The Lister List

Craft Definitions

I make the following distinctions:

CHINESE PAPERCUTS. These use a single sheet of paper. There is no folding. They are cut "freehand" using a very sharp knife and sometimes a series of punches. Several sheets of paper piled together are cut simultaneously and then separated into individual papercuts. In some Chinese traditions, the paper has colours added.

The Japanese also have a style of pictorial papercutting or silhouettes, which is pictorial and does not involve folding.

JAPANESE KIRIGAMI. Kirigami is a fold-and-cut technique. It appears to have been used originally for the cutting of some kind of "Mon" or Japanese coats of arms. Mon usually have a circular shape. The art of cutting Mon of this kind is called "Monkiri". A Kirigami figure unfolds flat and is not three-dimensional.

In kirigami, the paper is first folded. It is usually circular and is folded radially, dividing the original circle into superimposed segments. There must always be an even number of segments, but four six, eight or ten or more segments may be used. The folded wad of paper is then cut into from the sides and the wad is unfolded to reveal a kind of kaleidoscopic pattern. Children are familiar with using this technique to cut "doilies". However patterns of considerable subtlety are possible, in which a unified pattern is interlaced over the whole unfolded circle.

Laterally folded strips of paper may also be used. The traditional strip of paper dolls linked by their hands and sometimes their feet are the commonest example of this kind.


Put shortly, Origamic Architecture is a sophisticated development of what have long been known as POP-UPS. Pop-ups have for long been known in the West and have been used to create three-dimensional pictures or for greetings cards or to illustrate books, especially those for children. Some pop-ups are created by cutting and folding alone, whereas others are more complicated and use multiple pieces of paper stuck together by glue or fasteners. Pop-ups merge into what is now known as "Paper Engineering" in some examples of which moveable pop-ups are created, often to illustrate children's books. There was a vogue for them ten or twenty years ago, when it was realised that although labour costs would prohibit their production in Europe or Northern America, such books could be farmed out for production in third-world countries where labour was cheap.

In Origami Architecture, thinnish card is first cut to a predetermined pattern. This separates the card into various sections and strips. These are then folded and the whole card is folded to raise up the pop-ups and make the creation three-dimensional. This is the essence of the work of such "paper architects" as Chatani. In Kirigami, the folding comes before the cutting. In Paper Architecture folding comes after the cutting, but there are really no similarities at all between Kirigami and Paper Architecture. They both use folding and cutting in very different ways and, of course, Paper Architecture is three dimensional, which Kirigami is not. (I'm not saying that three-dimensional kirigami would not be possible, but I have never seen an example. perhaps someone would like to experiment.)

Not all pop-ups are of buildings. Ramin Razani folds many fascinating abstract structures.

David Lister.

Grimsby, England.

Mon 12 May 2003

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