbrush, from the center to the edges, so that it covers the entire piece all the way to the edges. (Place paintbrush immediately in jar of water to keep glue from drying in the brush.)

Step 2: Place the Middle layering piece on top of Inside 1 (the shiny side of Middle to the glue-y back side of Inside 1). Line up the two layers so the edges are on top of each other (they probably won't line up perfectly and that's OK) and press together all around with your fingers. If excess glue oozes out at the edges, take your finger and wipe the glue around the outer edge.

Step 3: Place the glued Inside 1 + Middle layers inside a folded paper towel and burnish it with the thick rounded end of the bone folder (or whatever you are using as your tool) to ensure that the layers are firmly adhered and the excess glue is squeezed out.

Burnishing in this context is confusing to explain, so if this isn't making sense to you, I get it - watch this video from 5:30 to 6:20 and/or this video from 8:05 to 8:30 to see what I mean!

I burnish it for about 15 seconds. Let the new 2 layer piece dry (about 20 minutes).

Note: Steps 1-3 are the basic process for adding each layer. You will refer back to this process in the following steps.

Step 4: Place the eye pin in the channel of Middle with the rounded end of the eye pin just above the edge of the paperboard. Add super glue over the top of the eye pin. The eye pin can be difficult to hold in place when applying the glue, but it doesn't have to be done very neatly. You can use a toothpick to smooth out the super glue over the eye pin...

Like this. You just want to make sure that the eye pin is super glued down in the channel. Let the super glue set before continuing (about 10 minutes). (I consider this the hardest part of the whole process because the eye pins move around and super glue wants to stick your hands to everything. Once you've got the eye pins glued in and drying, take a moment to celebrate while the glue sets! Everything is easier from here.)

Step 5: Flip over Inside 2 so that the shiny side is up and apply tacky glue. Spread it out with the damp paintbrush as before. Place the gluey shiny side of Inside 2 down on top of the Middle + Inside 1 layers you have already glued with the eye pin facing up. Once Inside 2 is added, the eye pin and Middle will be sandwiched between the two Inside layers. Press down on the new 3 layer piece, burnish, etc., repeating the process in Steps 1-3. Let the new 3 layer piece dry (about 20 minutes).

Step 6: We will now add the first Outside piece to our 3 layer piece. You will add glue to the top of Middle + Inside 1 + Inside 2 and spread out as before. When you place Outside 2 onto it, make sure you place the back side of Outside 2 to it, with the pretty shiny side of Outside 2 facing up, if you are using Outside 2 as the outer cover of your form (top photo). If you are going to cover up this side of the form, place the shiny side of Outside 2 to it, with the back side facing up (bottom photo). Line up, press, burnish, etc., as in Steps 1-3 above. Let the new 4 layer piece dry (about 20 minutes).

Step 7: Now flip over Middle + Inside 1 + Inside 2 + Outside 2 so that you can add the final layering piece to it. Remember that we want the eye pin and Middle to be sandwiched between two layers of paperboard on each side. I forgot to take a photo of this step - sorry! But you will repeat what you did in Step 6, orienting Outside 1 so that the correct shiny or back side of it will be on the outside of the form. Once Outside 1 is glued on, burnished, etc., you will have your complete 5 layer form with the in-built bail from the eye pin! Let your form dry thoroughly (at least 30 minutes) before continuing.

Here are the forms I made using Example 1 with both sides of the form using the pretty pattern from the tissue box. These are about 1.25" in diameter using the water bottle cap as the template.

Here are two other pairs of earring forms from different parts of the same tissue box. I went for a multi-color look in both of these, with the top pair dominated by the slate blue (using silver eye pins) and the bottom pair a balance of dark green and pink (using gold eye pins). These are about 1.5" in diameter using a slightly larger bottle cap as the template.

Here are 4 forms I made with the plain back side to the outside because I plan to cover them with paint/paper. I cut these using the 1.5" round thick material punch. You can see how they are smoother using the punch versus cutting out with scissors.

