Origami has had a long-standing tradition of precision folding; razor-sharp creases and needle-like corners have been the norm, and origami models have been collections of planar geometric triangles. That all changed ten or so years ago when Yoshizawa began visiting the West and promoting the idea of “folding softly.” The technique he used was wet-folding, folding origami from a damp paper, which could retain gentle curves and incomplete creases when dried.
The idea caught on in England, but not so much in America. It was quickly realized that foil-backed paper possessed many of the advantages of wet-folding without the mess. Foil was certainly easier to work with, but the shiny surfaced proved offensive to many. The advent of Spray-Mount solved that problem; by affixing tissue over the shiny side, one could make paper in any desirable color. Carrying the idea one step further, one could band tissue directly to aluminum foil (both sides) to make a paper simultaneously thin, strong, pretty, and almost infinitely moldable.
Through all these developments, wet-folding has persisted with two unique characteristics. First, the look of a thick paper, particularly one with texture, cannot be duplicated by a thin foil-based paper. Second, and more important, when dry, wet-folded models are durable. The same metal that makes foil-based papers so malleable makes them fragile. It is common at conventions to see an origami artist pull his foil model out of a box and laboriously smooth out the points that have been crumpled in transit. By contrast, a properly wet-folded model is quite rigid and can take the shall knocks of travel.
This aspect of folding has significance beyond simply getting a model to and from a show in once piece. Most origami models are ephemeral. Over time, the paper spreads; the creases relax; the color fades. Over months or years, acids in the paper can attack it, yellowing and embrittling the fibers. most folders accept that origami is folded one minute, crumpled and tossed away the next. They send models to conventions, not expecting them back, and why should they, when they can make another in half an hour?
I think this attitude has hurt us in the eyes of the general public, most of whom see origami as either a child’s toy or a clever trick – but a trick only. The tricks are there, in the design of a fold, but artistry lies in the performance, the craftsmanship and spirit of the finished model. But how much spirit can there be in a model that has to be reshaped every time someone picks it up? If origami is to be art it musts not be disposable. Each piece must be unique, and it must endure.
Endurance; that is the strength of wet-folding. However the method has its drawbacks. It’s messy; the paper is difficult to work with and easy to rip. Precise folding is difficult what with the swelling and shrinkage of the paper, and complex multilayered models are almost out of the question because of the thickness. The soft creases and gentle shaping can be matched by foil-based papers; for complicated folds, other materials prevail; but for the ‘Combination of beauty and permanence, there is nothing better.