Tom's Snowflakes

"Begin doing what you want to do now.
We are not living in eternity.
We have only this moment,
sparkling like a star in our hand
- and melting like a snowflake..."
~ Francis Bacon, Sr.

At the winter holidays each year, Tom creates a fantasy world in his home in Western Pennsylvania. Tom was lucky enough to marry my long-time friend Sheila and kind enough to let me interview him about his snowflake endeavors! The symmetrical mandala designs are just amazing. The negative space of the cut out area is a component of the design.

Tom has a demanding job in construction, yet each winter, he has the patience and creative drive to carve intricate pumpkins and cut snowflakes. That's a unique combination!

The Interview

{Please note that all snowflake designs are protected by copyright; please be kind and do not copy or use within other works. All designs published with permission from the artist.}

When did you start making snowflakes? My mom showed us when we were kids. So, it’s been about fifty years.

How many do you have and how do you store the snowflakes? Believe it or not all 150 or so flakes fit in a flat box not much bigger than a single snowflake, about ¾" high.

What prompted you to start a collection? It was just a fun thing to do; I ended up saving them and hanging them up every year. The oldest flakes are almost 35 years old. I’d like to find a way to restore them to their original whiteness.


Did your kids get involved when they were young, and have they created any of their own? My kids were about 5 or 6 when they started making flakes. After folding the paper there are actually 12 layers to cut through. So when they were young they used tracing paper because it's thinner and easier to cut.

What type of scissors do you use? I just use ordinary scissors.

What type of paper do you use? I use 8 1/2'” X 11” white copy paper. Earlier I mentioned using tracing paper for my kids, but while it is easier to cut because it is thin, it doesn’t hang as straight for the same reason. After a while they can curl pretty badly. Also I might add, one thing you don’t want to do is cut too big a hole in the middle of the flake. This also makes the snowflake weak and it will curl as well.

What types of snowflakes do you create? Some are by design; to make particular shapes, lines and spaces. Some have a theme, a picture or likeness of something usually related to the holidays or the winter season. But most are random designs. Those with the "spaghetti" design (below) remind me of some of the mandala work you do.

What other designs would you like to do? With most of the themes being holiday or winter themed, and being somewhat limited by the symmetrical pattern, it’s getting harder to think of ideas for original flakes. This year I did a snowboarder, an ice skater and a wreath. I also came up with the "spaghetti" type design, where the lines continually flow around the flake.

How many new designs do you add to the collection each year? I make 1 or 2 flakes each year, but if I think of a new design or theme I’ll make more.

What is the most challenging thing about the process? Snowflakes are 6-sided, so folding the paper to form a hexagon is actually pretty tough. If the folds aren’t lined up properly the design will be uneven.

Do you draw the design on the paper before or after folding? If the design is simple enough or if you are doing a random design, there’s no need to draw. But if you’re going to draw a more complicated design you do it after the paper is folded.

Before you cut, can you envision what the snowflakes will look like? Sometimes I can if it’s a simple theme type flake. But if you have a lot of cuts or very intricate cuts it’s usually somewhat of a surprise. Because of the nature of the circular repetition sometimes cuts form a completely different pattern when you unfold them compared to what you see when cutting them.

How long does it take to cut one snowflake, from design to completion? It takes a few minutes to an hour to complete. Since the snowflakes are symmetrical, sometimes it’s hard working out a design for a theme type flake. Even the random patterns can take a while. It just depends how intricate you want to make them.

How long does it take to put them up each year? We have a tall ceiling in our new home, so this year it involved a ladder and a few hours work.

What do people say when they see the array of snowflakes displayed at the holidays? Most people really like them. In prior houses with lower ceilings it felt like you were walking through a snow storm. Our current house has a cathedral ceiling so they’re a little more removed. Everyone also likes to see if they can find new flakes from the previous year as well as finding their favorites from past years.


In September 2010, the girls and I visited Tom and Sheila at their home in rural Pennsylvania. At our prompting, Tom gave us an impromptu snowflake folding and cutting lesson! It was amazing to see a simple piece of white paper turn into an intricate design. We learned that the folding was the trickiest part for us, to be sure. If the fold isn't just right, the design isn't just right!