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The Art of Wycinanki (Polish Papercutting)—Information and Inspiration

Updated on August 10, 2017

What is Wycinanki?

Papercutting is practiced in various forms around the world, and Polish papercutting, or Wycinanki, which involves the symmetrical cutting and layering of several pieces of paper, is one of the most colorful.

While other forms of papercutting in Western Europe originally served utilitarian purposes, Wycinanki has always been a purely decorative art, practiced by the people of rural Poland. The term "Wycinanki" is plural; it refers to more than one paper cutout or the art form in general. A single cutout is called "Wycinanka."

And guess what? It's not as difficult as it looks (Well, it can be, but it doesn't have to be!) You can do this. Read on and we'll show you how...

Wycinanki: An Overview

Originating in the mid-1800s, Wycinanki was originally cut using sheep shears because they were often the only cutting instruments available to people in the rural areas. Traditionally, Wycinanki designs are cut freehand, that is without preliminary sketching, from a single sheet of paper. Numerous regions in Poland have distinct papercutting traditions, which have been handed down from generation to generation.

Floral Kodra Design
Floral Kodra Design

Wycinanki is an inexpensive art form that is satisfying to young and old alike. The element of the unexpected in its creation adds a dimension of joy and fun. Wycinanki can be used for wall or window decorations, notecards, stencils, bookmarks, lampshades, placemats, holiday decorations, frames for poems or important documents, and three-dimensional mobiles.

Map of Poland

Designs from the different regions are distinguished by the shapes and colors utilized. We have focused primarily on designs from Kurpie (KOORP-yeh) and Lowicz (WO-veech) regions because they are the best known.

Multicolored Gwiazda Design with 2 Repeats
Multicolored Gwiazda Design with 2 Repeats

Traditional Wycinanki Designs

In the Lowicz region of Poland, the Gwiazda (GVYA-zdah) design is traditionally embellished with additional shapes and colors. The basic design may be a medallion-like, mirror image with two repeats (as shown here), or it may be the round or star-shaped design with eight or sixteen repeats. Unlike Kurpie-style designs (see below) that contain many delicate and intricate cuts, the multicolored Lowicz-style design is purposely cut so that the basic design contains spaces large enough to be embellished with other colors.

Check the photo gallery that follows for descriptions and examples of more traditional designs.

More Wycinanki Designs - Click on a Thumbnail to see an enlarged image and description of each design

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Kodra (KOD-rah) design may be either floral (as shown here) or pictorial, and comes from the Lowicz region in Poland. Kodra designs are always multicolored.This is an example of a Gwiazda (GVYA-zdah) design with 16 repeats. The basic single-color Gwiazda design is known as Kurpie style because it is the traditional design from that region of Poland.This is an example of a Gwiazda (GVYA-zdah) design with 8 repeats. The basic single-color Gwiazda design is known as Kurpie style because it is the traditional design from that region of Poland.This is an example of a multicolored Gwiazda (GVYA-zdah) design with 8 repeats. Multicolored Gwiazda design are traditional to the Lowicz region of Poland.The Kodra (KOD-rah) design may be either floral or pictorial (as shown here), and comes from the Lowicz region in Poland. Kodra designs are always multicolored.The Leluja (lay-LOO-yah) design is a mirror-image, tree-like design that is created on one fold. It is a traditional design from the Kurpie Region of PolandThe ribbon-like Wstega (FSTENG-gah) design has eight repeats and comes from the Rawa and Opoczno regions of Poland. This design may be in a single color (such as this example) or multicolored.The Ozdoby (oz-DOAB-ee) is a three-dimensional Wycinanki design that is known throughout Poland. These single ornament mobiles are simple to make, yet very decorative.This is an example of a multicolored Gwiazda (GVYA-zdah) design with 16 repeats. Multicolored Gwiazda design are traditional to the Lowicz region of Poland.The ribbon-like Wstega (FSTENG-gah) design has eight repeats and comes from the Rawa and Opoczno regions of Poland. This design may be in a single color or multicolored (such as this example).
The Kodra (KOD-rah) design may be either floral (as shown here) or pictorial, and comes from the Lowicz region in Poland. Kodra designs are always multicolored.
The Kodra (KOD-rah) design may be either floral (as shown here) or pictorial, and comes from the Lowicz region in Poland. Kodra designs are always multicolored.
This is an example of a Gwiazda (GVYA-zdah) design with 16 repeats. The basic single-color Gwiazda design is known as Kurpie style because it is the traditional design from that region of Poland.
This is an example of a Gwiazda (GVYA-zdah) design with 16 repeats. The basic single-color Gwiazda design is known as Kurpie style because it is the traditional design from that region of Poland.
This is an example of a Gwiazda (GVYA-zdah) design with 8 repeats. The basic single-color Gwiazda design is known as Kurpie style because it is the traditional design from that region of Poland.
This is an example of a Gwiazda (GVYA-zdah) design with 8 repeats. The basic single-color Gwiazda design is known as Kurpie style because it is the traditional design from that region of Poland.
This is an example of a multicolored Gwiazda (GVYA-zdah) design with 8 repeats. Multicolored Gwiazda design are traditional to the Lowicz region of Poland.
This is an example of a multicolored Gwiazda (GVYA-zdah) design with 8 repeats. Multicolored Gwiazda design are traditional to the Lowicz region of Poland.
The Kodra (KOD-rah) design may be either floral or pictorial (as shown here), and comes from the Lowicz region in Poland. Kodra designs are always multicolored.
The Kodra (KOD-rah) design may be either floral or pictorial (as shown here), and comes from the Lowicz region in Poland. Kodra designs are always multicolored.
The Leluja (lay-LOO-yah) design is a mirror-image, tree-like design that is created on one fold. It is a traditional design from the Kurpie Region of Poland
The Leluja (lay-LOO-yah) design is a mirror-image, tree-like design that is created on one fold. It is a traditional design from the Kurpie Region of Poland
The ribbon-like Wstega (FSTENG-gah) design has eight repeats and comes from the Rawa and Opoczno regions of Poland. This design may be in a single color (such as this example) or multicolored.
The ribbon-like Wstega (FSTENG-gah) design has eight repeats and comes from the Rawa and Opoczno regions of Poland. This design may be in a single color (such as this example) or multicolored.
The Ozdoby (oz-DOAB-ee) is a three-dimensional Wycinanki design that is known throughout Poland. These single ornament mobiles are simple to make, yet very decorative.
The Ozdoby (oz-DOAB-ee) is a three-dimensional Wycinanki design that is known throughout Poland. These single ornament mobiles are simple to make, yet very decorative.
This is an example of a multicolored Gwiazda (GVYA-zdah) design with 16 repeats. Multicolored Gwiazda design are traditional to the Lowicz region of Poland.
This is an example of a multicolored Gwiazda (GVYA-zdah) design with 16 repeats. Multicolored Gwiazda design are traditional to the Lowicz region of Poland.
The ribbon-like Wstega (FSTENG-gah) design has eight repeats and comes from the Rawa and Opoczno regions of Poland. This design may be in a single color or multicolored (such as this example).
The ribbon-like Wstega (FSTENG-gah) design has eight repeats and comes from the Rawa and Opoczno regions of Poland. This design may be in a single color or multicolored (such as this example).

