This post was written by Dianne Choie, Educational Programs Specialist at the Library of Congress.
After four years of conflict, the First World War ended with the signing of a ceasefire at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918. Ever since then, November 11 has been a time to honor military veterans—first as Armistice Day, now Veterans Day in the United States, and Remembrance Day in Britain and Canada. Ever since the early days of this commemoration over 100 years ago, it has been a custom to wear and display commemorative poppies. The poppy tradition was inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields,” written by Canadian physician and poet Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. He saw firsthand how thousands of poppies bloomed in the battlefields of Belgium during World War I. By 1921, selling decorative poppies to raise funds for war veterans began in the United States and in Britain. This Library of Congress Law Library post shares more about “Poppy Day”.
Please join us on Friday, November 10 and Saturday, November 11 to make paper poppies and learn more about the Library’s World War I collections. The activity takes place on the mezzanine of the Thomas Jefferson Building from 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Admission is free, but tickets for building entry are required. A limited number of passes may be available for same day visits, but advance reservations are always a good idea. ADA accommodations can be requested five business days in advance at (202) 707-6362 or [email protected].
All materials for paper poppies will be provided. You can take your poppy home, wear it on your clothing or bag, or add it to a community wreath at the memorial wall honoring Library staff who died in World War I. Whether you’re able to join us in person or not, read on to learn how to make your own paper poppies.
Red paper: Almost any red paper will work for the petals! Construction paper, tissue paper, crepe paper and even cupcake liners will all make beautiful poppies.
Black paper: Construction paper, tissue paper, and crepe paper work here, too. Black paper creates the pistol—the center of the flower.
Green paper: You guessed it, whatever kind of green paper you have will make great leaves!
Scissors: You can use regular scissors or, if you have them, scissors which cut in shapes, such as pinking shears.
Fasteners: If you have access to paper fasteners, or brads, you may use them. Otherwise, glue can do the trick to hold everything together.
Yellow tissue paper, gold sequins, or yellow buttons can represent stamens. On a real poppy, the stamens are the part of the flower where yellow pollen is produced.
Green pipe cleaners for stems. Pipe cleaners can also hold your project together.
A hole puncher to attach layers.
Safety pin and tape if you want to wear your poppy, as in the final picture below.
Circle paper punchers in various sizes. Note: these do not work well with tissue or crepe paper, which gets jammed.
- Cut out two to six circles of red paper. Don’t worry about having perfect circles; irregular ones are more realistic.
- Try varying the sizes of your circles: we cut sizes ranging from about 3 to 6 inches across.
- For a textured effect, cut out wavy circles, or experiment with shaped scissors, if you have them.
- Stack up your circles from largest on the bottom to smallest on top.
- Each layer does not need to be perfectly centered on the previous one (remember, imperfection is more realistic!)
- Try mixing up different shades of red, and different types of paper.
- Cut out a small black circle to go on top of your smallest red circle, or crumple up a small amount of black tissue to form the center of the poppy.
- Optional: add some yellow pollen on top of the black center, or pistil, using one of the following:
- Gold sequin
- Yellow button
- Crumpled-up piece of yellow tissue paper
- Optional: Cut out green paper leaves for your poppy.
- Now put all your pieces together! Remember that the alignment doesn’t have to be perfect. Here are some ways to attach your materials:
- Put a small amount of glue at the center of each circle and layer them again from biggest on the bottom to smallest on top. If you have leaves, you can glue them to the underside of the largest circle.
- If you’re using cupcake liners or tissue or crepe paper layers, you can gently push a brad through the center of all your layers in the center. Spread the two ends of the fastener in the back of your paper circles to hold them together.
- Similarly, you can gently push the tip of a green pipe cleaner through all the layers of paper. Loop the pipe cleaner on top of the poppy layers to keep it in place, or thread the pipe cleaner through a yellow button to anchor it. Poking a sharpened pencil through your layers first can help make a hole.
- If you’re using paper layers, it will be more challenging to push a brad or pipe cleaner through them. Gently pinch each of your circles in half and use a hole puncher to make a hole in the center of each circle. Align the hole puncher so that it’s punching a half circle (see image below). Attach using a brad or pipe cleaner as described above.
- Note: If you use crepe paper, you can pull each circle outward to stretch the circle. Hold the poppy so that the grain of the paper is going up and down, then grasp either side of the circle and gently pull outward to the right/left. Repeat with each circle. This will give your petals a wavy texture just like a real poppy!
- Optional: Tape a safety pin to the underside of your poppy so you can pin it onto your clothing or bag.
After you finish making your poppy, you may want to write the name of a veteran you know on it in their honor. If you don’t personally know a veteran, we invite you to read accounts, listen to narratives, and view photographs related to World War I veterans at the Veterans History Project.
We hope you have fun making paper poppies, whether with us at the Library of Congress or with loved ones at home. Thank you for joining us in honoring those we lost in World War I, as we also remember all who served on Veterans Day.