Folding origami is fun, engaging and constructive - to say nothing of its educational benefits. One must have discipline to precisely execute folds and creases; paper art such as origami appeals to those with a meticulous nature.
Even toddlers can make a paper plane or a paper boat (yes, they are also origami!) while being, for the most part, the complete opposite of careful and precise.
We do know of some fun origami for kids but the constructions we describe in this article might be a tad too complex for little ones. On the other hand, they may enjoy helping you make paper if you wanted to try your hand at that...
For the most part, origami animals demand precision in their creation; they involve a far more intricate construction and substantially more attention to detail.
Modular origami uses multiple sheets of paper to create one design. Attaining this level of skill at folding paper is and achievement for kids and adults!
Besides simple constructions with obvious meaning - such as an origami boat or ninja stars, the art of folding we call origami is full of representation – not just in the figures origami artists delight in creating but in the very methods and traditions embodied in the practice of creating.
For example, did you know that the Japanese Shoguns of Japan’s Edo Period tasked their junior men with hours of origami? In fact, it is generally thought that Japanese origami truly got its start during that time.
Back then, besides folding paper along a certain crease pattern, it was permitted to cut the paper to suit the model, a practice called kirigami. Today, the more elaborate paper sculptures allow for cutting the paper but, strictly speaking, origami is made only by folding.
So, as you get ready to fold square paper into your favourite origami designs, consider the fact that you are carrying on a long tradition in the art of paper folding.
That might be enough to fire your enthusiasm but before you pick up your first sheet of paper, there is just one question left that needs asking: what do all of those origami models mean?
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Tatsu, the Origami Dragon
Dragons are powerful creatures in Asian folklore; the Japanese dragon incorporates elements from Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese dragons while still remaining its own beast.
Unlike the imagery of dragons in the west, Asian dragons have long, snake-like bodies and several limbs. They generally do not have wings or breathe fire.
The Japanese have no fewer than five dragons in their mythology but in origami, there is only one dragon: Tatsu.
You may fold it out of shiny foil paper to give the illusion of shimmering scales or a piece of solid green paper to reflect its swampy origins.
Did you know that just about every hobby and crafts store carries several types of Japanese paper? Still, no matter which paper you choose, your dragon will symbolize power, wisdom, mastery and success.
Whether you attach it to a gift or give it away unattached, you will convey to the recipient that they will enjoy good fortune and strength.
You can learn how to fold your dragon in our companion article.
Chocho: the Origami Butterfly
Two butterflies dancing around each other is a sign of marital bliss; that is why paper butterflies usually feature at Japanese weddings.
Now, for a disclaimer: in spite of the Japanese words commonly used to describe paper crafts, this art form is not exclusively Japanese.
Whereas butterflies generally symbolise a soul set free, here, in the UK, we have rather more ominous superstitions about butterflies.
Some areas of our country hold that butterflies contain the souls of dead children, while in other places, superstition dictates that one must kill the first butterfly s/he sees or have bad luck throughout the year.
Should that butterfly be yellow, woe to the whole family! It means everyone will be plagued with illness.
Scotland and Ireland are mercifully kinder to these delicate flyers: they believe that butterflies near the grave of a loved one symbolize their dear departed one has found their place in heaven.
The paper butterfly has a decidedly different meaning than any of the above. It represents the hopes and dreams of young girls as they blossom into beautiful young women.
That being the case, you may choose delicately-coloured origami paper to make your first mountain fold and reverse fold... but, please: no yellow!
Do you need folding instructions? There are plenty of step by step instructions on YouTube...
Kaeru, the Origami Frog
We tend to think of frogs as slimy croakers fit for nothing but eating bugs. However, in Japan, frogs have a completely different meaning.
It is quite common in Japan for people to keep a small frog figure in their coin purse; it means that money will be wisely spent and soon will return.
So, if you wish to make a tiny frog to tuck into your wallet, you will have to practise your folding technique on very small origami paper.
On the other hand, if you have kids heading off into the world, gifting them a brightly-coloured origami frog will serve to remind them that they should return home to visit, occasionally.
You could pass such frogs to other dear ones who live far away, too.
