Learning Origami During COVID

NASA/Jet Propulsion Lab: Origami Unfolds in Space

Origami is a great, inexpensive hobby. I've been folding seriously since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. I fold at the high intermediate level. My models are nice enough that I can gift them. I like origami because I can give someone something nice and I don't worry about what happens to it. After all, it's just paper... and I can replace it fairly quickly.

I got interested in origami after watching a documentary on Robert Lang's work. He was a NASA physicist before becoming a full-time origami artist. The math behind paper folding is now a hot topic in aeronautics, because origami structures are proving to be useful in storing solar arrays and communications disks that need to be deployed at a later time. It's now a hot topic among those interested in nanotechnology, because it provides rather unique ways to develop mechanical devices. See Lang's TED talk for inspiration.

What I do with my models

  • I make my own cards and I use an origami model to decorate them.
  • The president of my Ladies' Auxiliary places an origami model in each card she sends.
  • As part of the Ladies' Auxiliary, I send boxes of origami models to people who are sick, are hospitalized, in nursing homes or rehab.  I always give more than enough models, so the person receiving the models can give models to people he or she meets. Origami can be given to people with compromised immune systems (found that out from the Roswell Park Cancer Center).
  • I've sent boxes of origami models to people whose job is to visit the sick.
  • I've decorated the front door of my apartment with models.
  • I've given models away to my neighbors. Now, my neighbors want models to put into cards, to give to family.
  • I've made paper wallets for my collection of business cards, loyalty cards, etc.
  • I've made pretty boxes... for gifts, for putting small loose objects in.
  • I've given models to well-behaved, curious kids... especially when I know that the kid is working hard to behave. (When I was a toddler/preschooler, ladies would carry lollipops in their purses and give them to well-behaved young children. I got more than my fair share of lollipops.)
  • I've given models to people who I can see are going through tough times, who just got off the phone and the news was not good....
  • I trade models.
  • I make holiday decorations.

How to learn origami

You will want good quality practice paper (see links to sources below). It's really difficult to fold with poor quality paper—which is what the large craft stores, such as Michael's and Hobby Lobby sell.

Start with very easy models and work your way up to more challenging models. I learned primarily from YouTube videos,  Select videos that show the instructor folding at regular speed. Watch the video all the way through before you try to make the model. When you fold, watch the instructor performing the fold, stop the video, then perform the fold. When you get more advanced, the instructor will be demonstrating moves where the paper has to be unfolded, where you have to push at a particular spot.  When things get complicated, it's a good idea to watch that bit of video several times over,

The more careful, the more accurate your folding is, the better your model will look. Practice, practice, practice. Origami is not easy, but you will get the hang of it.

The traditional crane is considered a 'low intermediate' model. It's a good idea to have successfully completed easier projects before trying this one.

Another trick I learned from a Japanese documentary is to follow the instructor's hands. If the instructor points out something on the model, you point out that out on your model. This encourages you to engage in 'active learning'.

I learned origami primarily from YouTube videos.  These are all sites with clear instruction. Here are sites I find particularly useful:

Paper Kawaii: https://www.youtube.com/user/paperkawaii

Origami with Jo Nakashima: https://www.youtube.com/user/jonakashima

Easy origami: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOWJnQc2ITJF8hRxh2n-CyQ/videos

Origigamido studio: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQGrk-uQMfpX7Et0p9gBZ1A


It's important for beginners to use decent practice paper. Most of the paper sold in craft stores is from recycled materials and is pretty dodgy. A good rule of thumb is that if a quality origami teacher uses that paper when teaching a model, it's probably good paper.