Stage 4: Sand the form


--Sandpaper in rough and smoother grits - I used 80 and 220 grit ($7 assortment from Amazon).

--Large piece of cardboard, paper bag, etc. to protect your work surface (from Stage 1).

Step 1: Using the 80 grit sandpaper, smooth the side edge of the form until the distinct layers of the form disappear...

So that the original un-sanded form side edge showing the layers of paperboard on the top instead looks like the sanded version at the bottom of this photo where you can't tell the form is made from layers. It's OK if it's not absolutely 100% smooth, but you do want to sand out those layers as much as possible. Now when you look at the top or bottom flat side of the form, you'll notice that there's some roughness there from where you sanded the edge. We take care of that in the next step.

Step 2: Using the 220 grit sandpaper, smooth the rough edge of the flat top side all the way around the form to remove the rippled part caused the sanding the edge. Apply the sandpaper from the top near the edge downward toward the side of the form - the arrows are supposed to help show this. (Note: If you have a pretty pattern, just make sure you don't rub away too much of the pattern from the top when sanding downward.) Then move down the curve and repeat until you've smoothed it all the way around. Flip the form over and repeat on the other side.

Now the rough top (left) should be smoothed out (right).

Stage 5: Paint the form and optionally add paper covers to sides


--Acrylic paint, metallic or opaque.

--Small paintbrush. I used a fine one from the set linked above.

--Jar of water for cleaning the paintbrush.

--Tray or scrap paperboard for holding paint.

--Paper towels for drying the paintbrush.

--Optional: covers cut from paper in the shape of your form but slightly smaller to add to the flat sides of the form, covering the paperboard. I cut my the same size/shape as I did the original paperboard layering pieces, but when it was time to add them to the painted form, I lined up the paper cover over the form and cut away any excess paper so the paper cover did not extend over the edge of the form. You can cut this from whatever paper you like. I have used catalog/magazine paper that has a design I like, and I have drawn and colored my own design on plain computer paper with markers.

--Large piece of cardboard, paper bag, etc. to protect your work surface (from Stage 1).

Example 1 with pretty patterned paperboard as the outside covers

The only thing you need to do for these is paint around the side edge where you sanded away the visible layers. I generally do 2 coats of paint. If you use a metallic paint that is somewhat sheer, you might want to do 3 coats.

For my earrings, because the pattern is very simple and light in color, I also added some metallic white pearl paint on the top and bottom of the form. I didn't paint an entire layer but just brushed some paint on to reflect the light and make them glow a bit. This is completely unnecessary but it is an option.

Example 2 with boring/ugly paperboard that you will cover up

For this one, we will have a couple steps. Ignore the larger paintbrush in this image - I actually used the same smaller one as above!

Step 1: Paint the side edge as in Example 1, then either paint the entire flat part of the form (if you will not be adding an additional cover to that side) as on top OR paint toward the edges of the flat part of the form (if you will be adding a cover). Because it works easier to glue on a cover that is slightly smaller than the form itself, we add paint around the outer area so that none of the plain paperboard will show. For this pair of earrings, I first painted the side edge and the entire back side of the earrings. After that dried, I flipped the form over and painted the side edge a second time and around the rim of the front side of the earrings. You certainly could paint the entire flat side of the form on both sides, even if you're using covers - the glue will readily stick to the acrylic paint. I just didn't see the point in using more paint than I needed to so I left the center unpainted.

Note: When painting the side edge, you might get some paint on the opposite flat side that then sticks when you set the form down to dry. I let my form dry on a piece of wax paper. I found that it works best if in the first couple minutes of the drying process, you push the form to a different section of wax paper so that the paint on the bottom side doesn't have a chance to stick to the wax paper and pull up some of the wax coating. Confession: in making this pair of red earrings, I didn't do that so I have a tiny piece of the wax paper stuck to it. It's the back of the earring, so it's not a big deal, but it's better to avoid this problem. It would probably work better to find something else to lay the wet form on while the paint dries! If you have a better way of doing this, do it (and let us know your secret).