Unlike quilling, which is an involved process that calls for a variety of materials, you only need a square piece of paper - and of course, you have to know how to make an origami frog!
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A Word on Kawaii
Although origami is not only an ancient Japanese art, invariably, everything origami is attributed to Japan. As such, you should be aware of another aspect of Japanese culture: they love anything cute!
Whimsy permeates virtually every aspect of Japanese society, from their ultra-popular anime to their clothing.
Anything – a drawing or a person that is shy, vulnerable, childlike and charming is adored in Japan; such is the essence of kawaii.
For that reason, most origami paper is double-sided, and sometimes shows fantastic designs - a tessellation or bokashi. It may be shiny and feel delicate to the touch, belying its resilience... another aspect of the kawaii culture of Japan.
Now that you know about the joy of cute, you may understand why the cat is another popular origami animal.
Neko, the Origami Cat
So enraptured with felines is Japan that they celebrate National Cat Day each year on February 22... makes one wonder if they also celebrate International Cat Day, which is feted on the 8th of August.
As the Japanese people have dedicated an entire day to the glory of cats, it stands to reason that cats are a popular origami creation.
We love our cats as well, so learning how to make origami cats may become our national pastime!
Cats are seen as mysterious and elusive, independent and wise. Cats are strong and self-assured; they never ask anyone for anything. They are also rapacious hunters all wrapped up in a coating of silky fur.
If you need ideas for easy origami – maybe to get the kids settled down on a rainy day, you could hardly do better than a cat: the folding technique is simple and it does not take a lot of time to make.
Once you get good at making cats, you can incorporate tessellations into your designs to give them some depth!
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Hakucho, the Origami Swan
In many cultures, swans represent majesty and tranquillity, loyalty and strength. Because swans mate for life, they also represent monogamy and fidelity.
Unfortunately, they don’t have any special meaning in Japanese culture, but then again, we’ve already determined that origami is not only a Japanese art.
As origami projects go, swans are easy to fold and, because they can be freestanding, you might use them to decorate a picnic table or liven up a birthday party.
It all starts with a diagonal fold and, 13 steps later, you are ready to decorate your swan... or leave its features up to the imagination.
How about trying your hand at napkin folding? Before paper folding became popular in Europe, people would enjoy folding their napkin into various configurations, the swan being among the most popular designs.
Naturally, you cannot fold a napkin the same manner as folding paper; unless it is starched, cloth simply won’t hold a crease. That is why it is best to make your swans (and other designs) out of coloured paper.
This simple origami is a great way to get started practising paper craft.
Did you know that the Lewis Ginter botanical garden in the US has an ‘origami in the park’ programme? Visitors there are treated to an assortment of paper sculpture installations, including swans.
Wouldn’t it be great if our gardens also had such a display?
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Tsuru, the Origami Crane
In Japan, the crane is the bird of peace, majesty, long life and fidelity – maybe that is why, for them, the swan pales in comparison.
Origami cranes just might be the most renown origami bird; indeed, of all the origami figures to learn to fold, this one has the most meaning.
Japanese tradition has it that, if one folds 1,000 paper cranes, what is wished for will come to pass.
So it was that a young girl, stricken with cancer in the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing, endeavoured to fold origami birds, as many as needed to cheat death.
Realising that her hopes were in vain, she nevertheless continued to fold each paper crane, this time with a wish for peace and hope. So the symbolism of the origami crane changed, from one of personal hope to one of global yearning.
Learn of other reasons why origami is so important in Japanese culture...
If you aim to learn origami folding, a good figure to aim for is the crane - mastering it would mean you have attained an intermediate level of folding skill.
We recommend Washi paper for folding cranes; that brand is the top of the line, meaning your cranes will turn out beautifully. Once you've mastered how to fold this flapping bird, you could try your hand with the dragonfly or cicada, a pinwheel or even an origami box.
What about origami flowers?
You could start very simply, making an origami flower with just four petals and progress to an origami rose.
Who knows? You may even create a kusudama – an origami model made up of origami flowers, sewn or glued together to make a ball.
It will certainly put your childhood fortune teller or paper airplane to shame...
Now learn more about the history of this fascinating and ancient art.