A butterfly breezes by, four feet tall. A leggy little flower comes along next, followed by a plump tomato. Apparitions like these aren't so surprising at a children's costume party, but there is something unusual about these particular creatures: They owe their disguises to crepe paper.
What else but magic can explain a paper capable of such transformations? Paper you can stretch, twist, or curl into shape using just your fingers? Paper you can sew and even wear?
It's not so mysterious: All crepe paper starts out as tissue paper, which is sized and then creped, a process that involves dragging the tissue across a series of knives, drawing it into the tiny gathers that make crepe paper what it is. Because of its incredible give, you can manipulate it in ways that would cause plain tissue to tear. Plus, crepe is inexpensive and available in a rainbow of colors, usually in 20-by-90-inch pieces.
The best way to discover crepe paper's capabilities is to experiment with a piece. Pull it with the grain, and nothing happens, but a tug in the other direction yields a curve. Stretch out the edge for a ruffled effect. If you roll a piece and twist it tightly, it stays put. You can glue it, tie it, even iron it (dry-iron only -- colors bleed when wet). But try to rip a piece of crepe paper, and it will, well, rip. Whatever its wonders, it is still just paper.
Which is why we used it to create beguiling accessories -- hats, wings, garlands, and skirts -- instead of entire outfits. With a leotard and tights or a T-shirt and leggings, they are complete costumes, fit for a party or an evening of trick-or-treating. The techniques are basic and versatile; variations of one crepe-paper cap can top off the costume for a rose, a lily of the valley, a tomato, a pumpkin, or a pea pod. Other simple techniques are used to create a garland of fall leaves and those light-as-air butterfly wings.