Paper Cutting

Table of Contents../Handwork/Contents.html

Brief History

Paper was invented in China in 105 A.D. In northern China, papercuts have been traced to 207 A.D., and in 1959 papercuts dated between 514 and 551 A.D. were excavated in an archeological dig. By 1000 A.D., paper was widely substituted for silk as the medium for writing and painting.

Making paper is quite simple. Mulberry bark, rice straw, wood, cotton, or other fibrous materials are soaked in water and then beaten into a mash. This pulp is added to a large amount of water in a tub, and then lifted out on a screen. The water is pressed out, locking the fibers, and the paper is allowed to dry. Making paper can be a very enjoyable activity for children.


The use of scissors is a basic skill which can be refined from very simple cutting to a very elaborate and highly skilled form of art. Papercutting is a widely practiced folk art in virtually every part of China. Historically,"window flowers" were elaborate papercuts shaped to fit the rectangular spaces of window panes, and they needed to be airy enough not to block the light coming into the house. "Happy flowers" are intricate designs cut from thin paper that are used as colorful decorations for holidays and special occasions. But even before papercuts were used as decorations, they were used to make patterns for silk embroidery, a craft which dates back 4,000 years.

In Chinese papercutting, the artist uses scissors to cut a continuous line around and into the paper. The elaborate papercut illustrated here was cut on plain white paper with sharp short bladed, oval handled scissors.  The veins were cut into the leaves before the margins were cut. The image was not first drawn onto the paper, the paper was not folded, and no pattern was used. The artist cut each of these beautiful examples in about five minutes, with amazing anticipation of each detail.                                                                                      

The Chinese use knife cutting when producing large quantities of papercuts. Traditionally every cutter makes his or her own tools, which consist of knives of various sizes and shapes, and punches and chisels which are adapted to a particular work. Handles are made of two pieces of split bamboo and are tied to the blades. Birds, flowers, butterflies, children, dragons and legends are traditional subjects for the papercuts. 

In Poland, symmetrical papercuts were superimposed on each other to make multi-layered birds, flowers, and other designs. Sometimes these were glued on furniture, walls, and windows. Brilliant color combinations were used.