Making Lights from Cups

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The Sparkleball is a project made from plastic cups, a string of Christmas lights and basic tools. The hanging lights look beautiful displayed indoors or outside and can be used to decorate for holidays and weddings. The DIY light fixture was popularized by Alex, a.k.a. The Sparkleball Lady, who shares multiple tutorials and galleries for the handmade lights.
Are you ready to learn how to make a basic no-melt 13" sparkleball?
Tools for the "Stapling Method":
- Industrial hand plier stapler with heavy duty staples
Tools for the "Zip Tie Method":
- 200+ zip-tie fasteners

- Power Drill
- Scissors
- Hole Puncher
- 50 9-oz "tumbler-style" cups, must be soft plastic
- 100 mini-lights (clear or colored Christmas lights)
- clothes pins
See other light stories:

Tin Can Tiki Lamps

Paper Lantern String Lights

DIY Recycled Tin Can Flower Pots
Making Lights out of things you'd never expect!
Photos: Chasing the Firefly (main photo) and Sparkleball

Step 1

If using the zip tie method, drill a hole (approximately 1/4"-1/2" wide) in the bottom of all 50 cups. (You can also use a soldering iron for this step.) If you prefer, stack cups and drill several at a time. Test to make sure two lights will fit snugly through hole. Divide cups into two groups of 25. Each group makes half a sparkleball.

Step 2

Punch four holes in tops of 25 cups (just under the raised lip) with equal distance between holes. Each hole has a hole opposite it. Just eyeball placement of the holes. They don't have to be perfect.

Step 3

Arrange 12 cups in a circle. If 12 cups does not make a circle, your cups aren't the right size. Clothespins hold the cups in place while you work.
Fasten each cup to its neighbor by inserting a zip tie through two holes. Pull the zip tie closed but do not tighten it all the way. When all cups are connected, cinch zip ties tight, one by one, making sure that the cups stay flat in a circle. Trim zip ties.
If using the stapling method, staple each cup to its neighbors using two staples along top and bottom.

Step 4

Layer Two has nine cups. Lay a cup on top of Layer One. Line up the holes and zip-tie it to the bottom cup. Do not pull tight.
Go all around the circle, adding one cup at a time and zip tying it to the cup it sits on. When all nine cups are in place, attach each cup to the one next to it. Every cup in the second layer will be attached at three points (to cup below and cup on either side). Keep the hole punch handy: You may need to repunch if holes don't line up. When Layer Two is set, cinch zip ties tight and trim.
If stapling, staple cups of Layer Two to each other and to Layer One.

Step 5

Fit the last four cups into the space open at the top of dome, then join them to neighboring cups. Each cup will be attached at four points to adjoining cups. Do not tighten the zip ties all the way until all of the cups are in place. Then cinch tight and trim.
If stapling, staple each cup in place at top and bottom.
This is Layer Three.

Step 6

Half the ball is done! Now you're ready to start threading lights. Once lights are in, some people hot glue them into the cups so they won't slip out. Important: Test the lights before you insert them.
To insert lights, start at prong end of the cord. Insert the two lights closest to prong into a cup in Layer One. (The prong will then hang out when you put the two halves together.) Put two lights in each cup. Work your way around the half-sparkleball, zig-zagging from outer cups to inner cups and back. You want to end up on Layer One, at the cup next to one you started with. Work slowly, careful not to skip a cup or miss a light. It's okay if you crack a cup along the way.

Step 7

Set aside the completed half. Build the second half just like you did the first. On the second half, insert lights starting from the opposite end of the cord (the plug end). Start with any cup, but make sure you finish on Layer One. (If you plan to hang several sparkleballs together, make sure the plug end hangs out between the cups, as well.) Have clothespins ready to clip halves together once lights are in place.

Step 8

Press the two halves together, making them fit snugly. Line up holes and attach with zip ties. Pull ties tight and trim. Or staple, if using the stapling method.

Step 9

Hangers for sparkleballs can be made in a variety of ways. To use a chain and two "s" hooks (as shown) choose the top of your sparkleball. Make a hole between two well-connected cups. Insert one "s" hook into the hole and close end of hook. Add chain and second "s" hook. Zipties, clear fishing line and ribbon are other ideas for hanging.
No-melt sparkleballs can be made using colorful plastic beads attached to zip ties, coated-wire twists and bread bag ties. Spray adhesive and glitter can be used to decorate the cups and conceal the look of twist ties. Have fun making lights for a holiday, wedding or any occasion, and get more tips at Sparkleball.

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