The Bird and Flower Medallion, Lowicz Style
The Lowicz Flowers, Birds, and Ribands (Klapoki)


Madalyn Joyce

The Bird and Flower Medallion, Lowicz Style

The decorative impact of the elegant bird and flower medallion makes this form well worth attempting. If this design is attractive in single color form, it will be electrifying in the Lowicz multicolor format (see fig.**** ). The following are some suggestions on how this can be done. Materials needed Scissors, paper in several colors, suitable backing (cardboard, construction paper, Oak Tag file folder-type paper), a frame the size of your backing and paper, colored labels or peel-off dots. It is helpful to have access to a photocopy machine to try out the multi-layered designs in silhouette form. Tracing paper, a marking pen, and glue are also needed.


Start with a circle of paper (any shade) the size of your frame, and cut away a "paring" at least one-half or three fourths of an inch wide all around the outside of the paper. Before cutting the design, you may want to make a general sketch on scrap paper to remind you where you will need to keep intact the bridges necessary to hold the design together. Try to use your favorite bird form in a variety of ways, beak to beak, tail to tail, head turned, head with comb, tail furled and unfurled (fig.**** ). Garnish this with your favorite flowers and leaves, using a variety of sizes. I start with the center areas on each side of the fold "hinge", using an ice pick to start many of the inside cuts. The strongest flowers in size and color are then on the center dominant fold at the base and at the top of the design. The decorative leaves `,lick" the outside edge, like tongues of flame around the papercut (fig.**** ).

I cut two designs at once using the largest shears I can handle, then refine the design with the minute blades of the smallest scissors on hand. Turning the paper as you cut is the key to articulation of this Wycinanki. I test the folded papercut periodically against a contrasting background until I am satisfied. I make several Xeroxes of the folded papercut, then mount both papercuts on Oak Tag (the material of which file folders are made).

Next, I design slightly smaller oval shapes on tracing paper with a felt pen or a fine magic marker. These are for the overlays of color, to be contained within the design. I cut three or four colors at once and try these in various combinations. They will be used in progressively reduced form. Some accents are scallops, some saw teeth, and some with fringe like feathering.

When you start out I suggest that you try only three overlays and experiment with great restraint, using colored labels, peel-off dots, and colored notebook reinforcements (as in fig.**** ). Be sure to include in your palette of colored overlays, sharp yellow, magenta, turquoise, emerald, and chartreuse. Violet, red, and orange will give an extra sparkle. The colored overlays not only give richness to the Lowicz style medallions but also an extended sense of dimension and luminosity.

It is a great temptation to use origami paper because it is so colorful and easy to cut. Unfortunately, the colors fade when exposed to light over a long period. However, the hard finish origami paper is safe to use, and gummed paper kits (Dennison) are excellent. The colored envelopes sometimes used for greeting cards or stationary are a real bonus. Mailouts from banks and other promotional materials can also be put to use.


The Lowicz Flowers, Birds, and Ribands (Klapoki)

The appeal of Lowicz style flowers is far reaching. Many are circular balanced compositions called Gwiazdy (fig.**** ). Beams in cottage homes used these between long horizontal papercuts telling stories, and between those featuring the imaginative birds of Polish Wycinanki.

Flowers are conventionalized, and blossoms frequently have a minimum of four pieces cut of different hues, for overlays. The dominant center flower is larger than the secondary pair of blossoms. In the case of a five flower design, three different sizes are used (fig.****). Most floral compositions have bases of elaborate leaves of green paper folded in half and embellished with curves and scrolls. These may have serrated edges and notched leaves for those close to the flowers, as illustrated. Occasionally smaller foliage is used, with a squat vase as a base. Materials needed Scissors, paper or peel-off labels and dots in many colors, contrasting material for backing, frame, glue. Instructions

For the overlays, beautiful colored scraps come from greeting card envelopes that arrive daily around Christmas time. A medium to large envelope will yield two 4x6 one-color Kurpie Wycinanki, and the remaining scraps help form a palette hard to duplicate.

I stockpile scraps of colored items for future use. Various reds, yellows, blues, magentas, and greens go in separate cartons with just a patch glued on top to indicate the color. This saves many hours of sorting later. To ease the cleanup chore, I cut most of my Wycinanki over empty man-size Kleenex boxes or over an unfolded tabloid size newspaper.

