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Hand-Made Summer Camp: Paper People

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Welcome to our second round of projects in NYPL's Hand-Made Summer Camp. (If you missed our first round, Lindsy's woven card project, check it out; I'm thinking of making one with flat sheets of felt myself.) This week, inspired by vintage fashion and paper doll books, I've prepared some customizable paper people. 

I adapted this project from one I found in Paper People, a funny and inspiring 1970 book by Michael Grater. This book, in the words of its creator, is "about paper and about people [and] explores some of the creative opportunities which might occur when the two are put together."  Simple enough, right? Here's how you can get started putting paper and people together yourself: 

What You Need to Make a Set of 4 Connected Paper People:

  • 1 sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 paper (I used plain old office white, but other colors would be great if you have them)
  • assorted printed and colored paper scraps (like origami paper or wrapping paper)
  • pencil and eraser
  • scissors
  • glue

Step One: Fold the Paper.

Start by folding the 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper in half, short sides together.

Fold it a second time in the same direction.

Fold it a third time, again in the same direction.

You now have a long narrow folded sheet, 8 layers thick.

Step Two: Sketch Your Paper People.

Place this narrow folded sheet on a work surface, making sure that the long narrow side made up of four nested folds is along the right.

Sketch out your paper person on the top layer of paper. You are only drawing half of a person. The center of the person's body runs along the folded right edge, and the arms and feet extend to the left edge. And make sure that the arms and feet extend all the way to the left edge. This way when you cut and unfold the paper the four paper people will be connected.

Step Three: Cut Out Your Paper People.

Now carefully cut through all 8 layers of paper along the lines you drew, making four connected paper people.

Here's how to tackle the space inside each elbow: After you've cut everything else, unfold the people. Use your scissor tip to carefully pierce the center of the top layer that has the cutting lines for the elbow space drawn on it, and carefully trim way this paper. Then, fold the person back against the one next to it, and trace inside the opening with pencil to mark the cutting lines for the elbow space on the next layer. Pierce and cut out this space, and contine by tracing inside the cut lines to each neighboring paper person until all elbow spaces have been carefully trimmed.

 

Step Four: Dress Your Paper People.

To dress the people, trace the basic body shape you want to cover onto the back of a piece of patterned paper, and cut it out to cover your person however you desire. On my set of people I tried out different sleeves and necklines. You can also make adjustments to the individual people as well. On mine, for example, they all started out with a-line skirt profiles originally, but for the last one I cut away the skirt shape in order to fit her into the metallic mermaid-esque dress.    

The fun in making these paper people is in the unique ways each can be outfitted. Grater suggests making them into "likenesses of your neighbors, or of other people you know" and he also mentions that, instead of using paper, you can dress them in bits of fabric. His example shows each person in a different apron.  

And when it comes to head adornments, he provides some funny illustrations of hats and hair. 

You could add shoes and tights, make trousers instead of dresses, or whatever you imagine. I hope you have fun with them--and remember to share what you create on our Handmade at NYPL flickr page!

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