It’s nearly impossible to tell how a completed origami creation was made just by looking at it, and that’s exactly why so many people are intrigued by this ancient craft.
How in the world was one small paper transformed into a complex new shape?
If you’re wondering how exactly it’s done, you’re not alone. Many people are curious as to how origami pieces are made and are interested to know the techniques involved.
Surely those intricate designs aren’t formed solely by folding, or are they?
Can you use scissors in origami? Traditionally, scissors are not used in origami, though they are a vital part of other paper folding hobbies. Origami only uses a series of creases and geometric folds on a single piece of paper to create a decorative object, such as a crane, flower, or star.
The timeless appeal of origami has captivated people from all walks and stages of life for close to one thousand years.
By learning more about the traditional way origami is made and what is and isn’t allowed, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for this fascinating hobby and perhaps find inspiration to create a few origami pieces for yourself.
Is Cutting Allowed in Origami?
Traditionally, origami creations are made by using various folds on a single piece of paper – no scissors, no cutting, no tearing, and no other alterations to the paper.
Although origami is often confused with the much broader, more encompassing term paper folding, the two crafts are not the same.
What’s the Difference Between Paper Folding and Origami?
When people speak of paper folding, they may be referring to the various ways letters and brochures are folded, handmade greeting cards, pop-up books, quilling, folded book art, paper flowers, 3D architectural or sculptural models, kirigami, or even the Chinese paper folding art known as zhe-zhi.
Many paper folding crafts not only allow for cutting of the paper but are dependent upon it.
Taping, gluing, stitching, and printing or drawing designs are also common in many paper folding crafts.
Origami, on the other hand, only uses a series of crisp folds to create reproductions of objects, both inanimate and living, in paper form.
I have an entire article dedicated to this subject here. Don’t miss it!
Traditional customs are an important part of Japanese culture, and origami is no exception.
Origami purists don’t modify their origami paper in any way except for using systematic, geometric folds.
Indeed, the use of scissors, tape, staples, glue, or stitches is frowned upon and considered to be “cheating.”
The strict rules regarding cutting or modifying the paper may seem harsh, but those who have successfully made even a simple origami creation understand the delight found by creating a design using only folding techniques.
The complexity of a completed origami creation is better appreciated knowing that no cutting was used in its creation.
A Brief History
Evidence of Japanese origami as an art form can be traced back to at least the early 1600s, though people had surely been experimenting paper folding for many years, likely hundreds, prior to that time period.
As a matter of fact, the ancient Chinese folded small pieces of paper to resemble yuanbao, the small gold and silver nuggets used as currency then, and burned them during funerals as part of their ceremonial customs.
At first, due to the limited availability and expense of paper, folding paper as an art form was a practice reserved only for the rich elite and for ceremonial purposes.
However, as paper became more readily available, paper folding became a more common practice and spread to other parts of Asia and Europe as well.
By the late 1600s, the art of origami was a firmly established aspect of Japanese culture.
The first known written instructions for origami dates back to the book Sembazuru Orikata, by Akisato Rito, which gave instructions for folding paper cranes.
The book’s title translates to mean “one thousand cranes paper folding” and refers to the traditional Japanese belief that folding one thousand paper cranes will result in the granting of a wish or good luck.
Friedrich Fröebel, the man who came up with the concept of kindergartens, was a firm believer in teaching young children paper folding techniques to aid in the development of hand-eye coordination, improve math and fine motor skills, and increase concentration.
His efforts of incorporating origami in the classroom helped to promote the craft a great deal, and by the late 1800s and early 1900s, origami’s popularity was on the rise worldwide.
In the 1930s, a system of diagrams, arrows, and symbols was established by Akira Yoshizawa, which helped to standardize and simplify the way origami is taught and practiced today.
Is It Difficult to Learn Origami?
The simplest origami creations can be completed in just a few minutes and are quite easy to do, even for one with no experience.
Of course, having someone demonstrate the basic folds and techniques will make the learning process even easier.
This hobby is just like any other in that the more you practice, the easier it will be and the more confidence you’ll have.
There are many helpful guides available online that provide step-by-step instructions, but there are fantastic books available as well, which make wonderful gifts for the budding hobbyist.
I’ve found the following books to be incredibly helpful, easy to follow, and an endless source of inspiration:
- Incredible Origami– great for beginners.
- Origami Extravaganza! – includes 162 origami papers.
- Mind Blowing Modular Origami – for advanced 3D models.
- Gamenote Origami – for children.
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Do You Need Special Paper to Make Origami?
Origami is usually made using paper designed specifically for the craft. Origami paper is available in a variety of weights, sizes, colors, and textures.
Origami paper is usually a bit thicker than a sheet of newspaper and is weighed in grams per square meter (gsm).
Basically, the lower the gsm, the thinner the paper. Thinner papers, like kami (60 – 63 gsm), are generally inexpensive, perfect for beginners, and crease easily.
Although some origami projects call for rectangular or circular paper, the majority of origami is done using squares sheets.
You’ll most often find 6-inch squares, but sheets as small as 3 inches and as large as 43 inches can be found as well.
Most people find the 6-inch size to be suitable, though for complex designs or for those with dexterity issues, larger sizes such 9 or 14 inches may be easier to work with.
Origami paper comes in a huge variety of colors and shades. Everything from subtle earth tones to bright psychedelic colors can be found either online or in specialty Japanese shops.
Some types, like kami, are colored on one side and left white on the other. Other types, like tant paper, are usually colored on both sides.
Prints, designs, shiny foil, and patterns, such as marbling, are common as well.
Read this for a more in-depth look at special origami papers.
Make Your Own Origami Paper
Some people enjoy using gift wrap, newspaper, craft paper, tracing paper, and even junk mail to create origami.
All you need to do is cut your chosen paper into a precise square and start folding.
These alternatives are especially useful for practicing so that your nice origami paper isn’t wasted while you’re still learning.
What is Kirigami?
If you’re like me, you have fond memories of making paper snowflakes in elementary school.
Did you know that those simple snowflake designs are actually an example of kirigami? It’s true.
Kirigami is similar to origami in that folds are used in the process.
However, unlike origami, kirigami depends on careful cutting with either a craft knife or an ordinary pair of scissors to achieve the desired result.
Some talented artists are able to give their pieces a lace-like quality that you must see to believe. Check out the detail in the fairies, butterfly, and sleigh below.
Traditionally, just one piece of paper is used for each kirigami creation.
Today though, artists often combine several pieces together to create their intended design or an extra-large artwork.