Art, Origami & Education
About me  
Akira's Children  
Angle trisection  
Contact John  
Division 3rd 5th 7th  
Fold Difficulty  
Forgiving folds  
History Notes  
In the Beginning  
Minimal Folding  
OIL : Origami instruction language  
Records & Curiosities  
Santa Claus  
Scanner Pictures  
Suggesting movement  
Therapy & Education  
UK Sites  
site design : nick robinson  

Forgiving Folding

In this paper I examine the steps which are involved in making a fold and the kind of difficulties which can arise for handicapped people. A method of difficulty analysis is introduced and this is used to simplify folding methods. Some forgiving folds are presented with simplified folding methods.

I began to think seriously about the use of Origami for therapeutic purposes after hearing a presentation by Dr. Maria Paparo at the Ferrera convention in 1989. As a result of this I did a study of all of the published material I could find and in October 1990 I published a little booklet on Origami therapy. This led to COET91 and there I heard much more about the way Origami could help the disadvantaged. My interest in adapting paper folding to meet the needs of the handicapped or disabled was further stimulated by Martin and Veronica Probert in England. They appealed to me for models which spastic children could fold and get pleasure and benefit from. I am pleased to say my selection worked very well This paper is a result of further research.

In this presentation I want to put forward some ideas and ways of thinking about Origami for the disadvantaged which I hope will stimulate the exchange of ideas and perhaps some research.

The way I want to tackle this formidable subject is as follows.


To start my analysis I want to distinguish two roles and a process/material phase.

 The teacher has the problems of communication and motivation in the light of the folders difficulties. He or she must go through the sequence of steps involved in making a fold. The material and process involves the best choice of paper, model and the sequence of moves. The folder has to be open to the communication and to try to follow the teacher.

( it will be clear that I am only concerned here with Origami being shown or taught to the folder, i.e. not from instruction sheets etc.)


To understand where difficulties may arise for the folder it seems sensible to try to understand the sequence of steps that a folder goes through in learning a model. This will provide guidance on the selection of models, possible simplification and the design of a folding sequence.


My analysis suggests that there are 7 steps in the process of making a fold as far as the folder is concerned;


******* 1 *....................... ..

1. Receive information, that is to take in the way the next move is to be made from the teacher.

.........** 2 ******............... 2.Orientate, to ensure that the model is in the correct position to make the fold.
...***** 3 **....................... 3. To understand how the teachers communication applies to the folder's model
.....**** 4 ****................... 4. To locate the fold
******* 5 *......................... 5. Hold the paper together where the fold is to be made
******* 6 *......................... 6. Make the crease
....***** 7 ***...................... 7.Check with the teacher that the move has been made correctly.

Naturally there will often be a need to backtrack through he steps. Thus step 3 often involves going back to step 1. I have indicated in a crude way whether the step is mainly mental or physical as this will help in seeking to remove difficulties.


Having identified the steps I want to look at the difficulties which can arise for the disadvantaged and see how their challenges can be met.

The steps which involve substantial mental activities may involve difficulties in:-

  • Intelligence Level Pattern/order sense
  • Spacial, shape, orientation Visual memory
  • Motivation Attention span

You will appreciate that I am not an educational psychologist ( or any other sort) although in my career in marketing research I have worked with psychologists extensively.. Nevertheless from my research I think that some of the key problem areas can be identified. I hope the ideas here may be worked on by better qualified people.

The difficulties in the physical domain are likely to be:-

  • Hearing Coordination/control
  • Sight Mobility
  • Touch Use of hands etc.
  • Matching movement to concept Confinement

I now want to see how the choice of models and the process of folding can be adapted or changed to reduce or remove difficulties for those with mental or physical disabilities. For each of the 7 steps of the folding process let me suggest ways in which Origami can be made easier.


Behind the folding process is the need for motivation, the emotion or drive to do or to act.. Without this nothing is possible. many teachers encourage motivation by letting the potential folder adopt a passive role first of all. Freda Lourie in her work at a New York hospital used to fold a model from a page torn from a colourful magazine in front of the patient.

