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

A big believer in "Livin' Large," Kitty has a passion for seeking out ways to make our lives more beautiful, artful, and joyous.

wycinanki-polish-paper-cutting

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-polish-paper-cutting

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

wycinanki-polish-paper-cutting

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.

Symbolism in Wycinanki - Significance of Colors

wycinanki-polish-paper-cutting

Significance of Shapes

wycinanki-polish-paper-cutting
wycinanki-polish-paper-cutting

How to Make a Wycinanki Bookmark

 

Folding and Cutting Instructions:

wycinanki-polish-paper-cutting

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.).

© 2011 Kitty Williams Fisher

We'd love to hear from you...

nonya222 on January 07, 2014:

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.

Colin323 on January 01, 2014:

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.

anonymous on January 31, 2013:

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.

anonymous on July 29, 2012:

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 on November 03, 2011:

Absolutely wonderful!!

julieannbrady on October 17, 2011:

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

anonymous on October 07, 2011:

Beautiful art and a fascinating lens! :)

Kitty Williams Fisher (author) from Bangalore, India on October 06, 2011:

@sukkran trichy: Thank you, thank you!!

sukkran trichy from Trichy/Tamil Nadu on October 06, 2011:

interesting topic and well presented lens. ~blessed~

Beverly Rodriguez from Albany New York on October 03, 2011:

Very nicely done, and interesting lens.

Kitty Williams Fisher (author) from Bangalore, India on February 18, 2011:

@I-sparkle: Thanks! I appreciate it!

Kitty Williams Fisher (author) from Bangalore, India on February 18, 2011:

@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 on February 16, 2011:

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

aerome on February 16, 2011:

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

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