Folded Paper Banners for Dia de los Muertos

Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.

Folded Paper Banners for Dia de los Muertos

October 27, 2014
By   |   Math Fun, Parent Blog

How many times can you fold a sheet of paper? Popular myth has it that you cannot fold a sheet of paper in half more than seven times. Strictly speaking, that isn’t true: the current record for paper folding, held by Britney Gallivan, is actually 12 folds. To accomplish this, Britney had to use a special, extra-thin roll of toilet paper, 1.2 km in length!

World records aside, most people probably won’t get past seven folds, especially when using regular paper. The difficulty lies in exponential growth: each time you fold a piece of paper in half, its thickness doubles and its area halves. So after 2 folds, the paper is 4 times as thick and a 1/4 of its original size. After 6 folds, it’s 64 times as thick and 1/64th of its original size!

This is a fun challenge that any child will love: take a sheet of tissue paper, 8×12 inches, and fold it in half. Keep folding the paper in half and see how many folds you can reach until it becomes too difficult to continue.

Now that you have all this tissue paper, don’t let it go to waste: use it to make a papel picado banner to decorate your home to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. On the eve of November 1, Mexican families create papel picado (pierced paper) banners to adorn altars honoring deceased family and loved ones. More intricate designs such as birds and skeletons require punches and chisels, but you can create a simple, symmetrical version using nothing but your tissue paper and scissors.

How to Make Papel Picado

You’ll need:

  • Multicolored tissue paper sheets, 8×12 (purple, pink, and orange are traditional Day of the Dead colors)
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • String

1) Take a sheet of tissue paper, fold it in half, then fold in half again. The more times you fold the paper, the more times your pattern will be repeated and the more intricate your papel picado will be. Fold your paper a minimum of 3 times; 4 or 5 folds are sure to produce a nice overall design. Don’t be tempted to fold it seven times, or it will be too thick to cut out any designs!

How to make papel picado at Bedtime Math

2) Cut out shapes along the edge of the folds. Be sure to leave some space between your cut-outs to prevent an entire section of your tissue paper square from falling off. Because the paper is folded over and cuts are made along the folds, the shape will be mirrored along the axis of the fold — this is known as reflective symmetry. This means that  a semicircle cut will produce a circle, a triangle cut will produce a diamond, a diagonal parallelogram will produce a V. Ask your child to predict what shapes he or she will see, once the paper is unfolded.

How to make papel picado at Bedtime Math

3) Unfold the paper and examine your patterns. Ask your child to count how many times the pattern was repeated. How many times was the paper folded? Is there a relation between the number of patterns on the paper and the number of times it was folded?

4) Fold the top 1/4 inch of the paper over a long piece of string and glue in place. Cut multiple pieces of paper in different colors and arrange them on the string in the colorful pattern of your choice.

This delicate design will no doubt be a conversation piece wherever you hang it.

Images courtesy of Ana Picazo

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About the Author



Ana Picazo first fell in love with math (trigonometry, to be precise) in 10th grade and went on to earn undergraduate and graduate engineering degrees. She met her computer engineering husband at a financial software company and they have passed their love of math on to their three children. Ana blogs at Finding Bonggamom and The Savvy Source for Parents.

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