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Paper cutting creations

Explore the art of paper cutting from different cultures around the world, then design your own.

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You’ll need

  • Pens or pencils
  • Scissors
  • Cutting mats
  • Metal rulers
  • Craft knives
  • Coloured paper or card
  • Tissue paper
  • Black paper or card
Examples of different styles of paper cutting.

Before you begin 

  • Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Take a look at our guidance to help you carry out your risk assessment, including examples.  
  • Make sure all young people and adults involved in the activity know how to take part safely.
  • Make sure you’ll have enough adult helpers. You may need some parents and carers to help if you’re short on helpers. 
  • Chinese paper cutting is a treasured traditional Chinese art dating back to when paper was developed. Paper cutting became popular as a way of decorating doors and windows as paper became more accessible.
  • These elaborate cutting designs are created with scissors or artwork knives and can include a variety of shapes, such as symbols and animals.
  • As paper became more affordable, paper-cutting became one of the most important types of Chinese folk art.
  • Later, this art form spread to other parts of the world, with different regions adopting their own cultural styles.
  • The cut-outs are sometimes referred to as ‘window flowers’ (窗花; chuāng huā) or ‘window paper-cuts’ as they're often used to decorate doors and windows.
  • The finished paper decorations are often stuck to glass panels in doors and on windows, so light shines through them.
  • Usually, the artworks are made of red paper, as red is associated with festivities and luck in Chinese culture, but other colours are also used. Normally cut-paper artwork is used on festivals such as Chinese New Year, weddings and childbirth, as cut-paper artwork is considered to symbolise luck and happiness.
  • In Japan, Japanese paper cutting is called kirie or kirigami, meaning cut picture. It’s said to have developed after 610 AD when tesuki washi paper, invented in China, was brought to Japan by Doncho, a Buddhist monk from Korea. The Japanese commercialised paper making by hand, and by 800 AD their skills were renowned.
  • In Mexico, Papel Picado is a traditional Mexican decorative craft made by cutting elaborate designs into sheets of tissue paper. which is thought to have originated with the Aztecs. This technique is frequently used to produce decorative banners.
  • The Slavic version of the art form of paper cutting, popular in Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine. Paper cutting is called Wycinanki in Poland, Vytynanky in Ukraine, or Vycinanki in Belarus. Roosters, flowers, and holiday motifs are frequently the subject of these bright and multilayered artworks.
  • In Jewish culture, since the Middle Ages, paper cuts often decorated ketubot (marriage contracts), mizrahs, and for ornaments on festive occasions. Jewish paper-cuttings will often feature symbols, such as lions, which symbolise strength and bravery. They also feature fish, which symbolise fertility, and a snake eating its own tail, which symbolises infinity.


Planning and setting up this activity

  • Choose appropriate craft paper for the group to use. Remember, thinner paper will be easier to cut, but will be more delicate. Thicker paper or card will be harder to cut, but sturdier.
  • You may wish to gather some examples of paper cutting from around the world, different cultures, and different faiths and beliefs.

Running this activity

Learn about paper cuttings

  1. Gather everyone together and explain that you're going to be making some paper cutting art, which is done in different countries, cultures, beliefs and faiths to celebrate and mark occasions.
  2. Chinese Paper Cutting or Jianzhi (剪纸) is the first type of paper cutting design. Paper was invented by Cai Lun in the Eastern Han Dynasty in China around the 2nd century. The art form later spread to other parts of the world with different places or cultures adopting their own styles. 
  3. Ask if anyone knows what other cultures might use paper-cutting to celebrate or mark event or occasions. Some examples are included on this page under ‘Learn more about paper cutting in other countries, cultures, and faiths or beliefs’
  4. Ask if anyone can think of a modern style of paper cutting they or someone else may use. One example is over Christmas and over winter periods, people often use paper cutting to make snowflakes to decorate their homes. Paper snowflakes are said to have originated in the Victorian era when paper snowflakes were given as gifts.
  5. Tell everyone that more recent or modern-day paper cutters usually follow one or more of the ‘traditional’ styles, while others have begun to expand the art into new styles, motifs, and designs.
  6. Explain that another common modern paper cutting is silhouette. Silhouette can refer to the art of cutting outlines or portraits out of black paper. Cutting portraits, generally in profile, from black card became popular in the mid-18th century, though the term silhouette was seldom used until the early decades of the 19th century, and the tradition has continued under this name into the 21st century.
  7. Contemporary paper cutting is also sometimes associated with the art of stencilling, which is often used in graffiti art. The use of hand-cut stencils in graffiti art has received international attention in recent years due in part to the artist Banksy.

Make your own paper cuttings

  1. Give everyone some coloured craft paper, black paper tissue paper and pens or pencils to choose from.
  2. Everyone should fold their paper in half once or twice. For complex designs, you may wish to fold the paper three or four times. However, this’ll make the paper harder to cut.
  3. People should sketch out a design on the folded paper. You could find some examples for inspiration. Everyone should be creative and try to think of something they might display at a celebration or use something that means something to them.
  4. If anyone has any symbols that mean a lot to them, encourage them to include these.
  5. When people think they’ve finished sketching their design they should use a mirror to see what their design will look like when cut and unfolded. They should hold the mirror along the fold-line and look at the reflection.
  6. People who plan to cut out shapes could shade these areas in so that they know which bits to cut.
  7. Give out scissors, metal rulers, craft knives and cutting mats.
  8. Everyone should cut out their designs, using scissors or craft knives.
    • Scissors can be used to cut out the design or to make cuts around the edges. Make sure everyone takes their time and cuts with care.
    • Knives should be used with a cutting mat on a secure, flat surface and always using a metal ruler. They should make cuts slowly and carefully. Always have a cutting mat beneath the paper and keep their fingers away from the blade.
  9. When they’ve finished, everyone should unfold the paper. They should see that the design has been replicated on the side that was folded-over.
  10. Everyone should collect up all the scrap pieces of paper that were cut out. These can be recycled in other art projects.


Many different cultures from different corners of the world practice paper-cutting as an art form. What might have attracted people from all over the world to this activity? Why do you think it's used to celebrate events and occasions?

You had to be creative and make your own design. How did you create your design? What inspired you? Did you use one of the paper cutting techniques we discussed?

How did you find the paper cutting? This activity took time, determination and patience. Was it hard or easy? Was it fiddly or easy to cut out your design? Did you have to change your design at all as you went along? What equipment did you find easiest to use


All activities must be safely managed. You must complete a thorough risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Always get approval for the activity, and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.

Sharp objects

Teach young people how to use sharp objects safely. Supervise them appropriately throughout. Store all sharp objects securely, out of the reach of young people.


Supervise young people appropriately when they’re using scissors. Store all sharp objects securely, out of the reach of young people.

  • To make this activity easier, you could have templates for people to trace and cut out.
  • To make this activity harder, you could try designs that involve more complicated folds.
  • You could adapt the thickness of the paper or card to make it easier for people to hold and handle.
  • You could have examples available for people to copy or have templates that people can trace around.
  • Let people work in pairs to help each other, with adults and young leaders available to help.
  • Have left handed and accessible scissors, so that everyone can take part.

All Scout activities should be inclusive and accessible.

If you enjoyed this activity, you could come up with paper-cutting designs that have a function, such as artwork or storytelling, using our shadow puppets activity.

Young people can use their creativity and make something meaningful to them.