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A Bit of History
Flowers have never been very popular in traditional origami and still play a minor part of the repertoire of many expert folders. The traditional bases generally have not lent themselves to folding attractive flowers. A flower made from a bird base has only four petals which are too long and are better suited for a star or wings for birds. The frog base, which is more difficult to fold, provides a more suitable foundation for a flower, and produces the four petal lily or iris with four short points in the center. As I will show later these short points can be changed into white squares to provide a white center cluster. Another base for a traditional flower, the water lily, is the triple blintz fold which involves folding in the corners to the center three times and produces twelve points. The points folded in the back side need to be brought to the front, but unless the paper is strong and soft the move is likely to tear the paper. The square petals also need additional work to make them into attractive petals.
It is only when one gets into innovative works does one find more attractive flowers. The best source for flowers is Toshie Takahama's flower book, Hana no Origami (Flower Origami, undated, Yuki Shobo, Tokyo) and Kurashi o Kazaru Origami (Origami to Decorate One's Life, 1969, Makosha, Tokyo). Her style contrasts with mine in that she, like many other Japanese folders, is more liberal about cutting, adding pieces to make the center of the flower or to add layers of petals and to avoid difficult folds. She names her flowers and makes an effort to match them with appropriate leaves. From time to time in Nippon Origami Association's monthly magazine, Origami, there are instructions and displays of origami flowers. In the April, 1990 and October, 1990 issues of Origami are instructions and displays of mass of flowers in a basket and others arranged beautifully on paper and framed as a picture. These are by Keiji Kitamura. I have also seen a couple of efforts to show the lovely form of the rose, a challenge to any folder. There is one in the February, 1992 issue by Akiko Yamanishi. In Top Origami by Toshie Takahama and Kunihiko Kasahara, (1985, Sanrio Company, Tokyo) there is a beautiful rose by Toshikazu Kawasaki.
The Origami Scene
A relatively easy method of displaying folded flowers is to arrange flowers, folded stems and leaves on paper or cardboard to make a framed picture. This approach to origami display was developed by Mrs. Kyo Araki of Kyoto and reported in her Kyo-Origami, (1973, Koseisya-Koseikaku, Tokyo). Among the scenes of Kyoto, there are people, including colorful dancing girls, temples, trees and also flowers and plants. The origami scene has become a popular method of displaying origami and very elaborate pictures are shown at exhibits. The advantage of the flat picture is that it is a relatively simple matter to fold a stem and leaves from narrow strips of paper and connect them to each other and to flowers by pasting them to a sheet of paper or cardboard. A limitation is that everything needs to be folded flat.
Display in a Vase
A more difficult approach is to provide an upright stem to which folded flowers and leaves are attached and the stem placed in some kind of vase. This method is desirable for flowers which are three-dimensional in nature. A common technique to accomplish this is to use artificial flower making methods, which are well known. A stiff wire is used as a stem and green tape is used to attach leaves to the stem as well as to wrap the wire to give it body. The wire can be inserted into the bottom of the flower if there is a hole or a slit. Mrs. Takahama, who used this method trimmed the end of the lily to provide a hole for the stem to enter. The green tape served to hold the flower firmly to the wire stem. This solved the problem of holding the flower upright in a vase as was done with real, imitation or dried flowers.
The objection to the use of wire and tape, of course, was that they were not made of paper. A second approach to making a stem, which used an ancient household technique, was to take a narrow strip of paper and roll it diagonally into a twine called Koyori. The flowers and leaves were attached to it with paste. This method was used by Yoshihide and Sumiko Momotani in Origami, Imeji to Sosaku (1975, Sogensha, Tokyo).
The Origami Stem
Perhaps the most ambitious attempt to attach flowers and leaves to a stem of folded paper using folding techniques only was made by David Collier (See Eric Kenneway's Complete Origami, 1987, St. Martin Press, New York City). Westerners, more often than Japanese, are likely to be purists about allowing cutting and pasting. A square sheet (about six inches?) was cut into fourths, one was discarded, one was cut in half to make a stem and two leaves. Two leaves were first folded and then folded into a narrowed stem. The two longer strips were overlapped to form a longer strip and the sides folded to the center and then the stem with leaves inserted and a second fold made to the center. The net result was a narrow stem about twice the length of the original paper with a stem with leaves attached. The top end of the stem was then inserted into the bottom of the flower, which had a convenient hole underneath. The net result was a flat stem about 5/16 of an inch wide with leaves and flowers, not unlike the stem of the wheat stalk that I made when I worked with knot origami.
