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STEM Activities

STEM Activity: DIY Paper Gift Bags

Gather STEAM for the holidays by designing your own gift bags!

Materials Needed 

  • Bubble solution (optional)
  • Glue or transparent tape
  • Markers
  • Newspaper
  • Paper (copy paper works well)
  • Paper bowls
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Tempera paint (optional)


Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Creating is fun, but it can be messy, so cover your workspace with newspaper (or other protective material).
  2. Place a sheet of paper, or several sheets if you want to make multiple bags, on top of the newspaper.
  3. Make some geometric designs on the sheets of paper using your markers.
  4. Pour bubble solution into a paper bowl. Then, add a little tempera paint to the solution and stir.
  5. Now, blow some bubbles onto the paper! Or, if you’d rather not get too messy, you can trace around circular objects with various markers and have fun overlapping the circles and experimenting with multiple colors.
  6. While waiting for the bubbles to dry, try some reverse engineering! Find a flat-bottomed paper bag, like the kind you get at the grocery store. See if you can figure out how it was put together.
  7. Once your paper is dry, use your paper folding skills and a little bit of geometry to make your own DIY gift bag!
  • Lay the paper horizontally. Fold your paper into four equal sections.
  • Fold the two outer sections inward toward the center of the paper. Overlap the sections approximately ¼ inch. Tape or glue these two sections together.
  • Fold the bottom up approximately two inches. ​​​​​​​
  • Gently open up the bottom and push in the bottom two corners to create two triangles. The new folded piece should look like an irregular hexagon (a six-sided figure). ​​​​​​​
  • Hold the top of the hexagon and fold it down halfway. Then, fold the bottom of the hexagon up so it overlaps in the middle. Tape or glue in place. ​​​​​​​
  • Fold the entire right side of the paper in approximately one inch. Then, do the same on the other side. ​​​​​​​
  • Now, gently open your bag! Push in the middle left fold. Then, do the same for the other side. Crease all the folds. ​​​​​​​
  • Place your gift inside. Fold down the top and you’re ready to wrap up the holidays
  1. Create other bags by experimenting with the size of the folds and even the size of the paper.


What Are We Discovering?

Thanks to National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductee Margaret Knight, flat-bottom paper bags have become commonplace. Prior to her invention, paper bags had to be made by hand, which was an expensive and inefficient process. With the development of Knight’s machine, flat-bottom paper bags could be automatically cut, folded and glued, which allowed them to be mass-produced and replace the less useful v-shaped paper bags. Having created her first invention as a teenager, Knight continued to develop inventions ranging from compound rotary engines to a sole-cutting machine for shoemaking.


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