Read an Excerpt
Artistry with PAPER
No matter how advanced, how computerized our society becomes, there will always be paper. Love letters, old photographs, theater tickets, drawings, postcards, newspaper articles, recipe cards, poetry-nothing holds a memory like these paper tokens, each one a piece of the past.
Many paper crafts from days gone by are still enjoyed today because of the enduring pleasures they bring, not only to those who make the items, but to those who admire the finished results. Colorful postage stamps, shiny catalogue pages, wrapping papers, food boxes, paper bags, and the print linings of envelopes are all wonderful fodder for a host of paper crafts, many of them modern-day interpretations of techniques that are centuries old. Paper has always inspired the senses. It is beautiful to look at, feel, and smell. It can be folded, framed, cut, or arranged in a collage to best enjoy its beauty. As with any artistic endeavor, the enjoyment is in the process, not just the result.
Paper was made by the early Egyptians from slices of papyrus reeds crisscrossed in layers and smoothed with stone. The Chinese used paper for clothing and wrapping, but their early efforts weren't smooth enough to write on. They also mixed paper scraps with glue to make an early form of papier-mbchi (which means "chewed paper" in French), arid crafted it into boxes and trays. Vellum, made of calf or lamb gut, and parchment, made from sheep and goat skin, were the forerunners of today's wood-pulp paper. The first paper mill in America began operating near Philadelphia in 1690, arid though paper was scarce Colonial times, there was always enough pretty paper to cut aborder for a shelf, or newspaper with which to line a hatbox.
Paper-covered hatboxes and the decorative bandboxes that stored fresh shirt collars are no longer daily necessities, yet their charm persists. Antique boxes are sought after by collectors, and many contemporary versions are mass-produced to imitate their wallpaper-covered cousins of the last. In the early I 800s, wallpaper manufacturers advertised their wares by imprinting wall papercovered boxes with the company name and selling them for a few cents each as handy storage containers. They also printed wallpaper in the shape of oval or round storage boxes, and sold it to the creative do-it-yourselfers of those days. These antique boxes covered in pretty wrapping paper, marbleized paper, patterned endpapers, or dainty wallpaper evoke the aura of yesteryear.
Quillwork is a whimsical paper craft that was a fad with Colonial schoolgirls in eighteenth-century America. Wrapping thin strips of paper around a toothpick or thin stick (or a bird feather, hence the name) created coils, spirals, and rolls. The paper coils were then glued down to form intricate designs. In thirteenth-century Europe, rolled coils of paper with gilded edges cut from Bibles imitated jewelry filigreed with lacelike ornamental silver wire or fine gold. By the seventeenth century, nuns were using quillwork to embellish medallions, crosses, and other religious articles. Quillwork was sometimes combined with beads, shells, and metallic threads to decorate the back plates of Victorian sconces and to make intricate floral pictures. It is still a creative pastime for both children and adults, and precut paper ready to roll is available at craft stores.
Scrapbooks are a lovely way to lasso treasured bits of paper. Years ago, young ladies would spend leisurely hours with a glue pot and scissors arranging memories in personal albums, created as pictorial diaries and fondly consulted in later years as a record of the past. Making a scrapbook remains an enjoyable pastime for anyone with a desire to collect and preserve the past.
Decoupage, from the French word dicouper (to cut out) isthe art of covering a surface with glued paper cutouts. Eighteenth-century French and Italians first took to decoupage in an attempt to imitate Japanese lacquered furniture. Decoupage has a childlike essence: cutting out pretty pictures with scissors and gluing them to something else. The freedom and creativity of decoupage makes it one of the most accessible paper crafts, drawing many to the art.
Valentines, snowflakes, and paper-lace shelf trim are just some of the items you can make with cut paper. This rich folk tradition hails from many countries, especially those in Asia, where working with paper is a fine art. Sentimental paper-cuts were all the rage during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As a parlor pastime, Victorian ladies transferred lacy designs to paper. The same effect is imitated by today's creative shelf trims made from kraft paper, newspaper, or shiny white paper cut with graphic designs such as schoolhouses, pine trees, hearts, and diamonds. These cut papers often look like quilt patterns or have the simplicity of Pennsylvania Dutch designs.
Silhouettes, or shadow portraits, are among the most charming paper crafts, evoking instant nostalgia. Silhouettes are usually cut by hand, sometimes by machine, with the cutout mounted on contrasting paper for best effect.
At one time these paper outlines of people's heads were regarded with derision. Some people considered the silhouette a meager substitute for expensive oil portraits or miniatures. The name of Etienne de Silhouette, Louis XV's minister of finance, is immortalized by the craft. It is unclear whether this was because he was an avid silhouette cutter, as some claim, or whether he was simply being mocked when his name became associated with the craft of "empty" drawings after he attempted to reduce the pensions of the French nobility.
Silhouettes had a century-long heyday beginning in middle of the eighteenth century in Europe, England, and America. At the end of the 1800s, a scientific movement led by Charles Darwin's stepcousin claimed a person's character was revealed by the outlines of his or her face, and silhouettes were sometimes used to holster the theory. They fell from favor as photography progressed. Today, silhouettes can be an interesting alternative to a photographic portrait.
Collage is a serendipitous craft. The heart of this art form is spontaneous playfulness. Scraps of paper, taken out of context, are rearranged to form scenes of excitement and surprise. With collage, improvisation reigns.
Copyright © 1997 by The Hearst Corporation