The difficulty with the flat stem, as I found, was that it could not be bent easily in all directions, but that it bent too easily into the flat side in spite of attempts to keep it straight. A triangular tube would have been stronger, but then it would be difficult to bend in any direction.
Knot Origami and the Wheat Stalk
My interest in knot origami was aroused by Trish Troy Truitt's writing about it in FOLD, an origami apa or newsletter circulated among about twenty or so subscribers. I first wrote about it in the November-December, 1986 issue and continued to write about it in the April, 1987 issue. Knot origami, which might also be called ribbon origami, consisted of taking a long strip of paper about an inch or so wide and folding it to create both geometric and non-geometric figures. The standard width that I adopted was one inch with the length extending to three or four feet. I started with bond paper, which I initially glued together, but soon shifted to foil paper, which I cut in one long piece from a roll. The paper was originally folded lengthwise in half, the sides folded into the center line, and the whole folded in half again.
This left the paper about a quarter of an inch wide. A key operation of knot origami was usually a series of knots, which form pentagons, with two ends emanating at different angles. By inserting the ends back into the knot, it was possible to get spokes to form a wheel. A series of knots with two spokes could be used to form a series of legs. It was not difficult to form a head by folding a knot at the end of a stem. I made a number of weird creations, but the two that I wrote up in FOLD was the Dodecahedron and the Gion Dancer.
As far as flower arrangement was concerned an important creation was the wheat stalk, which was made by making V-shaped accordion pleats on five or six inches of the end of the strip. In order to make precise accordion pleats the strip was wrapped around itself at a 45 degree angle to get mountain folds equally spaced apart. The stem was cut to a length of 12 or 15 inches, and narrowed down to one-eighth of an inch in width. It was too weak to hold up for long, and easily bent.
Pipe or Tube Origami
My interest in what I called pipe origami came about when Rachel Katz diagrammed a Christmas boot in the November-December, 1990 issue of FOLD. The boot was made of a kite form, with the top rolled down to form the rim for the top of the boot. It was then folded in half and the lower half bent forward using a crimp or double inside reverse fold, which I refer to as a foot fold. She showed how she had improved the boot by pulling out one of the folded in flaps and bringing it on the outside to close the back. I wondered whether it was possible to close the bottom of the boot and also make the boot three dimensional. In the January-February issue I showed how this could be done by pulling out both flaps and overlapping them along the back and bottom. The advantage of the three dimensional boot was the wider opening to hold presents.
This led me to wonder about how to go about bending a triangular tube made by folding a strip of paper into fourths and then overlapping the two end flaps. I worked with 81/2 x 11 inch neon bond paper cut into quarter strips (slightly wider than two inches). I concluded that the easiest way to fold a three dimensional piece was to first fold it in two dimensional form using a crimp or foot fold and then pull out the folded in piece to make the structure three dimensional. This was the same procedure that I had used for the Christmas boot. I found it advantageous to make the bends off center so that loose ends could be tucked into the corners. To use the pipe analogy, the bend gave me an elbow, which allowed for a 90 degree turn. A straight triangular tube could be inserted into an elbow piece. I managed to fold an elbow with a hole at the bend into which it was possible to insert another pipe to form a T. I also learned to make 120 degree bends. By connecting pieces together it was possible to make some structures rising on two or three legs, as well as a dodecahedron. The most useful object that I made was the square chain link, made by making four bends and inserting one end into the other. Several links in different colors could be intertwined to make an attractive decorative piece.
The Inserting and Flexible Stem
I tried the wheat stalk using neon bond letter size paper strips about two inches wide and found it to be fairly attractive. It came in five different colors, and among them was an orange, which I liked for the wheat stalk. But I ended up by using all of the five colors. Using about half of an eleven inch length to fold the wheat stalk left about half for a short stem. This was narrowed in half by folding sides into the center line and forming a three sided tube about a quarter of an inch wide on each side. It was a natural step to use another eleven inch strip to fold a stem as a tube into which the stem of the wheat could be inserted. To emphasize the node of the stem, the end piece folded under for the pipe was brought to the outside, and omitted entirely at the other end. An important additional step taken was to leave a hole at one end of the stem and fold the remainder of the stem in half along the side with overlapping edges. This provided flexibility for the stem, which the triangular tube did not have, while retaining much of the strength of the triangular tube. The end was narrowed even more for insertion into the hole of the stem, and this was extended to the entire length of the stem, thus slimming it down to about an eight of an inch and adding to its strength.
