Scatter Paper Leaves to Dress Up Your Table

This Thanksgiving, whether you’re hosting guests or sharing a meal via Zoom, it’s worth the effort to dress up your table to make the day feel different, special even. Fall leaves are an obvious and lovely decorative element but if yours have withered or blown away, create a few leaves of your own from accordion-folded paper.

Sheets of newspaper, a budget- and earth-friendly material, are thin and therefore easy to fold, and the size will allow you to create oversize leaves. Painting the paper with an acrylic craft paint gives it added strength. Scatter individual leaves down the center of a table or hot glue them to a ribbon to create a garland. After the holiday, fold the leaves closed and pack them up to use again next year.

There’s a fun surprise element to this technique, seeing the leaf shapes you end up with. After you master these basics, create patterns of your own. Test different triangles, squat or tall. Try making a quarter-circle template, smooth or with scallops.

  • Painted or unpainted newspaper

  • Cardboard to make a stencil (optional)

  • Pencil

  • Scissors

  • Clear tape

Credit...Jodi Levine for The New York Times

Step 1. Paint

Paint a few sheets of newspaper. Thin the paint with water if you want to be able to see the newsprint. Depending on their size, you can get four to six leaves from a full sheet.

Step 2. Create the leaf shape

Cut a square of paper a few inches larger than the desired size of your leaf and fold it in half. With the fold to the left, draw your design on the right freehand or with a template.

Credit...Jodi Levine for The New York Times
Credit...Jodi Levine for The New York Times

For a maple leaf, make a cardboard template using this printable template as a guide and trace onto the folded paper.

For an almond-shaped leaf, to make it without a template, draw a line from one corner to the other, diagonally, or you can use this printable template as a guide.

After tracing your shapes, cut out your leaves.

Credit...Jodi Levine for The New York Times

Step 3. Fold

Open your paper and place it down with the wider side at the top. Flip the paper over and fold down the top (the fold above is three-quarters of an inch but you can make yours skinnier or wider) and continue to accordion-fold the whole paper.

Credit...Jodi Levine for The New York Times
Credit...Jodi Levine for The New York Times

Step 4. Bend

Hold the paper fully folded as a strip and bend at the existing center fold, so that the ends meet each other.

Step 5. Tape

Tape the two ends together from behind.

Step 6. Complete

Allow the leaf to unfold, and admire your handiwork.

Credit...Jodi Levine for The New York Times

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