There is something inherently fascinating if not magical about the process of turning a sheet of paper into something else.

The result can become a personal gift to the recipient. Certainly for children the end product should be something that can be played with, or used, perhaps in a form of projection. This passive phase can be vital when trying to open up communication with those who are fearful of contact. Paper is both fascinating and non- threatening. Much more research needs to be done on the problems of paper folding , motivation and communication.

The key

When we are dealing with the challenges which arise due to mental difficulties then I believe simplicity is the key. Those with limited intelligence may well respond to colour, shape and patterns of movement. Obviously in the beginning at least we must choose models with as few steps as possible, using easy folds and are easy to communicate. it is a case of adapting Origami to the capabilities and interests of the folder.

 When we are dealing with physical difficulties then we must focus attention on the actual folding process. and try to make this as accessible as possible.

 Whether we are dealing with the mental or physical limitations there are two aspects to consider:-

  • Selecting attractive and forgiving models
  • Designing the folding/teaching process


I will look later at the problem of finding attractive and forgiving models. Let me now concentrate on the design of the folding process. First of all the paper to be used by the folder.

        Different Colours on each side Right shape, size and thickness Crease easily and straight Good feel to surface Perhaps differential surfaces

The paper used by the teacher must be perceived as equivalent to that used by the folder. It must be larger so that it is easily seen at a distance. If a background is used to make clear the step that is being shown, both sides of the paper need to show up clearly against it.

The Folding Process

 I want now to focus on the folding process and the problems of teaching and communicating.

Looking again at the 7 steps the folder will have to go through how can we help this process?

1. Use multi paths of communication.Lillian Oppenheimer, Alice Gray and Michael Shall were brilliant at this. Using terms such as ice cream cone, long side, and short side, they gave a simple but easy to understand description of the shapes before and after the fold. Sabura Kase in teaching the visually impaired uses the identification of the corners of the shape by feeling and numbering them so that he can then verbally identify them and the folder can locate and feel them.

 2. Show the fold the same way round as the folder, so left and right are easily understood.

 3. Help orientation not only by description but by having the folder hold the model up the same way as the teacher this aids checking and encourages group activity. (Shall's teaching again)

 4. Encouraging feedback looking for switch-off , praising success, encouraging sharing where possible.

 The folding process, location, holding and creasing.

 Before we can make a crease or creases we must locate the fold line. This can be done in two main ways. Either we locate the actual crease line or we locate points which have to be brought in coincidence. Try this for yourself:-

First of all put p2 on to p1 and then make the fold, (this is a perpendicular bisector of p1, p2).

Now on a new square locate the fold only by the line itself, this is far more difficult.

 The other location problem which arises is where the location points occur. The easiest for many disadvantaged people is the boundary, as in our first example. This is because we can use touch to guide us and also put the paper on a contrasting surface to show up the points. A location point within the boundary is often more difficult as it usually depends on seeing crease lines without the benefit of contrast.

The other difficulty arise when we have two locate 4 points to make the crease. A simple example is;-

Here point P1 must touch line L1 while point P2 touches L2. If you try this you will see that it is not at all easy to do.

Obviously we must try to find a method of folding which makes the identification of the crease line as easy as possible. In general we should prefer to use points on the boundary to coincide.

The next problem is that of holding the paper and actually making the fold. I think you will readily accept that it is easier to make a valley or mountain fold than a reverse fold which requires the manipulation of 4 creases simultaneously. A sink in a cone of 4 layers is a quite difficult task. So if we are to help disadvantaged people to fold as accurately as possible then we should seek to only use mountain/valley/valley folds or possibly a reverse fold if we must.

MAD , method of difficulty analysis.

As a way of ranking or ordering models it would be convenient to have a measure of the relative difficulty of the location and manipulation of folds. In order to arrive at a measure I have estimated the time required on a trial basis by attempting the different types of locations in poor light. The actual manipulation difficulty I have used timed trials which I published in the BOS magazine in 1976. By including a nominal time for the actual fold of a valley/mountain and a time for orientation I have constructed a model of elements which are additive and give an indication of total difficulty. As a label for identification I have called this MAD, method of difficulty analysis.


