Wycinanki – intricate paper cut-outs – have been a popular folk craft in Poland since the 1900s. In Poland, the decorative cut-outs are mainly associated with two regions – Łowicz and Kurpie. The Kurpie cut-outs are made with a single sheet of paper and are thus totally symmetrical and only one colour. Those from the Łowicz area feature colourful designs built from layering the intricate cut-outs. Though traditionally hung as decorations in windows, on walls, and from ceiling joints, today the classic designs are found everywhere. They hang in museums, are printed on all manner of souvenirs, they adorn airplanes (British Airways decorated the tails of some of their jets with the folk design in the 1990s), and they served as inspiration for the architects of the Polish Pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.
Though you can buy the classic cut-outs from a number of sources, we suggest you try your hand at making them yourself. Think of them as an elevated form of the paper snowflakes you made as a child. The process might seem intimidating at first, but once you’ve mastered the basics, your creative side can take over. All the cutting and gluing might even prove relaxing – the craft was, after all, said to have originated among shepherds who passed time in the fields by using their shears to snip away at bark and scraps of leather.
What you’ll need
Coloured paper – unlike their counterparts from Kurpie, the intricate designs in Łowicz cut-outs are built from layers of brightly coloured paper. To get started, collect a variety of coloured paper that you will use together to build your design. Origami paper and wrapping paper offer fun colour options and are a good texture for cutting fine details. Red, green, yellow, blue, and gold are often found in traditional Łowicz cut-outs, but any combination will work.
Cardstock – since the cut-outs are made from a number of individually constructed elements, you’ll need a base on which to assemble them. This doesn’t have to be cardstock, though the thicker paper will serve as a nice sturdy base. Plain white paper, a bookmark, or a blank card would also work.
Something to cut your paper – Łowicz cut-outs were traditionally done with sheep shears. In the occasion that your shears aren’t handy, scissors work just as well. Look for a pair with a fine point that will allow you to cut out the more intricate details of your design.
Glue – because these are layered designs, you’ll need something to keep the keep the layers together. Any kind of glue should work.
A plan – you don’t technically need to plan out your design ahead of time, but having some idea of what you want your finished product to look like is helpful. It is fine to play around with arrangements and colour combinations as you go, but you also don’t want to end up with a pile of carefully cut pieces that don’t correspond to one another.
A pattern – Shhhhh….don’t tell Babcia. Traditional Łowicz cut-outs were all done freehand and if you want to go that route, good for you. But for those of us that aren’t quite ready for that (yet…), think about working with a pattern. This can be as simple as drawing an outline on the backside of your paper to guide you. Or if you want even more direction, an internet search will turn up a number of patterns (of roosters, flowers, etc.) that can be printed and traced on your paper.
Patience – lots and lots of patience. Just because the process of making these cut-outs is simple, doesn’t mean it is particularly easy. It takes practice; but thankfully the finished products are so lovely that it’s worth the effort.
Fold, snip, paste: a step-by-step guide
If you’re at all familiar with Łowicz cut-outs, you know that possibilities – and level of detail – are unlimited. We’ll walk you through the steps of a simple ribbon [tasiemki] design here, and once you’ve mastered that, the sky is the limit.
The design of this rectangular cut out is based around a central axis with symmetrical ornamentation on both sides.
So let’s start with the central axis – it will be the stem of the flowers you’ll create later. Start by folding a piece of paper (likely a green or black piece) in half along its vertical axis – this way, after making your cuts, you’ll unfold the paper and have a stem and leaves that are the same on both sides. Before you start cutting, you’ll want to think about how the design will look unfolded and where you might want to include leaves and little flourishes. While there are no real rules here, just make sure that in your cutting you don’t cut through the folded edge (this would sever your ‘stem’). After making your cuts, unfold the paper and admire your handiwork. You’ve made a stem!
Now that you have a stem, time for the fun part – the flowers. Again, start by folding the coloured paper you want to use as your base colour (the largest part of the flower). This time, however, fold along the vertical and horizontal axes – this will allow you to create not one, but TWO, symmetrical buds. Now, working along the (vertical) folded edge, either trace or start cutting your design. Remember, like the ‘stem’ from the first step, the final shape will emerge when the paper is unfolded, so cut a design that will be one half of your flower. Once you’ve made your cuts, unfold the paper – you should have two identical shapes that will be the base of your flowers.
The next step is to create the layers of colour that will be pasted on top of this base to create the colourful layers of the flower. Using the same technique described above (fold, fold, snip), create two or three more ‘buds’ of decreasing size (because each will have to fit inside the one below it) in a variety of colours. Whether you’re working from a pattern or free-handing your work based on an inspiration photo, think about incorporating a variety of fine and bold details around the edges of your ‘bud’. It’s these intricate feathery cuts mixed with bold colours and contours that give the cut-outs their distinctive look.
Once you have three or four layers cut, it’s time to start assembling. Working from the base, glue on each piece – of descending size – to create the multi-coloured flower. It should be easy to line up the layers, because they will still have a bit of a crease through the centre – just line up these centre folds and you’ll ensure that the flower remains symmetrical. After you have glued together all the layers, take a second to marvel at your accomplishment – then put the papers under something heavy while the glue dries to ensure that the finished product will lie flat.
You can repeat this flower-making process as many times as you want, depending on how ornamented you want your design to be. At the very least, make one more (fairly large) flower to be placed at the top of your stem (with the earlier two buds decorating the sides).
After you’ve made (at least) three flowers and the central stem, it’s time to start assembling your final design. Paste the stem in the centre of your large sheet of paper and build from there – the larger flower atop the stem with the smaller two (or four, or six) flanking it on the sides. Once you’ve gotten your flowers arranged, you might find that you want to add another side stem or a leaf or two – if so, follow the basic pattern of creating symmetrical cut-outs with folded paper and work from there. Continue to glue on elements until you’re happy with your design.
And…that’s it! Simple, right? Well, maybe not so much. But practice makes perfect. Once you’ve mastered the basic flower, you can start experimenting with different shaped buds and feathers. Or maybe throw in a rooster or two? Before you know it, you’ll be snipping up a storm and impressing your friends and family with your Łowicz wycinanki (maybe work on the pronunciation of that while you’re at it…).
Sources: culture.pl, archdaily.com, polartcenter.com