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Mexican Papel Picado

Photo of homemade Mexican Papel Picado“Papel Picado”, or “cut paper”, is a colorful decoration found at Cinco de Mayo, Dia de Los Muertos, and most Mexican celebrations. The “secret” of success for making your own papel picado is to sandwich the thin tissue paper inside a folded, heavier weight paper before cutting it. This makes it easier to work with, less likely to tear, and gives you a surface for drawing a design you can follow as you cut!


  • 12”x18” white construction paper (1 per design)
  • 20”x30” colored tissue paper (1 per design – yields 2 finished pieces)
  • pencil and eraser
  • scissors

1. First, fold your 12”x18” white construction paper in half, to 9”x12”.
2. Choose a sheet of colored tissue paper and fold it in half to 20”x15”, then fold it in half again the other direction to 10”x15.
3. Next, slip your folded tissue paper (centered) into the folded construction paper, so that the 15” folded edge of the tissue paper lines up with the 12” folded edge of the construction paper.
4. Trim away the little bit of tissue paper that extends beyond the three open edges of the construction paper.
5. Fold your ‘sandwich’ of 12” loose edges over about an inch. This helps to hold it all in place.
6. Now, make folds into your sandwich of papers, drawing designs on the folds and then cutting them away. Unfold and repeat, but don’t take your papers apart until you have cut away all the designs you can! Make vertical, horizontal and even diagonal folds and cuts for the most interesting finished designs. Don’t forget to cut a design into the loose edges, too! (Talk about how cutting on a fold yields designs that are symmetrical. You can achieve designs that have vertical, horizontal and radial symmetry this way.)

For older students, try drawing more complex designs onto your sandwich of papers, and then use a craft knife to cut them out. Be sure to protect the surface you are working on! An old magazine or catalog works well as a cutting surface – just tear away pages as they become too damaged. (For very young children cutting with blunt scissors, you may want to use a lighter, 20 lb. weight copy paper, if the folded construction paper is too difficult for them to cut through.)

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  1. I used luncheon napkins (the solid, brightly colored ones you can get at dollar tree) to make papel picados with first graders. It worked great. The napkins are already folded, and they are just slightly heavier, so they make it easier for the little ones to cut.