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Paper Cutout How-To

Photography: Luis Bruno

Source: Martha Stewart Living, May 2001


This country cottage and garden were inspired by the scherenschnitte wall decorations popularized in Holland and Germany. The house is a symmetrical image cut from a single folded sheet with a utility knife; the fence, trees, and flowers are single images cut along one continuous line (flower centers were made with a tiny hole punch). White cut work mounted on black paper like this was the first preferred style in cutout-crazed seventeenth- century Europe. (Black-on-white silhouettes came later.) Here, heavy paper backing was added between some of the layers before mounting to add depth to the completed piece. If you intend to frame your cutouts, be sure to make them out of nonyellowing, acid-free white and nonfading color papers. You can use our design as a template.


  • Sharp embroidery or cuticle scissors¬†

  • Utility knife (with replacement blades)

  • Transfer paper

  • Bone folder

  • Paper

  • Cutting mat

  • Craft glue or spray adhesive

  • Sealer


  1. To start, use transfer paper to trace the templates, which will keep the design right-facing. For cutting designs from folding paper, do not fold the paper more than two or three times. Score creases with a bone folder for precision. Before you begin to cut, secure the edges of the folds with paper clips, or staple the folds together outside the borders of the design.

  2. Paper is easiest to handle if you begin cutting from the center and work your way out to the edges (below right). Pierce the paper with scissor tips or a pin to gain entry into small spaces. A utility knife is ideal for cutting curved shapes, and central and small areas. Rest paper on a self-healing cutting mat, and apply steady downward pressure on the blade. Guide the knife toward you, holding the paper taut with your free hand. Scissors are best for large shapes and outer edges.

  3. Once you have begun to cut on a fold, never open the paper to check your progress; it is nearly impossible to realign it, and the symmetry of your design will be spoiled. To eliminate the chance of a tear, you'll need to change knife blades whenever the paper starts to pull as you try to cut.

  4. Before pasting a cutout onto paper or another surface, you may flatten it in a heavy book for a couple of days or press it with a cool, dry iron. Mark and measure carefully for placement; even freshly glued cut work cannot be moved without risk of tearing and distortion. Use white craft glue and a fine-tipped brush, or spray adhesive with good ventilation. A glue stick can work for pieces cut from heavier papers. When applying cutouts to furniture, you should use several coats of a water-based sealer to protect the cutouts from regular handling.

  5. For another version of this project, try adhering cutouts to furniture like this desk chair. A white-painted chair was decorated with bright-red cutouts of daisies and lilies of the valley, the birth flowers of the two girls who share the desk.

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