Papercrafting is a beloved creative art form in Japan, going back to ancient times. Most people are familiar with the term origami, but have you heard of its sister craft known as kirigami?

Origami is a Japanese paper craft that refers to the strategic folding of thin paper to create works of art.

However, kirigami introduces new paper-cutting methods into the art. This guide will show you the intricacies of kirigami and how we’ve come to know this ancient art form.

What is Kirigami?

Kirigami sculpture of two women riding a bicycle

The word kirigami comes from the Japanese words “Kiru,” which means to cut, and “Gami,” which represents paper. Thus, we take the traditional origami methods and use cutting tools to create these works of art.

The paper will begin making intricate designs through a series of folds and cuts along creases. These designs can reflect snowflakes, kirigami flowers, and even paper dolls. Kirigami focuses on the art of shaping and cutting these designs.

History of Kirigami

Similar to Origami, Kirigami has its roots steeped in Chinese culture. The origins of kirigami begin with the invention of paper in 105 CE in China.

Around the 6th century, Chinese communities began using different types of colored paper to construct different designs. This practice is known as jiǎnzhǐ.

Chinese kirigami called jiǎnzhǐ

Inspired by this practice, the Japanese began cutting paper into decorative art. They used paper made from mulberry plant fibers known as washi.

Kirigami was initially seen in Buddhist Temples. It was introduced as a way to create and shape offerings made to the Gods. These offerings represented wealth, elegance, and perfection.

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Although these inventions were originally made to please the gods, they began to take on other forms. For instance, by the 14th century, women and children would practice jiǎnzhǐ as a leisurely activity.

Kirigami in Modern Culture

Kirigami has evolved to make more complicated 3D patterns and shapes. You can find forms of kirigami everywhere. Some students may remember folding paper and cutting to create simple designs in school.

When shopping for greeting cards in stores, you may find some cards that reflect kirigami’s appearance. For example, pop-up greeting cards with paper cut into types of 3D architecture use Kirigami methods.

So, wherever you go, you may find some influences of Kirigami folding.

The Materials I Need to Begin Kirigami

scissors for kirigami

Kirigami only requires a few essential materials to get started. The effectiveness of this material will determine the quality of the end product.

For your Kirigami projects, you will only need:

  • Pair of Scissors. A sturdy pair of scissors can cut through a thicker piece of paper.
  • X-Acto Knife. This is an optional tool that, if used, can provide a cleaner cut. Make sure it’s nice and sharp before use.
  • Piece of Paper. A 160 gsm piece of paper will provide a more effective cut. The paper should not have too many visible fibers. In addition, it should not be so thick that its bulkiness ruins the fold. Homemade paper is not ideal as it is difficult to manipulate.
  • Cutting Mat. This is also optional. However, a cutting mat, like a cutting board, will protect your workspace, especially if you use a unique tool like an X-Acto Knife.
  • Steel Ruler. If you use an X-Acto knife, steel rulers can help you align your cuts. This can create a cleaner, more professional design.
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Origami figures usually use slightly smaller thicknesses of paper, but 160 gsm is ideal for beginners at kirigami. You can also step up and shoot for a 240 gsm piece of paper for a more durable fold.

You can find Kirigami instructions on a specialized site. Of course, it’s always better to start with a simple Kirigami template to practice folding and cutting, and then when you’re more confident, go for more ambitious and beautiful designs.

Kirigami Tips For Success

When creating figures, you’ll want to follow a few tips to help ease the process.

You can create effective builds by following a few simple guidelines:

  1. Experimentation with new designs. You need to practice different shaping designs to become more comfortable with the process. Think of these as rough drafts that will guide you toward your final idea.
  2. Consolidating Cuts. Instead of a few more significant cuts, make multiple more minor cuts.
  3. Creating a Clean Look. Shoddy cuts will create a chunky amateur look. Longer cuts going deeper along the other side of the paper will produce more elegant designs.
  4. Plot Out Your Design. The principal fold determines the rest of your layout. This creates tension, allowing the creator to build upon the foundation.
  5. Change The Symmetry. Find different ways to fold paper to aid in changing the symmetry.
  6. Thinner Paper for Deeper Folds. If you begin to experiment with 12-fold-plus figures, such as a snowflake, use thinner paper. These figures requiring multiple folds can become bulkier as you progress.
  • 4-fold symmetry – folding in half and then folding the paper in half once again
  • 6-fold symmetry – begin folding in half, then continue folding into thirds
  • 8-fold symmetry – begin folding in half, then fold the remainder into quarters
  • 12-fold symmetry – fold in half, then start folding into thirds, then revert to folding in halves
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Advanced Kirigami Folding Methods

Once you understand the fold symmetry, you can begin creating designs. Perhaps, the most popular Kirigami figure is the paper snowflake.

Paper snowflakes follow a 6-fold symmetry method. Paper snowflakes reflect the hexagonal lattice shape apparent in real snowflakes.

An insect made in kirigami

Once you graduate from Snowflakes and Stars, you can begin to shape more complicated designs. You can lay out fractal designs with multiple symmetry points, creating intricate shapes.

AI technology can help develop a near-perfect design. A wide variety of software is also available to help ease the process. These applications can help generate a perfectly accurate design that may be difficult to mark by hand.

Then, you can simply follow the marked-out patterns.

Kirigami: Final Thoughts on Kirigami Art

Kirigami is an ageless craft. You’ll surprise yourself as you create these shapes, as no two figures are identical. Each cut and fold provides an entirely new structure every time.

You can choose to use machinery to create the cuts, but it’s always more enjoyable to attempt the cuts by hand. The traditional Kirigami process and the results are far more rewarding.