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Folding Fun With Origami - July 2001 Newsletter


Japan was introduced to the technique of paper making from China's Buddhist monks between the sixth and seventh century. These monks also knew some simple paper folding methods that the Japanese adopted, which probably was how Japanese origami began since there is no exact date of its birth. In its early stage of production, paper was an expensive, limited commodity, and it was available only to the noblemen and the rich. They used this valuable paper only for formal and practical occasions or for ceremonial purposes. One example is the noshi (noshi-awabi), which was a decoration made from a single piece of folded red and white paper attached to a strip of dried meat or fish that was exchanged by Samurais as a token of good luck. The noshi still exist today but is now usually attached to various kinds of gifts and are given by people in all walks of life. The Shinto noblemen used the valuable paper to celebrate weddings by folding them into female (me-cho) and male (o-cho) butterfly forms to represent the bride and the groom. These folded forms were then used to cover the necks of sake bottles or over glasses of rice wine for the wedding ceremony.

As the Japanese improved upon the process of making paper, they also developed various types of paper, including a type that was resilient as well as soft, called Washi. Washi paper was used to create many things, including origami. During the Edo period (1600-1868), paper began to be mass-produced, developing a lower priced paper that was more widely available to everyone. As a result, the common people used this paper for origami as well and it blossomed into a recreational past time rather than strictly used for ceremonial and practical purposes. The majority of these early paper folds were shapes of objects, such as boats and cranes, which were later incorporated into the patterns on clothing and fabric, and into Japanese ukiyoe prints. Paper that wasn't used for folding was made into practical objects such as screens, umbrellas, and bags.

For many centuries, the methods of folding were verbally taught and passed down from generation to generation. Then in 1797, the first written set of folding instructions was published, called Senbazaru Orikata, which translates into How to Fold One Thousand Cranes. This book showed how to fold a series of linked cranes, and it was the first book to show any written instructions on origami. The word "origami" was not formally used to name the paper folding techniques until several collections of this book were published. The word ";origami"; is derived from the Japanese word oru (to fold) and kami (paper). Other books on paper folding were eventually printed that illustrated additional origami models, such as boxes, hats, and stars. One such book published in 1845 was a private collection of hand-written illustrations of origami bases, called Kayaragusa or Kan no mado. This book contained folding techniques for recreational as well as ceremonial purposes.

Paper folding existed outside of Japan too. Following the introduction of paper making into Europe, paper folding was first introduced into Spain, when the African Moors invaded it. The paper folding models that the Moors practiced were all geometric shapes because they were great mathematicians but also their religion prohibited them from creating any animal shapes. From Spain, paper folding spread to South America and throughout Europe, but it did not become as popular as it did in Japan. By the early 1900's, paper folding had spread to England and the United States as well.

During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), Japanese kindergartens and elementary schools were using origami as a teaching tool. When the teaching methods and folding techniques of the German educator Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel, founder of the Kindergarten Movement, were introduced to Japan by his followers, the Japanese incorporated them into their own paper folding curriculum. The two styles of Japanese folding and German folding were fused into one for teaching in the schools. Froebel's kindergarten movement was also carried throughout Europe, North and South America, and other parts of the world.

In the 1930's, Akira Yoshizawa developed a set of terms and arrows showing how to fold origami models. Because of his innovative folding, which created many new animals, birds and other objects, Yoshizawa is known as the father of modern day origami. Today's origami books use the terms and symbols that he developed along with many of the new origami models that he created. By 1950, Yoshizawa's work began to be known, and after he published a collection of astrological figures in 1952, his work rapidly spread outside of Japan to the West.

The art form of origami is complex and continually developing. There are many types of origami that exist, in addition to the well known cranes, boxes and animals that many of us think of when we hear the word "origami. The cranes, boxes and animals that we are familiar with are considered a type of Craft Origami, where paper is folded into toys, games, or functional objects such as containers and picture frames. There is also origami classified as Everyday, where paper is used for wrapping presents, is folded into invitations, pamphlets or envelopes, or creased to make cutting easier. A few other types of origami include: Ceremonial Origami (noshi and tsutsumi), Performance Origami (folding to entertain or for magical acts), Abstract Origami (folding of geometric and decorative forms into 2- or 3-dimensions), and Model-making Origami (folding to represent plants, living creatures or other objects in their most realistic form.) There is also a technique of folding, created by Akira Yoshizawa, called wet folding, where the paper is folded while it is damp. The damp paper can be manipulated to form smooth curves and when the paper dries, the object created has a more true-to-life shape than traditional dry paper folding.

If you want to get fancy when you start an origami project, you can buy a whole variety of colorful origami papers. But if you want to just practice or have fun with origami, plain white paper, old gift wrap paper, computer paper or even grocery bag paper will all work just fine. Of course, if you plan to display your creation, then quality paper with the appropriate colors and patterns should be used. You may want to start saving used paper with bright hues or colorful patterns to use for future origami projects.

A beautifully folded origami artwork is the result of carefully and correctly folded paper. Here are a few tips to follow when folding: 1) start with a perfectly square paper when square paper is required, 2) fold on a hard surface, 3) crease the paper slowly and accurately so it will be precise the first time, and 4) read the instructions and follow the symbols for each step to be sure that your folding is the same as that in the instructions. It's also a good idea to look ahead at the pictures to double check what you have will look like what it should be. Finished origami projects can be used in many ways. They can be displayed by itself or inside a diorama, made into hanging mobiles, glued onto greeting cards, decorate a table setting, or framed under glass, and a countless other ways. Your creative imagination is the only limit!

Today, there are thousands of organizations and societies devoted to origami all over the world. They are an excellent reference for origami supplies and books, as well as being an innovative source for new ideas in folding models. If you're not quite ready to join one of these organizations, and are just starting out, browse through today. We offer some fantastic reference and how-to books on origami in addition to many different packages of beautiful Japanese origami paper for your folding projects. We're sure you'll find something that's right for you. Happy folding!


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Six Inch Assorted Color Origami Paper Set (4024)

Assorted Pattern Origami Papers (7967)

16 Sheets Lace Washi Origami Paper Set (4035)

Asian Fan Pattern Origami Paper (7048)

Double Sided Cherry Blossom Print Origami Paper (7168)

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