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Fold your arms: Materials for folding

I should like to thank all of those subscribers to Origami-L who responded to my posting on 7th February, 2000 about the materials which can be used for origami. I have also incorporated ideas which I found in the alt.arts.origami and rec.arts.origami newsgroups. Confining my self for the moment to foldable materials that can be used for practical origami, (however ludicrous some of the notions may seem) the following are some of the suggested additions to my list:

Filo pastry or dough (although this should probably be included under "pastry"). Plastic mesh, Metal mesh, Wood veneer and wood shavings. (Probably these are variants of the same thing.) Gold leaf ( but perhaps this should be included in "metal foil") Leaves Ribbon (but is this not a variety of cloth, paper or plastic?)

Dorigami contributed a long list: napkins, scarves. laundry, money, printed brochures, travel brochures, magazine covers, paper grocery bags, gift wrap, candy wrappers, coffee filters. She also added in a postscript: "fruit bark that you buy in rolls at the grocery." (This has me baffled: I don't think we have that in England, but perhaps someone will put me right.) To Dorigami's list I would add, in the same category, tea bags, or rather the little packets that tea bags come in which are very popular for folding in Holland and also, I understand, with some folders in the United States.

With every respect and grateful thanks to Dorigami, however, all these materials come under the heading "paper" or "cloth". (fruit bark may be an exception when I know what it is.) The kind of things I was thinking of were basic kinds of material.

I was greatly impressed by Kenny Kawamura's tour de force in which he listed not only tangible things like rubber balloons, leaves, cords, wood, metal and "mathematical objects", but also abstract concepts like computer programming algorithms, catastrophe theory, and optics, not to mention imaginary science fiction speculations.

All very fascinating, but, again, I was really trying to think of basic materials which could be used for practical origami. Like Dorigami, Kenny lists several kinds of paper items and sources of paper suitable for folding, including money, business cards newspapers and magazines. Under "cords" he lists techniques using cords and yarn, including twining, knotting, tatting and braiding. These, however, are not materials, but techniques which stand in their own right on a par with origami.

On the principle that even if your head is in the clouds it's a good idea to keep your feet on the ground, my own thinking has been confined to materials to which the folding techniques of mainstream origami (ordinary folding) can be applied. I am an enthusiast for John S. Smith's illuminating article on Origami Profiles (see his web site, "Bits of Smith": URL: which has enormously contributed to our understanding of what origami is and how we regard it. One of the things that John points out is that squares merge into rectangles and then into paper strips and into ribbons and eventually into cords or strings.. Everyone draws his own boundary somewhere along this line But, important though this concept may be, this line of progression soon diverges from mainstream origami. I know that making animals and other things by twisting long balloons is sometimes called balloon-folding or even balloon-origami, but here I again, I think it is a bit too far removed from mainstream origami for this present exercise.

One or two people have mentioned the squares of mesh that are now comercially available for folding. Joseph Wu suggested metal mesh and also rayon mesh. Another word that may be relevant is "gauze". When I included "net" in my list, I did, indeed,have in mind the net or mesh origami squares which can now be bought from suppliers of origami paper. But it does focus one's attention on just what we mean by "net", "mesh" or "gauze". I have a specimen of the squares of the commercially produced origami net which I picked up at a convention, but I am unable to lay may hands on it, so for the moment I cannot examine its structure. I had presumed it was made like twine fishing net, made by a kind of knotting or twisting technique, something like simple lace. On the other hand, it could be made by punching holes in a fine fabric or some other material. It seems that the concepts "net" and "mesh" are more confusing than I had supposed, even without going into their mathematical menings. In addition, mesh can also be made by loose weaving, which is, I believe, the usual construction of metal meshes as used in old-fashioned fly-swatters and in some kitchen strainers. Depending exactly on what you mean by "rayon mesh", it may, I think, made by knitting or moulding . Mesh made of plastic, of which rayon, like nylon, is surely a variety, may be moulded or stamped.

If we permutate all the materials and all the methods of making nets or meshes we will end up with an unmanageable list. I propose to limit the selection to the following:

twisted fabric netting or mesh, woven fabric netting or mesh, knitted fabric netting or mesh, woven metal mesh, perforated metal mesh, moulded plastic mesh and perforated plastic mesh.

John Andrisan said that he had folded a Saar Star made from a "wonton" sheet. It sounds unsavoury to me! But what exactly is a "wonton" sheet? Christoper Holt also suggested "wantons" and also "tortillas", which I believe is kind of Mexican pancake. Are wanton sheets and tortillas both pancakes and if so do they need to be included separately?

Very appropriately for an origami list, Julius Kusserow suggested adding the blintz, which gave its name to one of the accepted basic folds. But a blintz is surely a kind of pancake with a filling, whether it is folded with corners to the centre like an origami blintz fold or by rolling it lengthways and then folding the ends underneath. Which way does Julius fold his blintzes? (I am interested in this because it has a bearing on the origin of the term "blintz fold".) Julius also suggested thin vegetables used to decorate food, including radishes in Japan. What vegetables are these and are they really folded? I am aware of decoratively sliced fruits and vegetables such as peaches and radishes used in "nouvelle cuisine", but slicing is not folding.

