History of Kirigami

Dana Hinders
Paper doll chains are simple Kirigami.

Understanding the history of Kirigami can improve your knowledge of how paper crafting has changed over time.

Kirigami vs. Origami

Kirigami is the Japanese art of cutting paper, named from the words "kiru" (to cut) and "kami" (paper). Symmetry is a very important concept in Kirigami. Snowflakes, pentagrams, and flowers are all examples of Kirigami projects in which cuts are made to enhance the symmetry of the design.

Kirigami and origami are often confused, but these two crafts are not the same. It's true that they both incorporate the use of beautiful papers and folding techniques to make flowers, animals, and other designs. However, pure origami does not allow you to make cuts in the paper. To construct your design, you must fold one or more sheets together. In addition, there is no gluing or taping allowed in origami. In Kirigami projects, however, both techniques are acceptable.

Occasionally, people practicing Kirigami will use a pencil to make marks on the paper before they cut. While this can help a beginner improve his accuracy in creating more complicated designs, the history of Kirigami recommends that crafters use scissors or a knife only.

A Brief History of Kirigami

It's thought that Kirigami was first used in Japanese temples as a way to make offerings to the gods. By the 17th century, Kirigami was widely recognized as a true art form throughout Asian culture. People in Japan and China created Kirigami designs to represent:

  • Wealth
  • Perfection
  • Grace
  • Elegance
  • Man's relationship with the universe

In the United States, Kirigami did not become popular until the 1960s and 1970s. Florence Temko's 1962 book Kirigami, the Creative Art of Papercutting was the first guide to introduce this Asian craft to people in the U.S. One interesting aspect of Kirigami in the United States is that people have begun to combine Kirigami techniques with a variety of other traditions. Bunraku, a form of Japanese puppet theater, is sometimes done with Kirigami puppets that have moveable parts. Scherenschnitte, a German paper cutting craft, is combined with Kirigami to make beautiful cut paper silhouettes.

Kirigami Today

Although Kirigami isn't as popular as origami, you can still find many examples of Kirigami around you.

  • Crafters cut Kirigami designs to decorate handmade greeting cards.
  • Use Kirigami designs as embellishments for scrapbook pages.
  • Incorporate Kirigami into framed artwork and other home décor projects.
  • Cut paper designs can be used to decorate packages or to make handmade gift wrap.

Kirigami in Schools

Kirigami lessons are often a part of the curriculum in elementary schools. Kirigami helps to teach students about the importance of Japanese culture, while they are working on developing:

  • Scissor skills
  • Fine motor skills
  • Visual motor skills
  • Planning abilities

The most popular example of Kirigami for kids is having children cut paper snowflakes to decorate windows for Christmas. Paper doll chains used as simple toys to entertain children are another good example of Kirigami for young people

Kirigami as a Frugal Craft

In the early days of the history of Kirigami, paper was expensive enough that the craft was restricted to upper-class individuals. Today, however, anyone can enjoy this fun hobby.

Many people like crafting, but find hobbies such as painting, quilting, or woodworking to be too expensive. Part of the appeal of Kirigami today is that it is a very frugal craft. Paper is inexpensive, especially if you use basic computer or copy paper for practicing your designs. The only other supplies necessary are a sharp knife or fine tip scissors, a metal ruler, a paper folder, and a cutting board. Check out Kirigami books from your local library or you can turn to Web sites offering free Kirigami templates as a source of inspiration for your crafting endeavors.

History of Kirigami