Mexican folk art is filled with vibrant colors, and one of the best examples is papel picado (cut paper). The idea is to hung papel picado banners to wave in the breeze and you can use this handmade art form to celebrate important personal events such as weddings, quinceañeras, baptisms, as well as holidays such as Easter and Christmas.
Outside of Mexico, it is perhaps most associated with the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) where it plays a prominent role in decorations.
History of the Papel Picado Banner
The papel picado history goes back to both the Aztecs and ancient China. Before the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico, the Aztecs traditionally created a paper called amatl, which they then cut with stone knives. These images were generally religious, featuring Aztec deities.
With the arrival of the Spanish came the inclusion of Mexico in international trade routes. One good which arrived was tissue paper, called papel china (Chinese paper) due to its origins. This new, fine paper was soon incorporated into the Mexican folk art tradition as papel picado.
Papel Picado Technique
Creating traditional papel picado is a technical, time-consuming process that requires special tools, lots of experience, and a steady hand, not to mention a great deal of patience. The entire process can take 30 or more hours for one set of 40 pieces of papel picado.
The first step is to draw a pattern, focusing not only on design but also on physics: it has to be able to support itself once the paper has been cut away. Next, the pattern is placed on a stack of tissue paper, which sits on top of a thick lead platform.
The next step is to cut away the pattern using a series of specially made, sharpened chisels, each of a different size and shape. Once the negative space has been removed completely, the papel picado is complete.
Make Your Own Papel Picado Banner
Papel picado is a great addition to any Day of the Dead party, and it’s also a lot of fun for kids to try as a craft.
Since most of us don’t have specialized chisels at home, scissors will have to do. There are a number of different ways to create a home version of papel picado, but this is my favorite because it creates a series of squares, much like papel picado artisans create. Thanks to HappyThought.co.uk for the video and instructions.
Printed pattern templates
Colored tissue or crepe paper in several colors, cut to letter size
1. Fold template in half, with drawing on the outside.
2. Take 4-5 pieces of paper and fold them in half.
3. Assemble them like a book, with template on the outside. Tape the top so it won’t move.
4. Cut through the outside of the template.
5. Cut out the rest of the template. Continue to fold the “book” to access the inside shapes.
6. Unfold, remove tape, and flatten out the sheets.
7. Make your banner: Lay tape sticky-side up. Place sheets on half of the tape. Fold over to seal.
And lastly: Hang your papel picado banner over your Day of the Dead altar!