String Figures 2
I wonder if I may add a few more comments about Origami and String Figures before the topic goes away.
First, in his original note dated 17th June David Phillips referred to "The Art of Origami" by Robert Harbin. This was, of course a slip of the tongue (or the computer keyboard). Robert Harbin didn't write the Art of Origami. The author was Samuel Randlett. Unimportant, perhaps, but several subscribers have quoted David's letter without noticing the error!
The connection between paperfolding and string figures is surely an inherent one. There is no historical or social connection between the two. Yet for long enough, the same sort of minds have been attracted to the two diversions and people having the "paperfolding/recreational mathematical /magical/
puzzle" sort of mind have associated them together. One of the first I have come across was R.M. Abraham, who wrote his "Winter Nights Entertainments" in 1933. This book has been reprinted by Dover under the ludicrous title "Easy-to-do Entertainments and Diversions with coins, cards, sting ,paper and matches". Abraham includes sections of his book on paperfolding and on string figures.
Another writer to link the two was William R. Ransom, who published his "Pastimes with String and Paper" in 1963. For its time, this was a marvellous collection of rainy-day activities, but most prominent are the sections on paperfolding and string figures.
Joseph Leeming wrote "Fun with String" in 1939, and "Papercraft" in 1949. (Both were published in the United States). Both books contain paperfolding. However, the same author also wrote "Fun with String" in 1940, which contains string figures. (This book, too was reprinted by Dover in 1974).
No doubt similar instances could be multiplied. They all illustrate what I have previously referred to as the "Origami Mind" which relishes activities which involve structured creations in which mathematics forms an underlying basis. Of course, such people are also fascinated by computers: the popularity of Origami-L is itself ample evidence of that. But why is our kind of mind so apparently limited? My wife, Margaret can't stand paperfolding, which I sure she regards as an indulgence which will keep David quiet and out of harm's way!. Yet last week, Margaret was knitting the most intricate sweater for our young grand-daughter, involving several skeins of wool and a pattern that would have driven the average paperfolder mad!
Someone mentioned Tatting. My mother-in-law went on a voyage to New Zealand and then round the world in her mid seventies On the voyage, she learnt to tat. I'm sure, she never folded anything more complicated than a paper hat in her whole life. She was also skilful at crocheting. So other people take up pillow lace, weaving, braiding knitting, crochet and a hundred and one other crafts, all of which depend upon an underlying pattern, and consequently on mathematics. Why is it that paperfolding (perhaps accompanied by string figures) is in a category of its own? Or take another illustration. Millions
of people young and old, mechanically minded and dreamily artistic drive cars round congested city streets. They are operating a highly complex piece of mechanical apparatus, the working of which requires independent co-ordination, not only of two hands, but also two feet. It requires constant observation of a kaleidoscopically mobile surroundings, with one eye on a panel of sophisticated instruments and the other on a mirror, necessitating the mental reversal of he image of what is happening at the back of their heads. Yet I constantly see gentle old ladies, the very epitome of the knitting brigade, who would absolutely deny any aptitude for anything mechanical, competently driving their cars around as if it was the most natural thing in the world! My mother-in-law drove her car well into her eighties.
It is probably a matter of expectations. What we expect to be able to do, we can do. What we perceive as "complicated" is beyond our expectations and therefore, beyond our capacity. But this still does not explain why only an apparently restricted group of people have the "Origami mind".
Paperfolding and string figures do have a particular affinity, Fold the most complicated paper model. It can still be unfolded and returned to the original square, uncut and without attachments. Weave the most complex string figure. It will look most impressive, when completed. But drop the fingers and in an instant the original loop of string returns, just as it was before the weaving. In both, something is made out of the simplest square or loop, apparently out of nothing. The, in a flash, the creation vanishes again. Knit a jumper and it is substantial enough to wear and wash. Of course, it can be unravelled, but not quite so easily as the paperfold or string figure.
Paperfolding is the manipulation of a two-dimensional material (a sheet of paper) into new creations without cutting or gluing or pins or staples. In the same way, the weaving of a string figure is the manipulation or a single-dimensional material (a loop of string).In neither instance is there any knotting of the paper or the string. The analogies are very close, but one uses a two dimensional medium, while the other uses a one-dimensional medium. (Yes, I know I'm using the terms "two-dimensional" and "one dimensional" in a loose kind of way, but think you'll get the idea.)
Tomorrow I am flying to Berlin for the Convention of Origami Deutschland. I believe that several subscribers to Origami-L will be there with me. I myself will be away ten days, so that I can take in something of the city. I shall await returning home to the mountainous accumulated wisdom of Origami-L over this period with bated breath!
In the meantime, Happy Folding,
David Lister Back to the index