Introduction: Kirigami Simple Escher Staircase

Hello Everyone,

This instructable is a simple introduction into the art of folding and cutting paper to make 3D shapes known as Origamic Architecture or Kirigami.

Typically, kirigami starts with a folded heavy paper base, which is then cut; cuts are then opened with mountain or valley folds and shaped to make the finished kirigami pop up into a three dimensional shape.

This particular model was created by the father of Origamic Architecture, Japanese Architect Masahiro Chatani and resembles the staircases featured in the work “Relativity” of Dutch Graphic Artist Maurits C. Escher.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

For materials you will need:
- A 4 ¼ X 5 ½ in. (half US Letter) printout of the included template on white heavy paper or cardstock.
- A sheet of dark paper as backing for contrast to enhance the finished project, of the same shape and size of the above.
- A second printout on paper of the template for reference when working of the reverse side of the printout. (Optional)

The necessary tools to work with paper are:
- X-acto or similar sharp knife
- Ruler, clear plastic or metal preferably
- Glue stick
- Removable, masking or dulled scotch tape
- Self-healing cutting board or a simple cutting surface
- Thin wooden dowel (Chinese take-out chopsticks)

Step 2: Printing the Template

The included template (half US letter size, but can be scaled up to fit the page) is an inverse of the image and it is meant to be printed on what will end up being the backside or reverse of the piece, therefore not visible in the white or front side of the finished project.

After you print the template you will notice that there are 3 types of lines, solid, dotted and dashed. Solid lines should be cut all the way through the paper. Dotted and Dashed lines indicate scoring marks (cutting only about a 1/3 of the width of the paper) in order to weaken the paper and help bend it in the correct direction.

Dotted lines (…..) indicate mountain folds and therefore the scoring should be done on the front or white side of the paper.

Dashed lines (-----) indicate valley folds so the scoring should be done on the printed or backside of the paper.

Step 3: Cutting

Kirigami, as in many other art forms, requires precision and patience. The more you invest in cutting your work, the better the results will be.

Start by affixing your printed template by the corners on the cutting board using the tape. If you use regular scotch tape, remove some of the stickiness by wiping it repeatedly with your fingers or on some plush fabric.

Starting in a systematic and orderly fashion, using the ruler as a guide, cut with the x-acto knife all the uninterrupted solid lines. Cut from beginning to end of each line, without pause, with a firm continuous stroke, keeping the knife perpendicular, as any hesitation or interruption will show in the finished piece. Do all the vertical lines moving from right to left if you are right handed (or left to right if your are leftie), so that your ruler does not slide over any previous cut.

Since this particular project doesn't have any solid horizontal lines, you are now finished with this step. However in any other designs that do have them, you would then proceed to do all the horizontal lines from top to bottom. If you feel more comfortable simply rotate your work surface 90º clockwise and again work from right to left on the horizontal (now vertical) lines.

For those of you fortunate enough to own a die cutting machine with print and cut feature like the Silhouette Cameo, use the enclosed illustrator file to import into the software and select the lines to cut.

Step 4: Scoring

Using the ruler as a guide, gently score (1/3 of the width of the paper) with the x-acto knife on all the dashed lines (-----) that indicate valley folds. As before, make one straight score from beginning to end. Remember that the purpose of scoring is to weaken the paper to facilitate a sharp bend in the opposite direction of the score mark. If you have never partially cut paper, practice first on a separate piece of scrap paper until you feel confident you have enough control to score without cutting all the way through the material. As before, work in a systematic and orderly fashion from right to left and then top to bottom to make sure you don´t skip any dashed line.

Carefully remove your work from the cutting board, remove the fixing tape, and flip it over with the white or non-printed side facing up, as this is where you now have to score the mountain folds. If you choose to affix your work again to the cutting mat, you need a duplicate printout of the template as a guide to help remind you of the location of the dotted scoring lines. Using the cut marks as a reference, identify the location of the dotted lines indicating the mountain folds and as before proceed to make the score marks.

Step 5: Folding

This step takes more patience. Remove your work from the cutting board, and with your piece white side facing you, start by gently folding the middle valley base line (main fold line) to see which mountain folds move forward and appear by themselves. If some of the folds resist falling into place, use tweezers or thin wooden dowels to coax them into position. Do not try to position the folds all at once, but gently position them by bending all of them a little at a time and progress slowly.

When all of the parts of the cards have been folded far enough in the correct direction, carefully close the card entirely. Use your ruler or a rounded object on the creases to sharpen the folds.

Step 6: Glue Backing

Finally, adhere the finished piece to the dark cardstock. Bend the dark paper in half along the main fold line, making sure it aligns perfectly with the white finished piece in front, and the dark backing in the rear.

Carefully apply glue to the reverse (printed side) of the finished piece, and not to the black paper. Align and nest them in folded position, and place under a heavy book for a few minutes until the glue sets.

Step 7: Display

Display your finished artwork under direct slanted light to enhance the contrast of the steps.

Step 8: Conclusion

Congratulations, you are now a Kirigami artist! You have now been introduced to the basic steps of Origamic Archtecture. I encourage you to search for other templates to practice, or better yet, start experimenting by designing your own. As time permits I will try to post more challenging but rewarding kirigami projects here.

The above samples are original copyrighted artwork by Ingrid Siliakus.

For a glimpse of the potential of this art form, I invite you to visit the sites of some of the most beautiful kirigami works on the net at:


Ingrid Siliakus

Elod Beregszaszi