Bimal Ramesh Desai (who also mentioned mesh squares) folded cranes from filo dough. I originally considered filo dough (known as filo pastry in England) to come into the category of pastry generally, but perhaps it is somewhat different, being made up of several very thin layers, so I propose to list it separately.

While other people have been contributing ideas to the list I have myself come up with a few additions of my own. I realised that my biggest omission was celluloid, to which, perhaps, cellophane and "cling film" may be linked, though I doubt if one would have much joy trying to fold these flimsy materials. On the other hand, it might be possible to make special use of the self-adherent properties of "cling film". Bimai Ramesh Desai also mentioned David Brill's ship in a bottle made from transparent plastic. Is modern transparent plastic the same as celluloid or are they different substances? There is also a heavier kind of white translucent plastic sheeting which is used for lampshades and which I have actually seen used for origami creations at exhibitions at origami conventions. I do not know what it is called. Perhaps someone can tell me.

Like Kennie Kawamura, I also thought of wood veneers and leaves as materials for folding. Palm fronds and similar long leaves from other plants are, indeed, widely used for folding, not only for decorative, but also for practical purposes. So are the corn husks of the maize plant. There are several books on this subject. I expect, too, that an artistic cook could make a decoratively attractive origami meal out of lettuce leaves or even cabbage leaves or the like.

I have mentioned parchment, which is a kind of skin. But there are other kinds of skin, not least snake skin, shark skin and fish skin which are very fashionable for clothing accessories with some people. Other true papers that I have though of which should, perhaps be included are rice paper and onion skin. Grease-proof paper (which is very useful for some kinds of folding) and blotting paper are also sufficiently distinct papers for them to be listed separately. Some kinds of bark, as from certain species of birch trees can be folded. And in the edible field, I have thought that sliced cheese (the soft processed variety would fold best) and slices of smoked salmon might be used for folding, possibly as part of an origami meal. (Now ther'san idea!) Perhaps sliced bacon and ham, too! Finally, at the other extreme, molten glass is very capable of manipulation by expert glass blowers, so I think that sheets of semi-viscous molten glass could be used, if not to fold souvenir Black Forest Cuckoo Clocks in glass, then at least to fold simpler "pure land" kinds of model!

Behind all this seemingly pointless conjecture, I do have a more serious purpose. My intention is to extend the scope of the way folders think about foldable materials. It is not possible to include everything that could possibly be folded, but a representative selection may encourage folders to experiment and enlarge our vision of origami. So my intention has been restricted to pliable plane materials capable of being used for mainstream origami. On the other hand, as Kenny Kawamura has suggested, the idea of "folding" extends far beyond mainstream origami and I have myself mentioned the folding of geological strata and of petals in the bud. The crumpling patterns of a cylinder collapsing under pressure have been shown to be similar to the patterns of paperfolding. We even fold our arms and if we find kneeling at a Japanese meal uncomfortable, we will fold our legs under us. The word "folding" may be applied to linked rods and other linked mechanical structures such as those used by satellite scientists to enable large devices to be folded up and packed into rockets before opening up in space.

At the Second International Meeting of International Origami in Utsu in Japan in 1994 we were given a fascinating presentation on the construction of a large covered stadium by an extraordinarily clever method of folding in which the upper parts of the oval outer walls folded inwards to be locked into position by the descending central part of the roof, which had been previously raised above the height of the walls. The final crucial operation actually took place at the time of the Meeting and we were invited to go to see it. I wonder whether any paperfolders really did manage to tear themselves away from the Meeting in order to watch it happen.

The following is the list of foldable materials which I listed in my previous posting:




Tissue paper

Rubber sheet

Plastic sheet

Crepe paper

Thin card



Tyvek "paper"


Forbon "paper"

Rolled ceramic clay

Paper-backed foil


Sheet metal



Parchment foil

Knitted fabric



Woven fabric

Ceramic paper


The following are the additional categories I am thinking of adding:


Knitted fabric

Leaves and corn husks

Perforated plastic mesh

Woven fabric netting or mesh

Perforated metal mesh

Wood veneer

Sliced cheese

Twisted fabric netting or mesh

netting or mesh

Reptile and fish skins

Gold leaf

Transparent plastic sheet (including celluloid)

Sliced fish (e.g. smoked salmon)

Cellophane Cling film

Sliced meat

Semi-viscous molten glass

Mould plastic mesh


In particular I should like information on the following points:

1. What is Fruit Bark?
2. What is the structure of the squares of netting which can be bought for origami?
3. What is a "wanton" sheet?
4. What are tortillas made of?
5. Is the kitchen-wrap known in the UK as "Cling film" known by that name or some other in North America
6 . What is the name of the stiffish white translucent plastic sheeting used for lampshades
7 . What is the name of the modern version of celluloid?

Please let me hear from anyone who has any further suggestions, corrections or clarifications for either list.

David Lister. Grimsby, England.

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