Kirigami... keeping the ancient art of paper cutting alive
When you think of Japanese paper crafts, origami is likely the first art form to come to mind. If you’re familiar with this age-old practice, you know that a work of origami art is created by manipulating a single sheet of paper with nothing but a series of strategic folds. While this is the most well-known approach to the ancient art form, there are also adaptations. Kirigami, a variation of origami, offers a bit more creative freedom by allowing artists to cut, clip, and snip their paper creations.
What is Kirigami?
The term kirigami is derived from two Japanese words: kiru (to cut) and kami (paper).
Like traditional origami, kirigami is created from a single sheet of paper and incorporates folds. Sometimes, these folds are incorporated into the finished product, culminating in a three-dimensional piece.
Often, however, these folds are temporary; once the contorted paper has been cut, it is unfolded. Then, new folds are made, and the process is repeated until the work is complete, resulting in a flat work of art.
The History of Kirigami
Like origami, kirigami has roots in China, where paper was invented around 105 CE. In the 6th century, the Chinese began using coloured paper to create decorative cut-outs—a practice known as jiǎnzhǐ. Initially, these paper creations were intended to honour gods and ancestors. However, in the 14th century, jiǎnzhǐ evolved into an activity practiced by women and children for leisure.
Undoubtedly inspired by jiǎnzhǐ, the Japanese began cutting paper into decorative works of art in the 7th century. Like the Chinese, they used a special kind of paper derived from mulberry plant fibres that had been “soaked in clear river water, thickened, and then filtered through a bamboo screen” by hand.
In Japan, this paper would come to be known as washi—a medium that remains intrinsic to both the origami and kirigami practices today.
Contemporary Kirigami Artists
Today, many artists continue to keep the kirigami craft alive. Whether adapting the approach to fit their own paper-cutting interests or staying true to the Japanese art form, these contemporary crafters capture the timelessness of the practice.
Ready to make your own cut-paper creations?
Fortunately, you don’t need many supplies to start snipping!
For aspiring kirigami crafters who want to work from scratch, all you need is:
A pair of detail scissors or a craft knife, like an X-ACTO knife
A cutting mat
Washi paper (available as both coloured and patterned sheets)
An instruction book, like Kirigami: The Art of Folding and Cutting Paper
For those who want a little more guidance, we recommend using kirigami templates and kits. Our favourites include DIY Frank Lloyd Wright Kirigami, Kirigami Mandalas, and a Kirigami Menagerie.