Unraveling the mesmerizing, delicate world of paper quilling

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yoko Kogami’s colorful works

Paper quilling is a globally popular art form in which thin colored paper strips are coiled and arranged into myriad shapes, including plants and musical notes. Paper quilled art is garnering more admirers thanks to its delicate nature, rich color schemes and a sense of warmth exuding from each piece.

The craft is said to have been originated by nuns in medieval Europe who would roll paper leftover from the Bible binding process and use it to decorate religious tools and objects, such as feathered quills, which is where the art form’s name comes from.

Enthusiast Yoko Kogami has been painstakingly choosing the right paper and color scheme for her pieces since first being introduced to paper quilling about 20 years ago.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

“It makes me happy when people are surprised to discover just how much the paper they’re accustomed to can be transformed,” said Kogami, who became a full-time paper quilling artist in 2008.

Kogami begins her process by cutting pieces of white washi paper, which is too wide to use as is, into long strips about 1.5 to 2 millimeters in width.

She values the washi paper’s simplicity and softness.

“I want my pieces to be realistic, but it wouldn’t be good if people couldn’t tell they’re made of paper,” she said. “Thanks to washi’s fluffy texture, however, it’s easy to get that across.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A strip of paper is wrapped around the tip of a needle.

After cutting the paper, the strips are wrapped around the tip of a needle that is used to help create the desired shape. For example, large hoops are made by loosening the paper and teardrop shapes are made by pinching the end of the rolls.

Shapes resembling flower pistils and stamens can be made by making tiny cuts in the paper after being wrapped around the needle then unfurling it. Smaller parts are affixed by gluing the end of the rolls.

Individual works are made three-dimensional by bringing different parts together and paying careful attention to how the paper is layered to create shadows. According to Kogami, each of her pieces has a different look depending on which side it’s viewed from.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kogami used the paper quilling technique to create a piece resembling a nabe hot pot dish.

Kogami goes to great lengths to emphasize the authenticity of her floral motifs, her specialty, taking great care to ensure that the number of petals and the way the leaves are set is true to the real thing. Her meticulous process requires blueprints in which the size and colors of a piece are indicated on a computer before she begins.

Using her paper quilling skills to make corporate calendars and catalog covers, Kogami said she wants to make the art form more commonplace in our daily lives. “I hope people will display the pieces in places like their homes as a way of bringing art closer [to their everyday lives],” she said.

Her pieces are on display on her website (https://kogamicraft.com/).

In living color

Washi paper and a large array of markers are indispensable for Kogami’s work. Washi paper is only available in a limited range of colors, so Kogami will color some sheets herself.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A 25- by 10-centimeter work that can be hung on a wall

Her favorite markers make it easy to layer and soften colors, and she keeps samples of the colors she has created.

“I always try to create natural colors and textures, as well as color gradations,” Kogami said. The gentle colors expressed in her pieces are all thanks to her time-consuming efforts.