Papel Picado: DIY Mexican Cutout Flags

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Mexican flag banners made of tissue paper, also known as papel picado, are a festive decoration for many holidays including Cinco de Mayo, Christmas, Day of the Dead and Easter. This version, made with fabric instead of tissue paper, lasts longer so you can keep it up year-long.

Things You'll Need

  • Fabric in assorted solid colors
  • Sheets of 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper
  • Low-tack spray adhesive
  • Pen
  • Scissors
  • Fabric tape or glue
  • Ribbon or string
Mexican flag banners
Mexican flag banners (Image: Jonathan Fong)

Step 1

Cutting the fabric will be easier with some paper backing attached to it. Spray a light mist of low-tack adhesive on a piece of 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper. Be sure to use spray adhesive that is labeled "temporary" or "repositionable," as we do not want the paper to adhere permanently to the fabric.

Spray adhesive on the paper backing
Spray adhesive on the paper backing (Image: Jonathan Fong)

Step 2

Cut a piece of fabric so it is just smaller than the paper. Place the fabric on the sticky side of the paper, and use your hands to flatten the fabric.

Cut fabric and place on paper
Cut fabric and place on paper (Image: Jonathan Fong)

Step 3

Fold the paper and fabric lengthwise with the paper on the outside, pressing down on all the edges. The edges of the paper that were not covered with fabric will stick to each other, thanks to the spray adhesive. Draw patterns on the top side of the folded sheet for you to cut. Outline the side and bottom as well, including a scalloped edge if you wish.

Fold the paper and draw your design
Fold the paper and draw your design (Image: Jonathan Fong)

Step 4

Start by cutting any patterns that you have drawn along the edges. With the paper backing holding the fabric together, any cuts you make will extend to both halves of the fabric.

Cut along the edges
Cut along the edges (Image: Jonathan Fong)

Step 5

To cut out shapes that are on the inside of the paper, fold the paper so the shapes move to the edge. As you can see, shapes that are symmetrical are easier to work with, since you can fold the shape at its midpoint before cutting.

Fold paper to cut interior shapes
Fold paper to cut interior shapes (Image: Jonathan Fong)

Step 6

Keep cutting the shapes, folding the paper at various angles to allow you access to the interior. For shapes that are not symmetrical, fold the paper, cut a slit into the shape, unfold the paper, and then cut the remainder of the shape.

Keep cutting interior shapes
Keep cutting interior shapes (Image: Jonathan Fong)

Step 7

Cut along the sides and bottoms of the folded paper. Do not cut the top of the paper, as you will need the extra space at the top of each flag to attach to the ribbon.

Cut the sides and bottom edges
Cut the sides and bottom edges (Image: Jonathan Fong)

Step 8

Unfold the paper and peel the fabric from the paper backing. Because the spray adhesive was temporary, the fabric should peel off easily without residue.

Peel the fabric from the backing
Peel the fabric from the backing (Image: Jonathan Fong)

Step 9

Cut a long piece of ribbon that will hold your desired number of flags. Fold the top of the flags over the ribbon, securing the flags to the ribbon with fabric tape or glue.

Attach flag to ribbon
Attach flag to ribbon (Image: Jonathan Fong)

Step 10

Place at least five flags on each banner, and tie the ends of the banner to trees or posts. Hang multiple banners in succession for a festive, colorful decoration.

Hang flag banners as decoration
Hang flag banners as decoration (Image: Jonathan Fong)

Tips & Warnings

  • When spraying adhesive to your backing paper, apply a very light coat. The stickier the paper, the more likely the fabric will fray when it is removed.
  • Leave at least 24 to 36 inches of ribbon at the ends of the banner so you have plenty of ribbon to tie around posts or trees.
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