You Light Up My Life

Make spirits bright year-round with these crafty ideas for decorating with string lights

Our homes always seem a bit brighter, a touch cozier, and slightly more magical during the holiday season, when everything is awash in lights and color and sparkles. And then comes...the rest of winter. When the decorations come down, and we're left with the January blahs.

The help for those doldrums might be simpler than you think! Christmas lights, holiday lights, string lights, light garlands, fairy lights…whatever you want to call them, these strands of lights are not just for the winter holidays anymore. 

Versatile and cheerful, they come in myriad styles and colors and wire materials, and are available in solar, battery, USB, and traditional plug-in versions, and many types are now LED and energy efficient. 

Go beyond your Christmas tree and winter roofline and try some of these tips to bring warmth and light to your home and yard, year-round!


Lighten up a blank wall

Give new life to old accent pieces with string lights. Wrap a strand of bulbs around a mirror to make a multi-purpose piece fit for any room. Not only does it add a little glam to the ordinary, the light reflected back into the room means it's working twice as hard to brighten your space.

Accentuate a sign or piece of art to frame it like a glowing marquee. Pictured below, a string of lantern lights not only highlights a gallery wall, it also works as a gentle nightlight in a child’s room.

Don’t just highlight art with string lights—MAKE art with string lights! Try a fun lighted constellation (pictured above). It’s great for a kids room or other space. Pick your favorite constellations—either random ones or use an actual star chart. Paint them onto a piece of black-stained plywood, drill holes for the stars, and push twinkle lights through the holes. Hang on a wall and wow all of your guests. See the full instructions here

For something more personalized, try clipping your photographs or children’s artwork to a string of lights, held on by clothespins. String lights or fairy lights nestled among items on a shelf make a great way to highlight any special collections or groupings of photographs. This is great for dorm rooms or other spaces where painting the walls or hanging a lot of frames isn't always practical.


Luminaria everywhere-ia

No matter what you call them... lanterns, luminara, glow lights, bottle lamps... these are some of the easiest and cutest ways to bring subtle light and warmth into your home or patio. 

Wrap string or fairy lights around an old chandelier or lamp harp to give the appearance of normal lighting but with more subtle finesse. 

Use LED fairy light strings and fill mason jars, wine bottles, glass kegs, growlers, you name it. Want a pop of color? You can use colored glass and clear lights, or colored lights and clear glass. 

If you don't want to worry about plugging the string in or putting the battery pack somewhere, there are also "wine corks" that hold a battery and on off switch that you can use in your bottles, as well.  

Other easy lighting ideas? Use string lanterns in a bowl, basket, or serving platter for table-top lighting. Empty lanterns or vases work as well. Have a fireplace that doesn’t work—or maybe you have a fireplace, but the weather isn’t conducive to an actual fire? Fill the space with lights for all of the glow and ambience and none of the hassle.


Outdoor decor

Transform your yard and garden space into an enchanting oasis with string lights. Bring parties outdoors under warm, intimate lighting by stringing lights above your patio, around trees, or along the fenceline. Draping strands over a pool will create a reflective appearance and adds a little glam--without a lot of glare. 

Create a relaxation station for enjoying those warm summer nights by hanging up string lights around your hammock or fire pit area (safely away from flames, of course).

Mini-lanterns look great underneath patio umbrellas. Plus, because they are relatively sheltered, some of the more decorative (outdoor-approved) lights will hold up better. You can even try making your own—see the DIY section for ideas. 

If your backyard has any secondary structures—such as a shed, chuppah, or gazebo—string lights are great for calling attention to them, as well as to your garden. It's a nice way to light up the area for guests—but not make it too bright to ruin the mood.

Try outdoor-suitable rope lighting as a way to illuminate landscape edging. Tuck it up against the bricks or plastic edging, hold in place with garden stakes, and set on a timer, and you can highlight your garden AND create a defined walkway. Check out this article from The Garden Glove on how to do it—as well as several other fun and funky back yard projects. 

Shed some light on a darkened path through the backyard to the shed by stringing a guide of lights. This will create an illuminated path that is bright enough to avoid obstacles but subdued enough not to be blinding (to you or the neighbors). Set them on a motion sensor, and you will never need to carry a flashlight. (Tip: this is also a great idea for basement stairwells!)



Illuminate a bedroom or playroom with a soft, magical glow from a string of lights. Their soothing slow is comforting and can even be attached to a timer or motion sensor to turn off when the room’s occupants are asleep.

Drape strings of white lights around the ceiling or wrap them in tulle or mosquito netting. You could also affix to a headboard or run them along a high shelf or attach to the underside of a bed frame. For a bit of whimsy, check out this space-themed headboard from HGTV that would go great in a child's room. (Image courtesy of Susan Teare)

For the playroom, kids love secret spaces. Use string lights--plain or decorative--to adorn a playhouse, tent, or other secret cubby area and make a cozy area to curl up with a book or board game (or even to take a nap).


Get crafty!

If you like the look of decorative string lights, but don't want to pay a premium for premade lanterns or bulb covers--or, maybe you have a string of lights you want to upcycle--try one of these DIY projects.

Handmade lanterns
For small, round lanterns:

Gather a string of led lights and as many balls (ping-pong ball, wiffle ball-style ball, or other small, lightweight hollow plastic ball) as you have bulbs on the string. You will also need a decoupage medium such as modge podge or a homemade mixture of cornstarch, water, and glue (clear or white Elmer’s® glue is great). Decoist (their examples pictured above) has a good recipe here

Cut an opening in the balls. (You can use a nail, a razorblade, a drill, etc. Just enough to wedge the bulb from your chosen strand inside. If the hole is too large, you may need to add a bit of hot glue to hold it in place--otherwise tension should suffice.)

Decoupage or modge modge the ball with colored tissue paper or with embroidery thread or thin colored twine or yarn. 

Then, insert a led string light bulb into the opening...voila! Instant color.

Tip: You can also use colored lights and plain, unadorned ping pong balls for diffuse color without the mess of decoupage. Check out Created by V for a cool example of this (also pictured above).

For larger, round lanterns:

Gather a string of icicle lights, if you would like a string of lanterns, or several short strings of individual lights for individual lanterns.

You will also need craft twine or yarn and decoupage medium or modge podge (or white glue), and, optionally cooking spray.

Inflate as many balloons as you would like lanterns. You can keep the same size for each or vary the size. 

Spray each balloon with cooking spray.

Carefully decoupage the twine to the balloons (make sure there is an open spot big enough to thread a light string in). Let dry 24 hours (make sure string is rigid).

Pop and remove balloons. For single lanterns, fill with a light string (fairy lights have metal wire that is almost invisible). For a string, use icicle lights, threading one "icicle" into each ball. Secure ball to overall string with fishing line. Decoist has a great example of this project in action. Another, more colorful, example (pictured above) is from Brit + Co.

Upcycled can lights

If you have an outdoor bar or tiki area, you can make cute string lights out of upcycled soda, beer, or other aluminum beverage cans. You can leave them “natural” or paint them. We like the ones from CraftYourHappiness (pictured). 

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