The Tuttle Publishing Company imports good quality, authentic practice paper at good prices. These packets come in a variety of themes. Choose a pack of 500 15cm paper. Link: https://www.amazon.com/Origami-Paper-sheets-Kaleidoscope-Patterns/dp/0804849358\

Many people recommend Aiotch paper as a good, all round paper. Link: https://www.amazon.com/Aitoh-OG-4-500-Origami-5-875-Inch-500-Pack/dp/B002EF9BPO/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&qid=1478076551&sr=8-7&keywords=origami+paper+500&linkCode=sl1&tag=ortu-20&linkId=4d2c5be0b9ad449577054e71c5aee709

I just graduated to Tant Paper. It's the go-to paper of serious paper folders. However, it's probably not a great choice for beginners, because it's a bit thick, stiff, and can tear. Link: https://www.amazon.com/Toyo-Tant-Colors-Origami-Sheets/dp/B00BYCN186/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=Tant+origami+paper&qid=1603128949&sr=8-3


Michael G. Lafosse is well known for his clear instructions. It gets good reviews from the 12-15 set. Here is a link to a beginners' book he wrote: https://www.amazon.com/Classic-Origami-Beginners-Easy-Fold/dp/0804849587


Another book that gets great reviews is "Everyone Can Learn Origami", by Pete Saydak. It's actually slightly better thought of than the Lafosse book. Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1978356897/sr=8-1/qid=1511251546/ref=as_li_ss_tl?_encoding=UTF8&me=&

A great choice for a second book on origami would be "Origami Omnibus: Paper Folding for Everyone" by Kunihiko Kashara. This might be  Link: https://www.amazon.com/Origami-Omnibus-Paper-Folding-Everybody/dp/4817090014/ref=pd_sbs_14_4/139-5497151-7831831?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=4817090014&pd_rd_r=6f3cae3d-baa2-41fa-bfb0-5ce6819484a7&pd_rd_w=UuBd9&pd_rd_wg=VHz09&pf_rd_p=b65ee94e-1282-43fc-a8b1-8bf931f6dfab&pf_rd_r=PFVD8ACKP64ZQ4V6S0HC&psc=1&refRID=PFVD8ACKP64ZQ4V6S0HC

I really like "Michael Lafosse Origami Butterflies: Elegant designs from a Master Folder". It comes with 2 DVDs that show the butterflies being folded.  This is a beginner to intermediate book... the first butterfly is easy to fold.  Fold in order, because they are progressively more difficult and he introduces skills that you will use later on. Link: https://www.amazon.com/Michael-LaFosses-Origami-Butterflies-Instructional/dp/4805312262/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Lafosse+butterflies&qid=1603127259&s=books&sr=1-1


You will definitely want to have a box to store your paper in. I have this ArtBin box. It has a pretty sturdy locking mechanism. I've carried my paper in this box in my backpack. So far, the box hasn't exploded open. link: https://www.amazon.com/ArtBin-Essentials-Storage-Container-6953AB/dp/B00BRG5IK8/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=origami+paper+storage+box&qid=1603127560&s=books&sr=1-2-catcorr

A bone folder is a useful tool. You don't need this when you start out (the back of a spoon works good for getting a good crease) Here is a link to the one I have: https://www.amazon.com/VENCINK-Creasing-Leathercrafts-Bookbinding-Burnishing/dp/B07124JM74/ref=sr_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=origami+tools+bone+folder&qid=1603128068&s=books&sr=1-5-catcorr

Robert Lang: Origami, math & science applications

Robert Lang, TED2008, The math and magic of origami  https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_lang_the_math_and_magic_of_origami#t-4…

Origami, as Robert Lang describes it, is simple: "You take a creature, you combine it with a square, and you get an origami figure." But Lang's own description belies the technicality of his art; indeed, his creations inspire awe by sheer force of their intricacy. His repertoire includes a snake with one thousand scales, a two-foot-tall allosaurus skeleton, and a perfect replica of a Black Forest cuckoo clock. Each work is the result of software (which Lang himself pioneered) that manipulates thousands of mathematical calculations in the production of a "folding map" of a single creature.

The marriage of mathematics and origami harkens back to Lang's own childhood.  As a first-grader, Lang proved far too clever for elementary mathematics and quickly became bored, prompting his teacher to give him a book on origami. His acuity for mathematics would lead him to become a physicist at the California Institute of Technology, and the owner of nearly fifty patents on lasers and optoelectronics. Now a professional origami master, Lang practices his craft as both artist and engineer, one day folding the smallest of insects and the next the largest of space-bound telescope lenses.

Robert Lang's website: https://langorigami.com/

Robert Lang talks about his life, math, and origami.

NASA: Origami in space

What do you use when you need to put a large structure into space with a small rocket? Watch this video!! Technical origami.

Space Origami: Make Your Own Starshade