Paper Calliope makes its first…are you ready for this…paper calliope

Paper Calliope makes its first…are you ready for this…paper calliope
Paper Calliope makes its first…are you ready for this…paper calliope

So, by now you probably know that I love making vintage circus art. It probably has a little something to do with the fact that my kids have gone to a circus performing arts school since the youngest was still in diapers. Yep, The Daughter™ hung from a trapeze, even before she was out of Pampers.

Aside from my kids’ involvement, I also like making circus-themed art because of the vibrant graphics and the endless opportunities for whimsy and creativity. Over the last week,I have been laboring over a special project that has been on my to-do list for a long, long while. It was finally time to make a paper calliope.


Tutorial: How to make an altered art paper calliope

 How to make the core calliope structure

Assemble two Small Paper Theatre Boxes, glue one end  of each box in place.


Paint both the inside and outside of boxes with two heavy coats of a red and purple acrylic paint mixture. Let dry.



Paint the outside of the boxes with Elmer’s Glue. Then paint over the glue with metallic gold acrylic paint and let dry. As it dries, it will create an aged and cracked look.

Glue second end of each box closed.

Cut 4″ X 6″ base out of foam core. Cover with papers from 7gypsies. Way back in 2011, I purchased a whole bunch of vintage 7gypsies papers that I knew would be perfect for circus projects. I am not sure they still sell these particular papers, but, they have other lines of papers that would work just as well.

Do not assemble the pieces yet.

 How to make the calliope

Did you know that a traditional steam calliope has 32 pipes? Fortunately, not all circus calliopes follow that rule since I did not want to squeeze that many into a box.

To make the pipes, cut two wide straws to a height of 4 1/2″. Cut two more that are slightly shorter. Then cut 10 narrow straws, making every two descend in height so they are slightly shorter than the last pair. Paint with metallic gold paint. It’s ok to add a little texture to the paint, to help give an aged appearance to the pipes.  Let dry.


Using a narrow strip of cardstock, cut out a stencil of a small rectangle that is approximately 1″ down from the top of the cardstock. Align the stencil with the tope of each pipe and fill in the rectangle with a black Sharpie. This will create the pipe’s “mouth”. (I’m absolutely certain that is the appropriate technical term for the holes in a pipe organ).


Glue the two tallest and widest straw pieces inside the center of one of the boxes with E6000. Take the next two wide straw pieces and glue one on each side of the two center straws. Next, take the pair of the two tallest narrow straw pieces and glue one on each side of the pipes you already placed. Repeat with the remaining straws so that each side descends in height.

Fussy cut the narrow trim from the Paper Theatre Cirque. Fussy cut lions, clowns and monkeys from Tiny Circus Collage Sheet. Glue the Pink Sweeper Fringe to the outside base of the box opening. Adhere the narrow trim over the base of the fringe. Glue the tiny monkey to the clown. Adhere them to the bottom left opening of the box.


Cut a short piece of decorative straw and ink with Tim Holtz Spiced Marmelade Distress Ink. Glue the large monkey to the straw. Run Gold Metallic Divine Twine through the straw and adhere each end to the inside top of the box opening to create a swing that hangs in front of the calliope.


How to make the lion cage


Add a tab to the base of the lions that you cut from the Tiny Circus Collage Sheet  and glue to the inside center of the second Paper Theatre Box so that the lions stand away from the back of the box. Glue a 3D Metal Star above the lions.

Cut two pieces of score-line tape that are slightly longer than the width of the Paper Theatre Opening. Temporarily tape these to your table, placing them parallel to each other  approximately 3 1/2″ apart.  Run Gold Metallic Divine Twine between the two pieces at regular intervals . Adhere  another piece of score-line tape over the top of each first piece of tape, so that the tape forms a sandwich with the twine. Then adhere the top and bottom pieces on the inside of the lion box above and below the opening. When finished, you will have created your cage bars.

How to make the calliope theatres


From the collage sheets, fussy cut the Toy Paper Theatre, round medallion and the blue curtains, the Paper Theatre Cirque and triangle letters.


Ink the back of the theatres with Tim Holtz Vintage Photo Distress Ink. Ink over the statutes of the Toy Paper Theatre with Vintage Photo Distress Ink. Adhere the blue curtains over the statues.

Using stiff cardstock, cut four rectangles about 1/2″ wide and the length of each theatre height. Score and fold each rectangle in half lengthwise. You are in essence, making tabs to adhere your theatres to the box. Glue the tabs to the backsides of each theatres. Glue the round medallion to the top of the Theatre.

Glue the tabs of the Toy Paper Theatre to the outside of the lion box, gently curving the theatre outward. Adhere an Antique Gold Lion Bead above each blue curtain. Add gold lion earring to top and secure in place with earring back.

Glue the tabs of the Paper Theatre Cirque to the outside of the calliope box,  gently curving the theatre outward.

Glue Gold Dresden Borders back to back and then glue to the top edge of the calliope theatre. Add a 3D gold star to the top of the theatre.

Glue Red Dew Drops to each side of the stage.


