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Most of us will remember folding paper cups, salt cellars (we called them 'cootie' catchers or 'fortune tellers') and paper balloons as children in elementary school. There is more to origami than these simple models would lead us to believe. Origami comes from the Japanese words for folding, ori, and the Japanese word for paper, kami.
Origami (literally meaning "folding paper") is the art of paper folding. The goal of this art is to create a given result using geometric folds and crease patterns. Origami refers to all types of paper folding, even those of non-Asian origin.
Origami only uses a small number of different folds, but they can be combined in a variety of ways to make intricate designs. In general, these designs begin with a square sheet of paper, whose sides may be different colors, and usually proceed without cutting or fastening the paper. Contrary to most popular belief, traditional Japanese origami, which has been practiced since the Edo era (1603-1867), has often been less strict about these conventions, sometimes cutting the paper during the creation of the design (Kirigami) or starting with rectangular, circular, triangular or other non-square sheets of paper.
Although almost any laminar material can be used for folding, the choice of material used greatly affects the folding and final look of the model.
Normal copy paper with weights of 70–90 g/m² (19-24lb)) can be used for simple folds, such as the crane and waterbomb. Heavier weight papers of 100 g/m² (approx. 25lb) or more can be wet-folded. This technique allows for a more rounded sculpting of the model, which becomes rigid and sturdy when it is dry.
Special origami paper, often also referred to as "kami" (Japanese for paper), is sold in prepackaged squares of various sizes ranging from 2.5 cm to 25 cm or more. It is commonly colored on one side and white on the other; however, dual colored and patterned versions exist and can be used effectively for color-changed models. Origami paper weighs slightly less than copy paper, making it suitable for a wider range of models.
Foil-backed paper, just as its name implies, is a sheet of thin foil glued to a sheet of thin paper. Related to this is tissue foil, which is made by gluing a thin piece of tissue paper to kitchen aluminium foil. A second piece of tissue can be glued onto the reverse side to produce a tissue/foil/tissue sandwich. Foil-backed paper is available commercially, but not tissue foil; it must be handmade. Both types of foil materials are suitable for complex models.
The Japanese transmitted their designs via an oral tradition, with the recreational designs being passed from mother to daughter. Because nothing was ever written down, only the simplest designs were kept. The first written instructions appeared in AD 1797 with the publication of the Senbazuru Orikata (Thousand Crane Folding). One portion of the Kayaragusa (also known as Kan no mado or Window on Midwinter), an encyclopedia of Japanese culture published in 1845, included a comprehensive collection of traditional Japanese figures.
Meanwhile, paperfolding was also being developed in Spain. The secret of papermaking reached the Arabic world in the eighth century, and the Arabs brought it to Spain in the 12th century. The Arabs were devoutly Muslim and their religion forbade the creation of representational figures. Instead, they followed their mastery of mathematics and their paperfolding was a study of the geometries inherent in the paper. After the Arabs left Spain, the Spanish went beyond the geometric designs and developed papiroflexia, an art this is still popular in Spain and Argentina.
Modern origami owes a great deal to the efforts of YOSHIZAWA Akira. After centuries of people folding the same traditional models, Master Yoshizawa published books with completely new models starting in the early 1950's. He, together with American Sam Randlett, also developed the standard set of origami diagram symbols that is still used today. Exhibitions of his work, both in Japan and around the world, introduced origami to many people, leading to the formation of various origami associations including the Origami Center of America (now Origami USA), and the British Origami Society. Now there are origami masters and enthusiasts in many countries, forming a widespread but close-knit community. Yoshizawa, who died in 2005 at the age of 94, is still regarded as the grandmaster of origami.
Today, master paperfolders can be found in many places around the world. New and improved folding techniques have produced models that would have astounded the ancients. They still manage to astound many people today. Where once it was considered a feat to fold a representational insect that gave the impression of a segmented body and multiple legs, anatomically correct insects are now considered commonplace and the feat is to create insects that are of a recognizable species. Happily, not all paperfolders have reduced paperfolding to greater and greater achievements of technical skill. The artistry of paperfolding is also flourishing.
For back coating, you will need mulberry (kozo fibre) paper (or another type of Japanese handmade paper, washi), a large flat surface to work on, paste, and a brush. There are now cheaper machine-made substitutes to washi such as the Thai unryu.
The paste should be one that will integrate with the fibres of the paper such as methyl cellulose (wallpaper paste), wheat starch paste (sho fu), or rice starch paste. Yoshizawa uses sho fu, but you can choose methyl cellulose as it is easier to use. You can buy pure methyl cellulose at some art supply stores, at paper-making supply stores, and at book-binding supply stores. Otherwise, standard wallpaper paste is mainly methyl cellulose with some preservatives include.
Cut the two pieces of paper to approximately the size you wish, allowing a little extra paper along each edge so that you can trim it to exact size after the paper dries.
Lay out the first sheet of paper on the flat surface. This first sheet will take on the texture of the surface that you are working on. You can choose to work on glass or on plexiglass, as it is easier to handle. Metal also works well. Polished wood will give a slight wood-grain texture.
Brush an even coat of paste onto it. The paste should be the consistency raw egg white. Make sure you have no bubbles in the paper. The paste will soak into the paper, and the paper will adhere to the flat surface.
Carefully lay the second sheet over top of the first sheet. Starting at one end, you have to smooth the second sheet onto the first sheet with the brush. Work carefully to avoid tearing the paper and to avoid wrinkles. If you are fortunate enough to have someone to help you, they can hold onto the opposite end of the second sheet from where you are working, keeping the sheet taut and slightly above the first sheet, while you brush it down onto the first sheet. Let the sheet dry. You can speed up the drying process by using an electric fan to blow on it. Avoid using heat, as the paper will dry at different rates, causing a buckling of the paper, resulting in a warped product. If warping is not a concern for you, try peeling the paper off before it has dried, and hang it up to dry. This will allow the paper to dry without taking on the texture of your working surface.
A fter the sheet dries, cut it to the exact size you want.
The practice and study of origami also encapsulates several subjects of mathematical interest. For instance, the problem of flat- foldability (whether a crease pattern can be folded into a 2-dimensional model) has been a topic of considerable mathematical study.
Significantly, paper exhibits zero Gaussian curvature at all points on its surface, and only folds naturally along lines of zero curvature. But the curvature along the surface of a non-folded crease in the paper, as is easily done with wet paper or a fingernail, is no longer subject to this constraint.
The problem of rigid origami ("if we replaced the paper with sheet metal and had hinges in place of the crease lines, could we still fold the model?") has great practical importance.
Origami is a very interesting and exciting art. If you learn to do it correctly, you will be amazed by the works of art that you create.
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