As a high school student I found some studies important, especially in the area of engineering. To develop these skills I joined a good friend in critical research: we developed and flew paper airplanes.

Ok, so flying paper airplanes wasn’t part of the official curriculum.  That didn’t stop our diligence – we were not satisfied by folding and flying darts, we flew gliders too. And when we ran out of styles to fly, we invented new ones.  All in the name of research, of course.

My buddy had a small advantage on the inventing side. Because of his interest in paper folding, he’d checked out a book on Origami and learned some basic techniques. This led to a joint invention – I worked up a glider design to a certain point and got stuck – he looked at a structure and said “hey, those are crane bases”, and turned them into landing gear. (Hey, cranes have landing gear!)

This “crane base” thing intrigued me, I wanted to know more. He clued me in on Origami, the ancient Japanese art of paper folding. Although paper cranes are the traditional figure, many forms are possible. He showed me the book and taught me how to do a crane, and a more complex figure – a crab.

Over the years I acquired my own origami books, and tried folding lots of different things: birds, fish, dogs, cats, bugs, flowers, boxes, dinosaurs,  you name it. I learned that creating all these different things had different levels of difficulty; anything from simple forms you can teach your 6-year-old to OMG how is that possible.

For young men, there’s a rite of passage you must surmount as you grow older – you must attempt something of great difficulty. There’s a range of tests you can attempt; one is advanced paper folding. Those who try this and fail have been known to pull their hair out in the attempt.

And all this time you thought baldness was hereditary.

Unlike a few savants who have an intuitive sense of creating shapes from various folds, average folks follow folding diagrams. Although origami’s been around for hundreds of years, the diagramming notation is  fairly new, it was developed in the 50’s and 60’s. It includes concepts like valley folds, mountain folds, previous fold lines, fold/unfold steps, reverse folds, crimp folds, simple squash folds, and sink folds (as in, when you see it called for you get a sinking feeling.)

Having escaped that midlife rite of passage with my hair mostly intact, I’m able to use this notation to complete intermediate level figures and some advanced figures. The fact I’m not fully bald is due to being willing to punt when I can’t figure something out, and not even attempt the truly insane figures. I also have mastery of the advanced squash fold: place the model in your palm, close fingers tightly creating a wad, and hurl it across the room. Loud verbal accompaniment with this technique is optional.

Here is an example of a couple diagram pages: a fairly straightforward shark on the left, and a cicada (OMG!) on the right. The number next to each diagram show how many steps you’re into the model.  For the cicada there are about 6 pages worth before and a couple more afterward. Click on either to enlarge.


Both of these pages are from a book by Robert Lang. When you look at the OMG model, it will not surprise you to learn he was trained as a physicist and worked for a while at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Yeah. A rocket scientist.

Not to worry, there are plenty of models for those of us at the 6-year-old level.

Ok, enough telling, it’s time for some showing. In addition to the intro crab, here are some figures I’ve done:

Horse and Rider
Rabbit, Horse, Penguin, Two Dinosaurs, Panda, obscured Frog and Turtle
Tiger, Ape, Blue Bird, Rabbit, Mask, Cat, Lion, Elk, Mask, Crab
Back Row: Four Masks. Front: Seal, Cow, Fox, Cat, Dragon
Dog, Spider, Elephant, Cat, Earwig, Bird
You Name It

Origami has been an off and on hobby over the last 40 plus years, more off than on lately. It’s not a hobby for everyone, you need to have an eye for detail and precision, and a fair amount of patience. With a name like Ply (work at something steadily) and a background in software (exacting detail work), I guess it’s a natural fit for me.

But even if I’m not actively folding, it’s still a handy skill to have.  Many’s the time on my travels I’ve had some time to kill and a spare piece of paper laying around, and I’ll fold up a crab or a swan and leave it for a maid or a waitress as a little thank you. Or I’ll fold something up while I’m in a group and pass it around just to see how folks react to all the folds and layers. (How many ply is that thing anyway?)

There is a downside. Some 20 years ago, after giving a crab to a girl I was interested in and admitting this was not uncommon, she said I must be notorious; I travel the world and wherever I go I end up giving women crabs.

24 thoughts on “Origami

    1. Maybe you just started with something too complex. It also helps to have someone show you how to do an initial figure rather than trying to figure it out from a diagram. There’s nothing quite like a follow along demo. Although I do find when I do demos people tend to be a little sloppy with their folds, and that’s a problem that magnifies as you get further into a piece.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, heaven forbid, I am not sloppy with my folds! I even fold those little airline snack bags into perfect little packets, ends all squared off and tucked in, along with many other very anal folding tasks! I think it’s more that I got tired of it and moved on to other detail-oriented challenges, like quilting, for example. Origami is very cool, though!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ve done a little origami in my day, but nothing as complex as a crab. Guess I’ll have to stick with giving cranes to the ladies. I’m not as notorious, I suppose. That’s some pretty cool paper folding though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The interesting thing about that particular crab is that although it looks horribly complicated, its folds are pretty straightforward, there’s just a lot of repetition. It takes about 30 minutes of folding to crank one out.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’d send you the diagram, but I’ve never been able to find the book my buddy learned it from. That’s one reason I make it fairly often – I had memorize it and don’t want to forget the steps.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, I’m impressed by your patience and the results are fantastic. I still treasure a small origami crab given to me by a friend, since passed on. It surfaces every year for my Christmas tree ( Ok, if it was a reindeer, understandable, but I have an unusual Christmas tree!) Thank you for sharing, it’s amazing to see what folks can create!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm – maybe I should make one for the tree. I’ve made cranes and flying seagulls for it out of tinfoil (and boy does that stuff hold a crease), but never a crab.


  3. Tony Schmidt

    You taught me to make the crab when I was little (must have been a little older than 6, but not much). I still remember how to make it, but may take a couple attempts. I remember vividly when you made the simple boat form with exceptionally crisp geometry and flat crisp edges that lined up just right. I held it in my hands with a feeling of amazement and strange lightness in my fingers compared with mine. That something could be folded so perfectly when my attempts were “correct” but a couple degrees off and not quite perfect still sticks with me. I too pursued this craft as an adult off and on. Mostly flying origami, elaborate fighter planes, being my favorite. This post inspires me to break out the origami bin and take another crack at teaching my boys some of the the basic folds…maybe the crab!

    Thanks Dave

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Tony, nice to hear from you. 🙂 I remember teaching you the crab when you were just a little guy and being impressed that you finished it. You were by far the youngest person I’ve taught the crab figure, and it’s not even close. Most adults struggle with the demo, maybe you didn’t realize it was supposed to be hard.

      I still like paper airplanes too. I have a couple airplane books in the collection, as well as a video set.

      Writing this piece inspired me to break out the origami books too. After publishing it I challenged myself with this grasshopper.


  4. Giving women crabs is bad enough, but making a crane and then giving them the bird could get your face slapped.

    Anyway, I think these are great. My favorites were the dinosaurs and the dragon. (I’m clearly still a big kid at heart.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m glad you shared this, what a great idea for a post. My oldest son has tinkered on and off with origami and I find his little creations in random places around the house. He had a teacher last year who utilized it as a classroom fun-time activity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Of course now that I’ve spent some time ruminating about origami, I’m getting the inclination to torment myself with some more tricky figures to fold.


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