Super Duper Important Alert: This is where you begin first step of assembly

Glue the base of ONLY the lion box to the wrapped piece of foam core. Reinforce with strong tape on the inside seam.


I made this purposefully dark to capture the lights, but am not happy with the way the picture turned out. This deserves another attempt.


How to make the circus silks stage

Find figurine. Mine was actually an ice skater cake topper. I cut off the ice skates. Hey, whatever works!

Cut a rectangle of glittery fabric, with a long slit up the center. Using a long piece of Brown Divine Twine, tie the glittery fabric at the top of the fabric and in the center of the Divine Twine. Attach figure to glittery fabric, so she will hang down with fabric wrapped around her. This is her circus silks act.

Attach one end of the brown Divine Twine to the top back of the lion box. Measure this so that the silks performer will be centered on the back of the calliope.

Measure and cut gypsies yellow polka dot paper for the end. Punch holes in the paper for lights. Attach one side of the paper to the back of the lion box. Gently insert the lights and hot glue them in place on the back side of the paper.  You may be tempted to not do this because the lights will eventually burn out, but I learned the hard way from other projects that the lights will forever be popping in and out, which can cause massive headaches if you do not have easy repair access.

Another Super Duper Important Alert: Here is where you should conduct second step of assembly

Adhere calliope box to base  and reinforce in back with strong tape. Adhere the other end of the brown Divine Twine holding the silks performer to the top of the back of this box. Then, form an exedra (semicircle recess) and glue the other side of the 7gypsies paper to the back of the calliope box.


You will find that it is difficult to squeeze all the wiring for the lights into this narrow space. So you will be doubly glad that you (of course) followed my advice and hot glued those lights in place. If you didn’t then, well, I won’t need to say I told you so (but I will anyway). Set the battery pack with on/off switch at the end.

Decorate with red trim and Lavender Orchid Diamond Dew Drops around the exedra.


How to make the calliope top and front

Cut one 3″ x “5 and one 3″ x 6” paper for top and front. Join the ends of these papers together on the back with duct tape to form a seam. Ink edges of roof and front with Vintage Photo Distress Ink. Attach the roof to the top of each box and let the front piece hang loose so that you can easily access the battery pack.

Adhere two rows of  Gold Sweeper Fringe over the roof seams.

Add clown on the top front of calliope.

Make cirque banner by attaching the triangle letters you earlier cut out to Light Blue Divine Twine. Hang banner on the front of the calliope and attach to the top corner of the boxes. Cover this with two gold 3D stars. Then connect the remaining Divine Twine to the clown’s hands.

How to make the circus flags

Cut four triangles out of 7gypsies paper and two No. 1 graphics out of Times and Seasons by Echo Paper. Ink edges with Vintage Photo Distress Ink. Make two folds in each flag and ink edges of folds.

Cut yellow stir sticks and adhere to inside of each flag. Glue the paper for each flag back to back. Drill holes in a cork and hot glue the flag sticks in place.




Print the platform pattern, altering the size on your printer or in a graphics program until it will wrap around your cork. Trace  onto a piece of 7gypsies paper. Glue paper around the cork and place on top of roof.

How to make the circus calliope wheels and wheel base



Add Golden Crackle Paste to Classic Rolling Wheels and hubs. Let dry. Paint wheels with white acrylic paint. Ink with Vintage Photo Distress Ink and rub ink off with paper towel. Paint hubs with red acrylic paint. Decorate wheels with colorful paint. Remember circus wheels are traditionally super colorful!

Attach axles to four small corks. Adhere to bottom of calliope. Glue inside hub spacers in place. Let dry. Add wheels, being careful not to get glue on them. Add final hubs. Decorate center with Metallic Gold Dew Drops.



It’s all in the details

So you may have noticed that the lions were a tad naughty and Mr. Conductor is quite displeased with them. Apparently the lions got hold of the circus music and tore it to shreds. They even left paw prints on some pieces! The music now litters their cage and Mr. Conductor holds a shred in his hand, while he gives the lions a stern talking-to.

To create this scene, copy and reduce circus sheet music. Tear into small pieces, crumple and distress with Vintage Photo Distress Ink. Use a pencil eraser to stamp a lion paw print on a couple of the pieces. Adhere the fragments to the cage and give the conductor a small piece to hold.


You can see the elephants aren’t really pulling the calliope. They are circus elephants, not work horses! One has even slipped his ropes and is doing headstands in the street.

One of the elephants came from Graphics Fairy and the other elephant and conductor came from my personal collection.

Print two copies of elephants and conductor  so that one copy is flipped horizontally. Fussy cut elephants and conductor and glue images back to back so that the image can be seen from both sides. Cut small pieces of stiff clear plastic packaging and adhere to bottom of the figures to create stands.

Cut six tassels of Gold Sweeper Fringe and six tassels of  Pink Sweeper Fringe. Hot glue the loose cut ends of each tassel together to prevent fraying. Attach tassels to the elephants. Attach Brown Divine Twine to Elephant and attach to calliope.

Stuff I used

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