Step 2: Once the side edge and both flat parts have been painted as desired, it's time to add the paper covers (if using). Here I have two circular paper covers that I had drawn and colored with markers. I actually flipped the paper over so that the back side of the colored paper is showing because it had a cool slightly blurrier look that I liked. Get out your tacky glue supplies that you used earlier in putting the form together. Apply glue to the top of the form, brush out with a damp paintbrush, then add the paper cover to the top. Be sure to align the cover how you want it when you put it down because it will start to adhere very quickly with little opportunity to adjust the placement. Burnish and let dry as before.

If you are making a reversible pendant with paper covers on both sides, you will paint around the rim on both the front and back of the form, then add your covers as above.

Of course, you can also just paint your desired design directly onto the form! That's what I did with this pendant. I added olive and gold paint with a broad stripe down the center in black on one side and navy on the other.

Stage 6: Glaze the form


--Art Deco Triple Thick gloss glaze ($8 from Amazon). No doubt other glazes (Mod Podge, etc.) could work also. Feel free to use another one that you like for covering acrylic paint and paper. I am very happy with how the Triple Thick works, and that's the one I can recommend for this project.

--Small paintbrush. I used a fine one from the set linked above. I first tried it with the slightly larger paintbrush shown in the image below but switched to a smaller paintbrush like the one I used for painting. It was easier to control the Triple Thick using the smaller paintbrush. This glaze lives up to its name and is very thick!

--Jar of water for cleaning the paintbrush.

--Paper towels for drying the paintbrush.

--Large piece of cardboard, paper bag, etc. to protect your work surface (from Stage 1).

Triple Thick is very thick, so you will want to be careful in not overloading your paintbrush. (As with many other glazes, it bubbles up when shaken, so don't shake it before you begin!) I started by glazing the side edge then the top surface of the form.

It's a little tricky at first to get the entire edge and top covered because you also have to hold the form, but you'll quickly figure out what works for you. I start out holding the form in the center of the front and back flat sections between two fingers to glaze the side edge. Then I grip the form between two fingers at the very bottom to glaze most of the top. Then I move the form to the flat of my palm to quickly glaze the lower section of the top where I'd been holding it before. If this is too messy for you, you an also glaze the side edge and let it dry, then do the top as a separate step.

Allow the glaze to set (about 30 minutes), then repeat the process, glazing the side edge and the other flat side of the form. You only need one coat of glaze on each side! Let the glaze dry completely (24 hours) before continuing to the next stage.

Hurray, your form is completely ready to be made into jewelry!

Stage 7: Finish the jewelry

I am not a jewelry-making expert, but it's very easy to finish your forms into a pendant or earrings.


--For pendant: a jump ring. Wear it on a chain necklace that you already have or make yourself one. I made a really basic long chain necklace from chain, a jump ring, and a lobster clasp that I can slide various pendants on and off easily to switch them out.

--For earrings: 2 earring hooks.

--Two jewelry making pliers - such as chain nose pliers and round nose pliers.

To make a pendant, all you need is to add a jump ring to the eye pin at the top. Just make sure your jump ring is large enough that whatever necklace you add the pendant to can move freely through the jump ring. Or you can attach the pendant to a specific link in a chain necklace if you like. Here are instructions with both photos of how to open and close a jump ring and a short 1 minute video showing how to do it and add something to the jump ring. They use two chain nose pliers in their example. This pendant has an image from a clothing catalog (a floral sweater) added to the front.

To make earrings, you just add earring hooks to the eye pins. This short 1.5 minute video shows you how to open the earring hook, place something on it, then close it up again. She uses her hand and chain nose pliers to do it. I usually use two pliers to do it because it's easier for me to control. These are the finished earrings with the paper that I colored with marker.

This is my process for making the DIY paper earrings or pendant from upcycled paperboard. Once you have made the basic form from layers of paperboard and sanded it, there are so many different ways that it can be decorated. This tutorial only scratches the surface with a few very simple methods using paint and paper.

I hope this has been interesting and helpful! Let me know in the comments if you have questions.

Blogs I link up with are listed here.

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