Are you looking for a hobby that’s not only entertaining but allows you to express your creativity and practise mindfulness? If so, then you might be interested in origami.
Origami is the art of paper folding and its name comes from the Japanese words oru (which means “to fold”) and kami (meaning “paper”). No one knows for sure where origami first originated. Some say it began in China, where paper was invented 2,000 years ago, while many others suggest that it was first conceived by the Japanese.
Although the art of paper folding is thought to be much older, surprisingly, the first hard evidence we have of origami is relatively recent: a mention of the traditional butterfly shape can be found in a poem written by Japanese poet and novelist Ihara Saikaki in 1680.
Over the centuries, origami has become an iconic part of Japanese culture. It was traditionally used to create gifts and decorations, for instance, to adorn sake bottles at traditional Japanese wedding ceremonies.
Today, origami is a widely-used practice that encourages mindfulness and creative expression. Plus, it’s helpful for developing our hand-eye coordination, dexterity, and fine motor skills. And because it requires great mental concentration, it’s beneficial for our cognitive abilities too.
Origami has become so influential that it’s also been used to revolutionise modern technology. From foldable Kevlar body shields used by law enforcement agencies to telescope lenses used by NASA, the principles of origami have been used to make giant leaps in medicine, architecture, and engineering.
While origami is used to make both decorative and functional items, the focus is placed on the process itself. As Akira Yoshizawa, the “grandmaster” of origami, once said, “When you fold, the ritual and the act of creation is more important than the final result. When your hands are busy your heart is serene.”
To get you started with this mindful and creative art, we’ve put together this short introductory guide so that you can get folding…
1. Learn the common origami folds
Before you choose your first project, it’s worth getting yourself familiarised with the common folds and folding techniques. If you don’t want to waste origami paper on practising your simple folds, you can just use regular paper and cut it into squares. Here are a few tips from Origami Way for making the perfect origami square from a sheet of A4 paper.
There are many different folds in origami. However, at its most basic level, there are two simple ones: the valley fold and the mountain fold. The valley and the mountain fold are essentially opposites.
A valley fold – involves folding the paper up to form a trench or valley shape. It’s indicated on origami instructions by a dashed line.
A mountain fold – involves folding the paper down to form a point or a mountain ridge shape. It’s indicated on origami instructions by a dot-dashed line
Take a look at the video below for more help on making valley and mountain folds.
While mountain and valley folds are the two main folds in origami (and every fold can be defined as one or the other), there are a few common folding techniques that consist of a series of either mountain folds, valley folds, or both.
These more complex folds are referred to sometimes by origamists as compound folds, and you’ll find that they’re used in a variety of different models. So it’s worth familiarising yourself with them before getting started…
A pleat fold combines a valley fold with a mountain fold to produce a ‘pleated’ effect. If you’ve ever made a paper fan, you would’ve used a pleat fold before.
Check out the video below to find out how to do a simple pleat fold.
To do a crimp fold, you first create a horizontal valley fold. Then unfold your paper and make a pleat perpendicular to your crease. Lastly, fold the paper back up along the horizontal crease and you’ll be left with a crimp fold!
Check out the video below for a demonstration.
A squash fold is a common fold that’s used in many different origami models. It involves taking a flap of folded paper, opening it up, squashing it down flat, and forming it into a new shape.
Take a look at the video below to find out how to do a squash fold.
Rabbit ear fold
The rabbit ear fold is another common fold that pops up in lots of different origami models. It involves making three valley folds followed by a mountain fold, resulting in a flap of paper that sticks out and looks like a rabbit ear.
Why not check out the video below to find out how to fold one?
This is because it has more steps and to practise it, you’ll first have to fold a square base (which we’ll explain below).
Check out the video below to find out how to fold a square base, then a petal fold.
2. Learn the common origami bases
There are countless different models that you can make with traditional origami. However, many of these will require you to make one of six basic shapes as a starting point. These are called bases.
There are a few benefits of using bases in origami, the main one being that it makes the instructional process a lot easier. Instead of saying ‘make a fold here’ and ‘make a fold there’, many origami model instructions will begin by telling you to ‘make a square base’ or ‘make a bird base’, which saves time and also makes the process easier to remember.
With this in mind, here are the six most common bases and how to fold them.
Also known as the ‘preliminary base’, the square base is one of the simplest and most commonly used bases. You’ll need to fold a square base before folding the bird base when creating classic models like the crane.
The video below will show you how to fold one.
Another very simple base, you can make the kite base with just three valley folds.
Check out the video below for a demonstration.
Birds are very popular models to make for both traditional and contemporary origamists. Two of the most classic examples are the flapping bird and the crane – and most of these models start off with what’s called the bird base.
As we’ve already said, to make the bird base, you must first make a square base. The video below will show you how to do the rest.
Like the bird base, you begin the frog base by making a square base. It’s used to make a variety of different origami shapes – most famously the frog, but also a range of flower models as well.
Check out the video below to find out how to make a frog base.
The sixth and final common base for you to learn is the fish base. It’s used in a range of traditional and modern models, and you start by making a kite base.
The video below will show you how to do the rest.
While you might find that you don’t use some of these bases very often in your origami projects, if you’re a beginner, it’s worth giving each one of them a go anyway before moving on to your first project. Learning how to fold them is a great way to practise your technique and get to grips with the basics of folding.
