Free Mylar Tinsel for Life!

Mylar Tinsel for Fly Tying

Store bought Mylar Tinsel

Flat tinsel is a great material for adding flash and segmentation to a fly. Years ago, tiers basically had only two choices in colors: silver and gold. This is why so many classic patterns call for those colors.  It was really more about availability rather than a conscious design choice. But today, flat tinsel comes in a myriad of colors–red, blue, green, pearl, and even holographic. Most of it is made of Mylar (which is really a plastic, not the metal tinsel of days past) and comes in a few different widths.  There are so many choices and sizes that you could easily go overboard and fill up rack after rack of spools. But, what if you could get all the Mylar you want free, for the rest of your life?  You can!  All you have to do is look around…

No matter where you are right now, you’re probably in close proximity to a good Mylar substitute. True Mylar or not, a lot of packaging today uses plastic with a reflective lining.  Think about the inside of potato chip bags.  All you have to do is cut it into strips with a metal ruler and Xacto knife or scissors and presto! Free tinsel!

It might seem like more work than its worth (after all, a spool of tinsel from the fly shop isn’t going to break the bank) but more than cost savings, recycling packaging has two other clear benefits.

1. You can cut it to the exact width you want. Fly tying specific tinsel comes in maybe four standard widths and while this is probably fine for most flies the ability to customize the width gives you a little more flexibility in how your pattern looks without having to buy every width of each color.

2. There is a bigger variety of colors.  While I said above that fly thing manufacturers today do make a wide range of colors it is still finite.  But when you consider all the packaging out there today, your color choices are nearly limitless meaning you can make flies that look like no one else’s. For example, my daughter loves Mylar balloons. We buy a different one for her about every two weeks. Some of these have really unique shades of greens, purples, and other colors you could never find in a fly shop. After they’ve deflated, I save them to slice up for ribbing material.

Using a Mylar Balloon for fly tying

This guy looks happy now, but he has no idea what fate awaits him once he comes down from his helium high


Using a Mylar Balloon for fly tying

The crash…and soon…disposal of the body

Using a Mylar Balloon for fly tying

Scissors work best as even the sharpest Xacto knife can tear thin Mylar leaving jagged edges

Using a Mylar Balloon for fly tying

You won’t find these colors in a fly shop!


Sources for free tinsel

By now, you’ve probably already thought of about a million sources but here is a short list to get started. The insides of these will typically be silver, but also think about using the outside for unique colors.

  • Mylar balloons
  • Potato chip bags
  • Candy bar/energy bar wrappers
  • Ink jet printer cartridge wrappers
  • Discarded holiday decorations
  • Coffee bags
  • Foil from around the neck of a wine bottle
  • Capri Sun packages
  • Individual soy sauce packs
  • Mylar decorative wine bags
  • Pop Tarts bags

The more you think about it, the more you realize that free tinsel is all around us.  And with Christmas right around the corner, no garland will be safe!  Click here for more ideas on tying flies with common, everyday materials.

What other sources can you think of for free tinsel?

Author: Jason Klass

Jason is an avid fly angler and backpacker. As a former fly fishing guide originally from Western New York, he moved to Colorado and became an early adopter of tenkara which perfectly suited the small, high altitude streams and lakes there. He has not fished a Western-style fly rod for trout since.

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  1. Awesome ideas!

  2. Very resourceful Jason. I get some really cool foams and flashy materials from our receiving department. It definitely helps that almost everyone I work with hunts. Ive got bags of wood duck flank. I whole jake turkey skin and at one time I had a whole snow goose. Free, free, and free!

  3. Now is the best time to collect your life-time share of flashy material. Wait for Boxing day and pick over all the excess decorations that are being sold off or given away!

  4. WOW, Where the heck do you work Lance? And are they hiring?

  5. you are an upcylinger…i mean an upcycler, and it is good.

  6. At work, our coffee is a tea-bag type of container that decomposes but it comes in a mylar package, shiny silver inside. I am going to start using that for tinsel I think…

  7. Chris, you could probably also sue the outside as well. That blue pattern on the one on the right looks like it could create an interesting look when wrapped.

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