The Art of Wycinanki (Polish Papercutting)—Information and Inspiration
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.
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.
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 designClick thumbnail to view full-size
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 Â½" 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.
Wycinanki: The Art of Polish Papercutting by Magdalena Nowacka-Jannotta (2003: CRIZMAC Art and Cultural Education Materials, Inc.).
© 2011 Kitty Williams Fisher