Folding difficulty measurements

Coincidence Method 
2 locators on boundary 4 secs.
2 locators internal 6 secs.
4 locators 12 secs.

Crease method ( diagonal in half)
4 locators 16 secs

Mountain/valley 2 secs

(secs extra after location and preliminary creasing)
Squash/reverse 8 secs
Petal 17 secs
Rabbit's ear 11 secs
Sink 4 layers 39 secs
Sink 8 layers 77 secs

Turnover/turn round 3 secs
Unfold 2 secs

 Let us see how the measurement of time difficulty applies to a traditional model. Here is the pecking crow


For each step I count the seconds required for each type of activity ( some of you will recognise a similarity to time and motion study). Step 1 involves :Location 4, Crease 2, Unfold 2 a total of 8 (secs)

Step 2 requires Location 16, Creases 8, total 24. and so on. The total nominal time for this model is 71 secs.

Now the idea of the analysis is not only to rank models in order of difficulty but to see if improvements can be made. The first step is to see if any folds can be omitted, provided we use a stiff paper we do not need the blintzing. Next we can avoid the reverse fold by simply making a valley and mountain fold. The steps are now modified to make full use of boundary locations.


This is my reworking of the traditional model. Using the same nominal timing scales as before this now comes out at 34 secs. In addition my version has coloured wings which have to be drawn on the traditional model. I also believe that the beak on my version is more convincing than the traditional reverse.

Forgiving models.

The pecking crow is also a forgiving model in that errors in the folding do not seriously affect the end result, except perhaps that the first crease of all needs to be fairly close. So now I can introduce the final step on the journey, having looked at ways in which the folding is made as easy as possible I want to suggest some models which stand up very well to inaccurate folding. I am concentrating on action models or ones which in some sense or other can be used.

The star of my collection is Yoshizawa's butterfly, no not the famous one but the one fold butterfly. I first saw this when Yoshizawa taught a group of young children at a local school, it was pure magic. Just make a fold like this and suddenly you have a butterfly. Just hold it a loft and move up and down, great. At the most this is an 8 sec. model.

Comments on models diagrammed

For a long time I have been trying to find a glider which is fold tolerant and I think this is it. It is a nominal 43 secs. Try it folding it roughly. Turn up the tabs at the wing ends, the teacher can also do this to quietly correct any poor flying results.

Here is a variation of the traditional banger. A rather high core of 54 seconds but it is a very forgiving model. I have put in a fold to reduce the moving bit to just one thickness.

This is a simplified version of my nodding dog which I first published in 1970 which is a really very tolerant dog. The head takes 48 secs. and the body 32.

It is very difficult to find a box which works quite well even if the folding is a bit off. This traditional box is my choice. I have modified the method to use boundary folding as much as possible. It comes out at about 80 secs nominal score.

I have been trying for many years to find a very simple flapping bird and I think the one illustrated here is a very forgiving one.

Last of all I include the diagrams of my jumping frog which still works very well even with very inaccurate folding.

Now for a few suggestions for other forgiving models. The folding methods will need scrutiny to make sure they are as easy as possible to do in the way I have suggested using MAD.

Tumbling toy, Takegawi , Little Twin Stars
Magic tipper, Takegawi Little Twin Stars
Pureland Boat, John French BOS 78
Swan Candy Dish, Laura Kruskal BOS 148.


Well that is the end of my attempt to adapt the magic of paper folding for the less able amongst us. I would like to hear what people think and to gather more research and contributions. Much more work is needed to identify the difficulties for different kinds of disability. For example the timings need properly planned experiments to estimate their relative values for different kinds of disabilities. I suspect that internal location points, for example, are much more difficult to handle than boundary ones for the visually impaired. The balance between simpler steps and more of them also needs further study. in addition the actual deviations from some folding standard need to be looked at. The identification of teachable, attractive and forgiving models is in itself a major study which urgently needs attention.

Thank you for looking at this paper I hope that you found it interesting and I hope that I may have the pleasure and honour of working with you on the task of making our beautiful art more available to those less fortunate than ourselves.

golden crane award