Origami is the best known of all papercrafts, perhaps because it is the easiest to define and because most of us have done a little of it as children. Its strict rules permit no cutting, no gluing and no decoration of the paper: the sheet may only be folded. However, rules are there to be broken, ans many non-origami paper artists also use basic folding techniques in their work.
The history of the art of origami is somewhat obscure. The word itself is Japanese: ori, ‘to fold’ and kami, ‘paper’ (becoming gami when combined with ori). The name is the tribute to the ancestral home of the art, though it is a matter of dispute whether the Japanese, Koreans or Chinese were the first to fold paper as a creative art. The Japanese developed sophisticated origami forms some 1,200 years ago, usually for symbolic or ceremonial purposes and, contrary to subsequent rules, these were frequently cut.
With the coming of Western influences in the late 19th century, indigenous symbolism largely disappeared, and origami became recreational. In the 1930s a young Japanese man, Akira Yoshizawa, began developing new forms from the surviving traditional ones. His single-minded dedication and creative genius helped establish origami as a creative art form.
Paper folding in the West, with the exception of a minor creative period in Spain early in the 20th century, remained largely a schoolchild’s diversion. However, in the early 1950s, a renowned British-based stage illusionist, Robert Harbin, became fascinated by the creative potential of paper folding. He collected as many traditional designs as he could (a surprising number), invented some of his own and in 1956 published Paper Magic, a book that established the creative potential of the art in the West. Subsequent books by Harbin and the American paper folder Sam Randlett consolidated its position as a craft.
Since that time, in the Oriental and the Western world, tens of thousands of designs have been created in a remarkable variety of styles. Origami has an appeal possibly broader than that of any other papercraft. Many people see it as a paper form of puzzle-solving, an attempt to make a model from diagrams in a book with the satisfaction of having an impressive object at the conclusion.
For others it is a branch of mathematics or entertaining party trick, a vocabulary for design or perhaps an educational aid. It is art, science and play: recreational yet essentially profound.
There are no strictures regarding choice of paper. Many people like to fold with traditional square origami paper, coloured on one side and white on the other, but the paper is not always easy to find. Instead, for practice, use writing or photocopy paper, and for display work experiment with as wide a range of papers as you can find. For two-tone effects use giftwrap or scrapbooking papers, which are often already square, or make your own surface with pastels, inks or similar.
Traditional Japanese paper called washi is durable, soft, easy to fold and available in beautiful patterns and in small and large sizes. Some origami artists even choose to make their own papers, to ensure they get the distinct results they are looking for.
Materials Needed for Making Origami
Although strictly speaking your fingers are the only essential equipment for origami, when you want to create beautiful pieces that will last, you may also find these other items useful:
- craft knife
- cutting mat
- metal ruler
- embroidery scissors
- bone folder
- glue stick