3. Explore other ways to learn origami
Origami is great because once you’ve got to grips with some of the basic folds, you can get on with making some models. However, if you do want to learn a little more about the art of origami before you get started, there are plenty of resources to choose from.
Firstly, we’ve got a great selection of online origami courses on our website from Udemy. For a broad course that’ll teach you how to fold 24 origami masterpieces that’ll be sure to amaze your friends and family, why not check out School of Origami: Learn How to Fold and Master Origami? Or, if you’re looking for something more specific, you can search for other origami courses on our site.
If online courses aren’t for you and you’d prefer to learn in person, then why not search for origami classes near you? Or, if you learn better by reading, then there are plenty of great origami books out there for beginners. Easy Origami by John Montroll and World’s Best Origami by Nick Robinson are among the top titles recommended by seasoned origamists for folding newbies.
And finally, one of the best and most comprehensive resources for learning origami out there is probably the internet. You can search for project tutorials on sites like YouTube, as well as demonstrations of specific folds, which means all you have to do is follow along in order to create your masterpieces.
4. Buy your origami paper
As we’ve said, one of the best things about origami is how accessible it is. Unlike other art forms, such as painting and photography, you don’t need to invest in a load of expensive equipment and materials to get started. You just need your hands, some origami paper, and a little patience.
So if you’ve given the basic folds and bases a try with whatever paper you have to hand and feel ready to move onto creating beautiful origami models, then it’s time to start thinking about buying some purpose-made origami paper.
Special origami paper is designed to be simultaneously thin and strong, so it folds well while holding its shape and creases, but doesn’t tear easily. However, there are many different types of origami paper, so in the beginning, finding the right one can be tricky. With this in mind, we thought we’d explain the three most common types of origami paper.
Kami – is the most standard and commonly used origami paper. You’ll often be able to recognise Kami paper because it’s typically coloured on one side and white on the other (although you can buy Kami that’s coloured on both sides).
It comes in lots of different colours and sizes, is relatively cheap, easy to fold, and holds its shape well. If you’re just getting into origami, then Kami paper is probably your best bet.
- Washi – is a traditional Japanese paper that comes in a wide variety of colours, patterns, and designs. It’s soft and has a fabric-like feel because it’s made of long fibres. Although it’s strong and will make your models look beautiful, it’s quite difficult to fold so it’s not recommended for beginners.
Tant – is the second most commonly used origami paper. It’s relatively thin, coloured on both sides, and because it’s a fibre paper, it has a textured look and feel to it. It’s a little more expensive than Kami, but won’t set you back as much as Washi.
There are loads of other types of origami paper out there too. So if you’re interested in finding out more, then why not check out this comprehensive guide from Origami.me?
5. Choose your project
Once you’ve learned some of the basics of origami and you’ve bought your paper, then it’s time to get folding. As we’ve already mentioned, there are countless different origami models for you to try – and once you’ve become familiar enough with the craft, you can even start designing your own.
To help you choose your first project, we thought we’d pull together a few of the most popular models for beginners…
The crane is arguably the most popular origami model – it’s what a lot of us think of when we hear the word ‘origami’. It’s also a great project for beginners, so why not give it a try?
To learn how to fold a crane, take a look at this guide from Origami.me, or check out the video below.
From the lily to the iris, there are plenty of flower models that you can make with origami. But the lotus is probably the most popular.
The lotus is a greatly revered flower in Japanese culture and it serves as a symbol of enlightenment for Buddhists. Take a look at this handy step-by-by step tutorial from Origami Guide to learn how to make one. Or, you can follow the video below.
The jumping frog is another excellent model for beginners. Not only does it look great, but it’s also interactive; if you press its backside down, you can make it jump. This is a great one to make if you’re folding with kids. Try using green paper to make it even more convincing.
If you’re interested in making a jumping frog, take a look at this tutorial from Origami.me, or have a watch of the video below.
The traditional boat is another great model for beginners. Some say it symbolises the beautiful fleeting nature of life; like the paper boat, we can only float for so long before we sink.
Origami.me has a great guide to folding this traditional model. If you’d like a demonstration, check out the video below.
Our final suggestion, the waterbomb is a great model to make if you’re feeling mischievous because you can actually fill it with water. Although, they can also be hung from string as decorations. You start this model by using the waterbomb base.
For a great waterbomb tutorial, take a look at the Origami Instructions website. The video below will also show you how to make one.
Once you’ve learned the basic folds of origami, have your paper, and have chosen your project, it’s time for the fun bit: making your origami masterpieces.
You’ll notice that most origami diagrams use certain lines, arrows, and symbols to indicate certain folds. Some tutorials will also have a key, explaining what these symbols mean, but often they won’t. So before you get going, it might be helpful to familiarise yourself with these. You can find a handy key from the Origami Resource Centre.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our introductory guide to origami. If you’re interested in learning any other creative hobbies, we have a wide range of other beginner’s guides available on our website, from calligraphy and drawing, to knitting and carpentry. So if you’re feeling crafty, then why not head over to our learning section and have a look at these?
Are you an origami enthusiast? What projects have you completed? Or perhaps you’re looking to get into origami? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.