The Development of the Leaf
The connection between the wheat stalk and the stem gave me an opportunity to try to create and insert a leaf into the same opening. I took a strip of paper about 1 × 5 inches, folded it diagonally, and then folded the excess inside. I later developed a lock so that the side would not gape open. This added the need to distinguish between right and left side leaves. Thus not only the leaf but a method of attaching it to the stem without tape or glue was found. The leaf did contribute to the attractiveness of the arrangement of wheat stalks in a vase later on.
The Development of the Vase
The tube vase benefited from works of others on boxes. At the last origami convention I had sat in on a class for folding Phillip Shen's fancy hexagonal box, and was therefore aware of the diagonal folds along the corners of the end pieces which allowed the closing of the ends. But the vase also benefited from the work on pipe origami. I was thinking of how it might be possible to avoid the wasted paper when a box is made by putting the bottom in the middle of the paper and bringing up the sides and having to fold in the excess, when the idea of using a tube came to mind. Light letter size cardboard stock was first folded into fifths and then folded into a four-sided tube.
To close one end, half of the width of the side was folded in, diagonal folds made at the corner to complete the bottom of the box. The top of the box was folded in the same way, but in order to have a narrow opening to hold flowers, the ends were folded in along the sides and only half of it was folded out toward the center, forming a dropped and narrowed opening at the top. Some dried flowers were put in the vase and the center opening appeared to work well as I had hoped. But when a large allium with a ball about nine inches across was put in the vase, it tipped over. On a hunch I turned the vase over and put the stem of the allium in the small hole in the center of what was the bottom of the box. And lo and behold the allium and the vase did not tip over. This is how the bottom of the box came to be used as the top, where the center hole and the slit to the corners could be used as vises to hold the stems in place. This solved a problem faced by flower arrangers who often needed to wedge cut stems to hold stems in position.
The problem of tipping was reduced further by using the heavier poster board, which was initially selected because it was available in black, and by making the vase wider and shorter in height. At one point I considered the standard vase size to be made from a poster board measuring 7 × 13 inches and 4.5 inches tall and 2.5 inches along the sides. At the present time the vase is made from 6 x 13 inch poster board, and measures 3.5 inches tall and 2.5 inches wide and is used with stems and leaves cut from 10 inch square paper.
Another fortuitous finding was that the folded-in ends along the insides of the vase could be used to wedge the bottom of the stems. The main danger was bending the stem in attempting to force the stems into the slot, and it was sometimes necessary to make a preliminary hole with the sharp end of a pencil or flat screwdriver before inserting the stem. This feature made it unnecessary to use a Kenzan or frog to hold the stems. Thus the vase was ready to use without the need for other accessories often used in flower arrangement.
The Newport Black Ship Festival, 1991
Having folded the wheat stalk, made the stems and leaves and prepared the vase, I planned to teach it at the Black Ship Festival, held annually at Newport, Rhode Island, to commemorate Commodore Perry's opening up of Japan. This was an annual event in which I participated by teaching a couple of classes on origami--mostly to beginners. When I made a sample arrangement of three wheat stalks arranged in a vase and sent it to the Japan America Society to be displayed, it was suggested that it be used as a display for the festival ball, a black tie affair. Knowing very little about flower arrangement I consulted a family friend, Mrs. Yasko Suzuki, who had studied the Sogetsu method of flower arrangement, for a suitable arrangement. She suggested the use of a black vase to set off the orange color, which led me to use poster board in place of light card board. She arranged the two longer wheat stems on one side, hanging down in a similar fashion and the shorter one facing the other direction. As it turned out the poster board was easily folded with the aid of a little pre-creasing. I had to make 20 arrangements, which required time and effort.
This event, however, impressed upon me the fact that origami flower arrangement could have a practical as well as artistic value. It could play a useful part in decorating a home as a centerpiece at a dinner table or as a decoration on a mantel or even a work desk. It tied in directly with the ancient art of flower arrangement which was still taught in Japan. The folding process as well as the flower arrangement could be taught, I thought. All of this was possible with relatively little expenditure for material.
From Wheat Stalks to Flowers
The wheat stalks using neon bond paper was only partially successful. When the arranged wheat stalks were returned, many of them were in poor condition. Some of the flowers and leaves came off, and some of the stalks were bent beyond repair. Part of it was due to the weakness of the paper. It could not be expected to hold up against excessive moisture, for example, or against abuse during transportation and handling. Even before the Black Ship Festival had started I began to experiment with foil paper, and decided that it was definitely stronger than paper. Even so, I felt that doubling the width of the paper would provide more adequate strength. I also began to fold and arrange flowers and asked Mrs. Suzuki to help arrange them.
Excerpted from Origami Flowers by James Minoru Sakoda. Copyright © 1999 James Minoru Sakoda. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Posted March 31, 2013