Paper cutting has been around for a very long time. The oldest surviving piece is from the 6th century from China. It spread to Turkey and then moved on to Europe. Paper cutting is the art of cutting paper into patterns and designs and was developed shortly after the invention of paper.
There is a tradition of paper cutting in many countries but specific ones include China, Japan, India, Europe (German, Danish, Swiss, Polish), Turkey, Isreal, and Mexico.
Chinese paper cutting is called Jianzhi. Paper developed here during the Han dynasty. Paper was used as a form of entertainment among the royals. The style here includes extensive use of red paper, use of Chinese characters, symbols and zodiac. Some of the cuts also form a 3D element.
Japanese paper cutting is called Kirigami and combines elements of origami with paper cutting. A perfect example of kirigami would be the paper snowflakes where a folded sheet of paper is cut into a design of a snowflake. But anything symmetric can be created in this way. The trick is in the thinness of the paper and the number of folds you utilize.
In India, paper cutting is called Sanjhi which technically is really the start of another craft, Rangoli, or sand painting. Sanjhi is the stencil part, where the paper cut is placed on the floor and then sand used to fill in the cutwork. Most of Sanjhi depicts a theme with a border and has a maximum size of about 10 feet in length.
In Europe, the most famous type of paper cutting originates from Germany, called Scherenschnitte. It was founded in the 1500ís and the styles involves symmetric designs and silhouettes. Switzerland also has this tradition as well as Denmark. Wycinanki is the Polish version of paper cutting and originated with the sheepherders who used tree bark or leather.
The first reference in Jewish paper cutting is in 1345, when Rabbi Shem-Tov ben Yitzhak ben Ardutielís ink froze and he continued with his writing by cutting his letters out of the paper. In todayís era, Jewish paper cutting is central in creating marriage contracts (ketubot) and a Mizrach, a plaque placed in the home or synagogue specific towards prayers facing Jerusalem.
Finally, Papel Picado is the Mexican form of paper cutting. Designs are cut into tissue paper in banner style and displayed during holiday periods. The tissue paper is typically in bright colors.
No article on paper cutting can be complete without reference to silhouettes. This craft originated in the 18th century with the use of black paper cut in a form similar to a portrait. Prior to photography, this was the cheapest way to obtain a likeness of a person. Since then, silhouettes have encompassed scenery and other elements.