Make your own magnifying glass
A magnifying glass has to be one of the most useful, thought-provoking, and inspiring tools you can give to a child. This hand-made diy magnifying glass is both pretty and functional, and each one is also completely unique. And forget the kids, adults love these too! Read on to find out how to make them.
Nothing is more humbling than to look with a strong magnifying glass at an insect so tiny that the naked eye sees only the barest speck and to discover that nevertheless it is sculpted and articulated and striped with the same care and imagination as a zebra.
— Rudolf Arnheim
My kids love playing with magnifying glasses. I’ve been wanting to make them some cool, quirky and personal ones for them to use in place of the more usual kiddie plastic or wooden-frog offerings you tend to find in the shops. So when I found a pile of lenses in my local Scrapstore, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them.
A home-made magnifying glass
Making a simple ‘holder’ for these lenses instantly turns them into usable (and pretty funky) magnifying glasses. While figuring out what to do, I tried out two designs for my lens holders. The first is made with just a bit of corrugated cardboard, while the other is covered with fabric for a more polished look
If you want to make a load, then the cardboard one is probably best as it’s quick and easy to make. As a bonus, the kids can decorate the cardboard any way they like, to make them completely their own. On the other hand, my kids LOVED the fabric diy magnifying glass, and this would make a lovely gift. However it takes a little longer to make, and you’ll need a few more supplies too.
Head over to my other tutorial if you fancy trying out the cardboard version. If you want to give the fabric version a go instead, carry on reading!
(Product links in this article are Amazon links to materials I used in this diy magnifying glass project. These are all affiliate links – you can find out more on my ‘about affiliate links’ page.)
A note on lenses
You can’t make a real magnifying glass without a lens, and while I was lucky enough to find some at my local Scrapstore, that’s probably not much use to most of you. Lenses (Scrapstore bargains aside) aren’t cheap, so unless you’re happy to pay upwards of £5, I suggest you either cannibalise an existing magnifying glass for the lens, or use the lens from an old pair of glasses.
My lenses vary in size and shape, but are all at least 50mm in diameter, which is about the smallest I’d want for a kid’s magnifying glass. Bear in mind that you need a CONVEX lens – a concave lens will make things look smaller, not bigger! This little diagram explains the difference.
Instructions for a DIY magnifying glass
To make your own diy magnifying glass, you will need:
- a double / bi-convex lens . You need one with a thin edge for this project.
- thin card (such as a cereal box)
- fabric of your choice – two pieces roughly 10x15cm each (depending on the size of your holder)
- embroidery thread or wool/yarn
And you will need the following tools:
- scissors and/or a craft knife.
- sewing needles with a large eye and a sharp tip (don’t get blunt ones!)
- a thimble
- a needle threader (trust me on this!)
1. Cut your template
Using your lens as a guide to size, draw the shape of your lens holder onto the thin card (I used a cereal box for this). Make sure that there is a margin of at least 5mm / ¼ inch between the edge of your lens and the edge of the holder.
You don’t have to make your diy magnifying glass the same shape as mine, of course! A hexagon, circle or square, for example, would be great too and may work better depending on the shape of your lens.
The inner circle (where your lens will sit) should be around 5mm smaller than the actual diameter of your lens. This is to hold the lens in place in the holder.
Cut out your outline and use as a template to cut a second, identical piece of card. Cut out the centre circle on both pieces.
2. Cut your fabric
Trace the shape of the card lens holder onto the fabric, then add a ‘fold allowance’ of roughly 5mm / ¼ inch all around (about the same as a seam allowance would be).
You will need two pieces of fabric to cover your holder with – I used different colours/pattern fabrics for the front/back of my diy magnifying glass, but you can use anything you want. For example, as you don’t need much fabric, for my next ones I’m planning to use some scraps of denim from some old jeans
Cut out your fabric holders but do NOT cut out the inner circles this time.
3. Cut your lens aperture
Using a sharp knife, cut a straight line through the centre of the inner circle of your fabric, then cut another line at a right angle to this (forming a cross). Repeat on the diagonals, so that your circle is now cut into triangles.
Use an iron to press these back against the wrong side of your fabric – this is the side you DON’T want visible on the finished magnifying glass.
4. Press your folds
Where the shape curves over the top of the lens, snip into the fold allowance so that your fabric will fold over the shape smoothly. Press this curve down too.
Use your iron to also press the fold allowance flat against the wrong side of the fabric. Snip the bottom corners off to allow the fold allowance to lie flat (as shown).
I did all this with the cardboard on top, so the folds went over it, to make sure the creases were in the right place.
5. Insert your cardboard
Place your cardboard pieces onto the wrong side of both bits of fabric, with the folds holding them in place. If you’ve used cereal boxes (or similar) with an image printed on, make sure that the plain side is facing the fabric as otherwise you might see the image through it.
You shouldn’t need to glue your fabric in place as the fold-overs should hold it firmly. Also, any glue or tape will make it harder to stitch together at the final stage (no one likes a sticky needle!).
6. Insert your lens
Glue your lens onto the bottom holder piece, centring it over the hole and making sure your fabric triangles are pinned underneath it, between the lens and the card.
7. Sew together!
With the lens in place and the card covered in fabric, it’s time to sew both sides together. Using embroidery thread (or you could use wool/yarn), blanket stitch around the entire edge. If you’re not a sewer, don’t worry! It’s really easy to do, and the only equipment you’ll need is a needle. Though I’d also HIGHLY recommend a thimble to help push the needle through the cardboard, and a needle threader…
For the uninitiated, you can find some instructions for blanket stitching here (and a quick search will bring up tons of others).
And that’s it! Your diy magnifying glass is all finished and ready to use – and isn’t it a thing of beauty?!
There’s no end to the variety you can add to these through choice of shape and material alone, so if you make a diy magnifying glass of your own, I’d love to see it!
Want the easier version? Have a go at the cardboard one instead…
Looking for fun things to do with the kids? Take a look at these great activities.