The World of Papercutting

Flowers in Vase design from "Folk Art Designs to Color or Cut" by Ramona Jablonski.

Sometimes I have a delayed reaction to certain crafts. Paper cutting, for instance, is a craft I’d long been vaguely aware of, but never felt compelled to try, life being as short as it is. Then I ran across a children’s book at our library, called Brother Sun, Sister Moon, the story of St. Francis of Assisi. The illustrations, by Pamela Dalton, were lovely, and upon closer inspection, turned out to be paper cutouts that had been tinted with watercolor. Wow. I went to her website, Pamela Dalton Scherenschnitte,  and was confronted with an array of  cut paper confections, as well as a little video on her papercutting techniques, which is well worth watching. (She uses an Exacto knife, and changes the blade every 15 to 20 minutes!) Suddenly, I was hooked, and wanted to learn more. The Chinese, of course, were the first to practice the art of paper cutting, but you can find a papercutting folk art tradition in many countries. Polish peasants made amazing papercuts using sheep shears, and in the United States, the Pennsylvania Dutch made birth and marriage certificates, as well as Valentines, using papercutting. Why it became such a major folk craft is apparent once you try it–you need nothing more than a pair of scissors and a piece of paper, and you are off and running. So even if you had little money, if you had patience, you could create a lacy work of art.

The flowers in vase design above took me about an hour, and I used a little pair of decoupage scissors. I used a piece of copy paper, but have read that good quality paper makes the job easier.

Paper cutouts can be extremely elaborate, but I enjoy seeing the simple ones, as well. Here are some cut from old writing paper, and I have seen some cut from wallpaper. Sounds like an interesting idea!

Hans Christian Andersen's room in Copenhagen, showing his desk with paper cuttings.

One famous paper cutter was Hans Christian Andersen, the writer of fairy tales. He would entertain friends by telling stories and simultaneously cutting paper creations illustrating the stories.

Cock crow pattern from "Chinese Paper-Cut Patterns" by Nancy Kuo.

The Chinese, having invented paper, must have invented scissors soon after, because they are the first to make paper cutouts. Women even cut out butterflies and sparrows for hair decorations.

There are a number of excellent books on paper cutting, which is also called scherenschnitte, which means “scissor cuts” in German. One of my favorites is The Book of Paper Cutting by Chris Rich. There are lots of really nice, pretty projects, as well as all the basic how-to’s. And when I last checked, it was selling on Amazon for $1.05! A bargain.

Paper Cutouts by Helene Leroux-Hugon & Juliette Vicart takes a more modern approach, with patterns suitable for room decor. It also has patterns for large, modern doilies that would be wonderful for Christmas. Scherenschnitte by Susanne Schlapfer-Geiser is for the hard-core paper cutter, and offers instruction in traditional papercutting.

Supplies for paper cutting can be found at Paper Cutting Traditions and at Paper Cuttings by Alison. You can purchase scissors from either website, with the good ones costing $20 to $25, but I would try this out with a pair of manicure scissors, or any other small, sharp scissors you have on hand, first, before purchasing something.

This is only the briefest introduction to paper cutting, but I hope it gives some idea of how much fun it can be. In upcoming posts, I will be offering some paper cutout projects, including the pattern for the heart and locket shelf edging shown in the black-and-white image at top.

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4 thoughts on “The World of Papercutting

  1. Oh, these are beautiful! I think papercutting speaks to the human attraction to things that are symmetrical, i.e., the Star of David, the Cross, Yin and Yang – so many throughout the ages. Strange, though, how we also get a buzz from the asymmetric: one sleeve off the shoulder, a grouping of three small plants near one large plant, etc. I guess it’s all about beauty; and the makings of beauty are quite diverse!

    1. Sherri–You have the eye of an artist. I understand what you mean about the attraction of symmetry–I made the papercutting above (first photo) on a folded piece of paper, and it was a magical moment when I opened it up!

      1. I know – isn’t that wild? I remember the feeling, too, when I did this in my younger days. Yours are grown up ones, though, and quite beautiful. I may try this again!

      2. PS – thanks for the compliment! I have always loved to see and “do” art. Unfortunately, I’m also a perfectionist, which keeps me from continuing to “do” an art. Artists can NOT be perfectionists. (sigh) Yet another cross to bear! : )

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