Origins of Different Types of Origami

I’ve always been fascinated by origami. You start with plain, flat squares of paper and transform them into incredible 3-dimensional shapes. The forms you can make are limited by the material chosen. By size, of course, but also by the physical properties of the paper itself.

I want to go over all of the different types of origami so that my students have a reference (hey guys!) in the future.

Origami is a compound Japanese word, from “ori”, to fold and “kami”, paper. So, it literally means to fold paper.  And it seems as though the Japanese began folding paper for ceremonial purposes as soon as they were introduced to paper in the 6th century.

There have been all sorts of origami developed and designed in the centuries since: from traditional origami to curved folds and origami composed of hundreds of individual units.

Traditional Origami

Traditionally, origami is made from a single, square sheet of paper, and is created without any tearing, cutting, tape, or glue. You know, a thousand paper cranes, each and every one the same.

Action Origami

Action origami is origami that you can animate, that moves, and is often a form of traditional origami. You’re probably familiar with paper fortune tellers from recess in middle school, but there are also much more elaborate are pieces. Each of these figures is from a single sheet of paper, designed and built by Robert Lang. They play their instruments when you pull on them!

Curved-Crease Origami

In Germany in the 1920s, Josef Albers taught a Bauhaus preliminary course on paper study. He encouraged his students to investigate and experiment with paper as a material, and they developed several groundbreaking, er, paperbreaking techniques that definitely changed the course of paper folding.

My favorite of these is curved-crease folding. Concentric circles are folded in opposite directions (mountain folds alternating with valley folds), and they automatically take on a saddle structure.

Wet Folding

Akira Yoshizawa, the grandmaster of origami, pioneered the wet folding technique in the 1950s. It involves just what it sounds like: wetting the paper. This lets you sculpt the model; it’s basically halfway to paper mache. Wet folding works well on thick paper that will hold up, and can give curves to wings or character to animal ears.

Material Origami

Origami is no longer a term restricted to paper. People make origami using all sorts of different materials, which become their own genres because the material shape, thickness, texture, and other attributes determine what you can actually create from it. There’s dollar bill origami, toilet paper origami (seen in hotels), cloth napkin origami (featured in fancy restaurants), and towel origami (my aunt does this).

Modular Origami

Modular origami is composed of many individual units assembled together to create one large structure. They often feature complex symmetries, but sometimes are used for figurative or freeform creations.

The wireframe models of Byriah Loper have been a recent obsession of mine. These sculptures can be made up of hundreds of different units, and are designed by investigating complex geometric forms. Like these twenty interlocking tetrahedra:

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