My Material Life

How To Cut Asymmetrical Paper Chains

You may be wondering just what an asymmetrical paper chain is.  Well, have you ever made a paper doll chain?  The kind where you cut half of the doll from a center vertical fold, meaning that whatever shapes you cut will appear on both sides of the dolls?  (If you haven’t done this, you should; it’s really something every one should attempt at least once.)

But what if you want your dolls to be dancing?  An asymmetrical paper chain (really an asymmetrical figure chain) is one you cut with figures that have different things happening on each side – one arm up, one arm down for instance.

Su Blackwell’s book, The Fairy-Tale Princess, is what got me thinking about asymmetrical paper chains.  I learned about Su Blackwell last year on Euromaxx (see video clip here) and not long after that I found her beautiful book at The Book Loft in Solvang (a wonderful place with a small Hans Christian Andersen museum upstairs).  The book is extraordinary (feast on images here) with lots of dancing princesses that I could see as a paper chain.  The only problem was I couldn’t figure out how to cut a dancing princess chain.  My brain was too stuck on the only version I had made before, the symmetrical kind.


But the flower book I mentioned in my last post had a technique for cutting chains of flower petals that made me realize just how very easy it is to cut asymmetrical figure chains – you cut the whole figure on your accordion-folded paper, not just half.  So simple.  And I was finally able to make my homage to Su Blackwell’s dancing princesses complete with origami paper dresses shown next to the image of the book above.  Would you like to give this kind of chain a try?

You have several options for getting your shape onto your accordion-folded paper (we’ll talk about the paper in a minute).  If you’re really handy with your scissors, you can simply cut your shape.  If you’re not up for that, and I certainly wasn’t, you can draw your shape freehand or do what I did for all these examples I’m showing you in this post – trace an image and create a template to guide your pencil onto the paper you will be cutting.  Photos, illustrations, etc. are all fair game.  My first dancer came from a photo I found online after I searched up the ballet term, passe (or is this retiré?).  My brisé dancer came from an illustration I found from a book I didn’t even remember I had.  The swans came from illustrations I found online that I combined into a shape I liked.  So many possibilities.

Once you’ve got an image you’d like to try, use some transparent paper to trace it.  Then cut that figure out to use it as your template.  The image I’m using for this example comes from a little book of Andy Warhol illustrations I just bought for a penny; I’ll tell you more about it in my next post.  You may notice that I did not cut out the small areas around the neck of my little cherub.  Initially, I thought I might get away with that, but I later determined to cut them away because my cherub needed that extra bit of definition.

If you’re going to cut your chain with scissors (I’m not even sure what other options there are really … laser?), you’ll need to use thin papers.  I used copy paper and magazine paper for my examples at the top of this post, but for this demonstration I decided to use tissue paper.  Tissue paper has a couple of advantages:  it’s very thin and therefore easy to cut and it comes in long pieces, so you won’t need to join your paper in a center seam.  But it’s delicate too, so it depends on what you want to do with your chain.  If you are using regular copy paper, you can lengthen it for a chain by joining two pieces at the their short ends with a piece of tape.  You would then use this seam as your center fold for your accordion.

Whatever type of paper you use, you’ll need to measure the width of your template and then mark vertical lines where you’ll want to make your folds, as you want your accordion panels to be fairly equal in size.  My cherub measures 2-3/8″ across, so I used a pencil to make small marks towards the top and bottom of my paper from the center fold that was already in place on my paper.  I marked off six vertical columns this way.  I’m showing a bone folder in the photo above because this is what I like to use to mark my columns with a heavier paper than tissue paper.  It helps with the folds too.  But a bone folder is too much for tissue paper; pencil marks are all you need for tissue paper.

Begin folding your paper in an accordion style as shown above.  I like to start from my center fold or seam.  Each folded segment or panel will contain one of your figures, so trim any excess panels on your accordion.  I cut all of my figures in chains of six (so six panels in my accordions).

Now you’re ready to place your template on your folded paper and use a pencil to draw around it.  Be sure you extend your figure off the edges of your paper to create an actual chain – you know, one that is joined at one or more points on each side of your figure.  Then remove your template and carefully cut out your figure.

Then unfold and voila!


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