The technique of cutting this floral assemblage is not difficult. All flowers in this style are cut and folded in half. Begin with the dominant flower. Place four layers of light weight colored paper in a variety of colors on top of each other. Fold in half and cut (always turning the paper, not the scissors, pivot style as you cut). Try a fat, inverted, basically egg shape. The bottom color should next be separated from the others and its contour refined. Its upper edge can be notched, scalloped, or "feathered." "Feathering" is done by pleating the paper minutely, fan style, and cutting sparingly short lengths of the pleated crease of the fan as it flares from the center fold (see fig.****). Feathering takes a good deal of practice, so spend some time trying this out.

Now, take the remaining three colors. Fold each in half vertically varying the edge of each successive one with your scissors, making sure that each color cutout is slightly smaller than the previous one. I use at least two overlays with feathered edges in my compositions, but you may want to use more or none. The final overlay should be cut with great refinement (see fig.**** ).

A traditional composition should have one large center flower about two and one-half to three inches in diameter, a pair of secondary blooms two to two and one-fourth inches in size, and a pair of minor flowers about one and one-half inches across. There should be at least two repeats in the colors used.

When you have completed all the flowers, indicate a center line lightly on the oak tag or other backing you intend to use, and mount your largest flower, adding the others as illustrated near the base of the dominant flower.

My own method may be different from those you may want to use, so remember, you are in charge, and there is no such thing as a mistake in the designs you will eventually give your special touch. Try cutting four or five different types of foliage of vivid green and yellow green, two at a time. Some forms will be squat and elongated horizontally. Other leaves will be curved and coiled, jelly-roll fashion. Cut four to six simple green leaves, adding a variety of slender curved and straight stems in pairs.

Use the same four colors for the secondary and minor pairs of blossoms. This means eight pieces for each pair of flowers. Try all possible combinations in stems, foliage, and blossoms in your search for a design that pleases.

Another type of colorful Lowicz composition is made incorporating handsome birds flanked by minor flowers on the extreme right and left, while the dominant Lowicz flowers are centered (fig.**** ). This is another form of the Kodry beam decoration. These birds are fantasy in full play and proudly glance sideways at the viewer. In the European Wycinanki made today, both of the bird's legs are often shown in a way I find grotesque. I avoid this by showing my birds with both legs in a single profile, unless the bird can be perched on a branch or tree limb.

The same bird may be used in many combinations, with head in either direction, tail furled or unfurled, and with or without a comb. Most are black with brilliant colors added. Red and green are the next in popularity for birds, and an elegant rooster is often a focal point.

In addition to the birds illustrated you may like the peacock or the various birds shown in the chapter on bird and flower medallions, as these need not be used exclusively in that special form of the dual bird in a circle. These are easily adaptable to the Lowicz style.

When using the bird and flower Lowicz Kodry form, the bottom of the design may use a border in a horizontal band of color (red, green, or purple) cut in festoons of rosettes, meshes, fringes, and sunbursts of hollow cutting. The most frequently used motif you will recognize as our old friend the arrowhead. Many times the edges will be very fine sawtooth cuts or graded scallops. All these touches give finish to your creation.

Kaploki is the name of a beautiful riband that is a vertical shape (fig.**** ). This need not be elaborate, but a more elaborate focus adds a great deal. It is definitely a wall decoration and had its inspiration from the head-dresses of the women of Pozan. This is one of the earliest of the Lowicz papercut forms. The riband pictured uses a composite of several of the old style Klapeki which are my favorites. Used as an award as well as a decoration, they suggest the ribbons made and used for bridal headpieces. The two vertical strips are angled before the large circle of colored paper, well decorated, is applied at the top.

The riband strips are folded in half in creating the edging. This can be almost any small repeat that can be made with a degree of uniformity, by accordion folding the strips and clip, clip clip! I favor dove tails for many edging finishes (as in fig.****).

You can use pinking shears for edgings, although it is often tempting to abuse such mechanical devices, as in the excessive use of peel-off labels and colored dots.

Fringe is an added feature of the riband and shows the same character found in the window cornices of sheer paper used in Poland. Still used by Polish-American households on kitchen shelves and cup- boards, many homes made these anew each week. As recently as the 1930's, these were often made of newspapers. The ornamental circle (or star) is handsome and designed in endless variations. These sometimes have serrated edges added before connecting the strips that make up the finished riband.

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Edited by Sheldon Brown and Arlene Eskilson

updated Monday, November 10, 1997
Visitor # since November 10, 1997

Copyright © 1997, 2008 Sheldon Brown and Arlene Eskilson