Symbolism in Wycinanki - Significance of Colors

Significance of Shapes

How to Make a Wycinanki Bookmark

 

Folding and Cutting Instructions:

Note: For a bookmark, you will probably prefer a design that looks good vertically (such as the multicolored example pictured above) rather than the horizontal design shown in the folding and cutting diagram).

1. Begin with a rectangular strip of paper. About 2 ½" x 8" is a good size. Carefully fold it in half lengthwise with the colored side of the paper to the inside. Press the fold firmly to make a sharp crease (fig. 1).

2. Fold it in half again, but crosswise this time (fig. 2).

3. Fold it in half crosswise once more (fig.3). With this fold you have created eight rectangular sections within your strip of paper.

4. Cut shapes and designs through all the layers of paper along both of the longer sides of your rectangle, being careful to leave some areas joined at the edge that contains the fold (fig. 4).

5. Now cut shapes and designs through all layers along the shorter sides of the rectangle. As both of these edges contain folds, you will need to be very careful to leave some areas joined on each (fig. 5).

6. Carefully unfold your Wstega (fig. 6). With the iron set on "low," carefully press the wrong side of your papercut.

7. If desired, cut smaller shapes in contrasting colors, and layer them on top of your original papercut, as shown in the multicolored example above.

8. When you are satisfied with your Wycinanki papercut, cut a piece of cover stock or poster board slightly larger than your papercut. Apply glue to the back side of the papercut and carefully glue it to the heavier paper to make a bookmark.

9. For better durability, laminate your bookmark or cover it with clear Contact paper.

Source: Wycinanki: The Art of Polish Papercutting by Magdalena Nowacka-Jannotta (2003: CRIZMAC Art and Cultural Education Materials, Inc.). This is just one of 11 fabulous designs that are explained and illustrated in this step-by-step guide.

We'd love to hear from you...

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    • profile image

      nonya222 3 years ago

      Growing up in Chicago I saw these beautiful designs and never knew they were a Polish craft. We are so blessed with the contributions from our Polish community I fear we take it for granted. Thank you for educating me on such a fabulous craft.

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      Colin323 3 years ago

      I spotted a piece of wycinanki art in a local museum (Keighley, West Yorkshire), made by David Stanislawa - very attractive, and highly skilled craftmanship. It inspired me to read your lens and find out more about this. Thank you.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thank you sooo much for this wonderful sight. I am a Girl Scout Troop Leader and every year we participate in an event called Thinking Day. This event showcases different countries that the girls can learn about. The girls will love learning and creating their own wycinankis.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have a collection of wycinanki from Lowicz 1960 - framed and displayed in my home. I have been researching, but don't find many people interested in collecting this folkart.

    • spartakct profile image

      spartakct 6 years ago

      Absolutely wonderful!!

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      julieannbrady 6 years ago

      OMG ... I love this ... especially because it is POLISH!

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      Beautiful art and a fascinating lens! :)

    • Kittywf profile image
      Author

      Kitty Williams Fisher 6 years ago from Suzhou, China

      @sukkran trichy: Thank you, thank you!!

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 6 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      interesting topic and well presented lens. ~blessed~

    • artbyrodriguez profile image

      Beverly Rodriguez 6 years ago from Albany New York

      Very nicely done, and interesting lens.

    • Kittywf profile image
      Author

      Kitty Williams Fisher 6 years ago from Suzhou, China

      @I-sparkle: Thanks! I appreciate it!

    • Kittywf profile image
      Author

      Kitty Williams Fisher 6 years ago from Suzhou, China

      @aerome: Thanks very much! I'll do the same for your Origami lens--since both are papercrafting arts, there's likely to be shared interest.

    • I-sparkle profile image

      I-sparkle 6 years ago

      I thought you did an excellent job with the lens! Unique subject matter and great pics.

    • aerome profile image

      aerome 6 years ago

      A very interesting topic! I lensrolled you to 'The Basics of Origami'