It’s a bit hard to explain the allure of origami to the uninitiated. You take a piece of colored paper, fold it into convoluted geometric patterns and somehow (perhaps through a bit of black magic or a blood pact with Cthulhu) you end up with a paper thing that sort of resembles a not-paper thing. It’s not exactly rocket science, but when most people face the terribly complicated world of squash folds, waterbomb bases, and “sinking the tip,” it is easy to cry “Impossibluh!” and accuse enthusiasts of this ancient Japanese art of being paper-folding sorcerers hell-bent on hoodwinking the populace into frustrating itself as countless would-be origamists throw their crunched up ball of paper into the wastebasket after a disastrous attempt at making a crane.
For most of my life, I have viewed those people capable of such a confusing art as somewhat inhuman, as if only a demigod could decipher the baffling code of vague instructions that was origami. But yet I was still absolutely fascinated by the pictures I saw of brilliantly colored flowers and animals and boxes all made out of paper. They were beautiful and intricate and I longed to be able to create such gorgeous artwork out of nothing but a square of paper and my own two hands. It was like magic watching the videos of skillful fingers folding the paper into simple creases over and over again until they fashioned something incredibly complex. It was like witchery, how such effortless movements could produce such beauty.
I vowed to myself that I would learn this art, but lacking an instructor, special paper, or even a particularly coordinated set of hands, the odds seemed to stack loomingly against my favor. Thus I turned to the ultimate source of knowledge, the almighty Google, for help. A few keystrokes later, I was on an origami instruction site browsing the instructions on how to make a simple bird.
Armed with my raggedly cut square of copy paper I had pilfered from the printer, I followed the first step in making the bird, which was folding the paper into a triangle. Easy enough! I said to myself with a smug grin. I have been folding triangles since pre-school! Maybe this whole origami thing isn’t so hard after all! I looked at the screen of my computer for the next step.
“Now squash fold the triangle to create the square base.” The instructor in the video calmly said as she made a quick movement with her hands and suddenly magicked the formerly triangular piece of paper into a square piece of paper. I was flabbergasted as I rewinded the video and tried to make sense of whatever trickery the instructor had done to make her square.
“Squash fold” she repeated as I kept on replaying the same two seconds trying to spot what on Earth she meant as her disembodied hands made the movement over and over again. I finally managed to smoosh my paper into a vaguely square-ish shape and continued the video onto the next step.
“Now fold the four flaps of your square diagonally to create a kite shape.” She said as I desperately tried to find the flaps. Unfortunately, my square wasn’t squash folded so those flaps didn’t exactly exist in my realm of reality. I tossed my paper and started fresh with a second piece. This time, I managed to fold the square base and summon the four flaps into this dimension. I had a kite that looked like a similar, if messy version of the one on the video.
“Now open the flaps of the kite back out and fold them in.” The instructor insisted. I was taken aback by this as I had just been gloating over my victory over the nefarious folded flaps and I was now being instructed to unfold them. This is kind of futile, isn’t it? I thought to myself, all this folding and unfolding. But I obeyed the instructor and reluctantly unfolded my flaps.
“Now we are going to do a petal fold and bring the flaps inside the kite.” The voice ordered. The instructor opened up the paper and did a confusing maneuver and suddenly the flaps were on the inside and the paper was diamond shaped. I grimaced and tried to copy the maneuver but I ended up opening my paper completely up and folding it into a sort of bizarre rectangle. As this current incarnation of folded paper was never going to look anything like the one in the video, I quickly crumpled it up and I hung my head in defeat. I’m never going to be able to do this! I fumed as I tossed my aborted creation into the trash. I looked back at the picture of the haughty completed crane that seemed to be laughing snootily at my inability to copy it. It was mocking me with it’s elegant, perfectly folded wings, graceful arched beak. It was daring me to quit. I furrowed my brow and narrowed my eyes at the infernal paper bird on the screen.
“I am going to make you, you stupid paper crane!” I hissed. Taking a third sheet of paper and praying fervently, I replayed the video, stopping it at each second mark to copy the instructor’s motions with almost fanatical exactness. I mastered the squash fold and narrowly overcame the petal fold until I had the base of the bird completed to look exactly like the one in the video.
I bit my lip nervously as I clicked on the play button. I had never come so close to completing the bird and the tension was running high.
“Now take the right leg of your base, and diagonally inner fold it to the top.” The voice instructed, completely unaware of the mounting suspense I felt as I copied the motion. The picture of the completed bird taunted me to mess up and my fingers were practically shaking as I slowly folded my crane into being.
Ok, careful now Maddie! I whispered to myself as I folded up the head, you’re almost there, don’t lose it now. The head was up now all that was left was the tail.
“You can’t do it!” the crane in the picture jeered. “You stink at origami!”
You’re wrong Origami Crane! I mentally retaliated, I can do this!
Then in one smooth motion, I lifted up the tail of my crane and to my amazement it went to the right place. I whooped in delight as I held my completed paper creation in my hands. I was rough all right, and compared to the crane in the picture it looked like one of the after-pictures in a drug PSA, but it was a bird and I had made it and my sense of personal achievement was undiminished.
In that moment, I decided that origami was possible and that I liked it. Placing my crane on the top of my computer I clicked on the next video for another design. My parents came home that day to a kitchen covered with a myriad of paper creations and I furiously folding long into the wee hours of the night.
The cool thing about origami is that it is all about making something out of nothing. All you have is your hands and a flat piece of paper, but with a little bit of folding and a lot of prayer, you can create something really lovely. There is so much to make and figure out! Happy Folding!