The Lister List

Puzzle Purse

"Traditional" purse

Lynn Carpenter writes that she has had diagrams for a square "traditional Japanese purse " for a long time and has now obtained diagrams for an octagonal one,

It reminds her that she has seen a coin? purse folded? out of leather that looked to be octagonal She asks if anyone knows how to fold leather. She says she is fully equipped with a rubber mallet if required!

And yes, I really have seen Yoshizawa personally using a mallet to flatten the beak of his swan - all part of his eternally delicate and exquisite manner of folding!

Lynn states in her heading that it is an "actual origami post". But is it? Origami is paperfolding. She is discussing leather folding. Should she go "NO" ? I think I'll give her (and me) the benefit of the doubt. Anyway, back to topic.

Lynn refers to the square "traditional Japanese purse", for which she says she has diagrams. I presume that by this she means a small folded container that goes under several names. Sometimes it is called a "tato", which is a small container which takes various forms. ("Tato", however can refer to other types of envelope of container.) Isao Honda ( World of Origami page 11) calls it a "thread container". Japanese used it for "bits and pieces", such as needles and thread or stamps. In Japan, it is also used as a "menko" which is a small "tablet" for a throwing and collecting game popular with children. In the West we know it as a "puzzle purse" and in the 19th century it was used for valentine cards. It can be used for tricks by amateur magicians. It is, in fact a part of the international repository of traditional folds known throughout the world. That is if I am right in guessing what Lynn has in mind..

The puzzle purse begins with a kind of windmill fold made from a square of paper divided into three smaller squares, using a kind of "twist". It folds flat and doesn't have sides. Six of them together are used as modules to form the Tametebako, a primitive modular cube, discussed by Kasahara in his recent book, "Extreme Origami". Altogether it is a most interesting fold with a lot of history.

Perhaps the greatest interest of the puzzle purse is that it is one of the earliest examples of the "twist" in origami. The twist was developed by Yoshihide Momotani, especially for his flower folds, and then by Shuzo Fuimoto in the 1970s, who greatly extended the idea. Under Fujimoto's inspiration, twist folding became the key fold for origami roses by Kawasaki and others and for origami tessellations, such as those by Chris Palmer.

Nevertheless, these were not the only examples of the Twist. They are also found in the polygonal purses, which were developed in great variety by Michio Uchiyama (the elder) in his old age. They are usually known as "Tato" and can have five, six, seven, eight or more sides. Uchiyama's tatos are usually flat and folded with multiple layers of differently coloured paper, which give pattern to the finished tato. However, varieties can be made with sides (half to three-quarters of an inch is appropriate). The same thing with deeper sides become a box with a fancy top and sometimes sweets or perfume are marketed commercially in such boxes. I have one or two examples.

At the first meeting of the original Origami Portfolio Society in London in 1966, Lillian Oppenhemer taught a six-sided, double ended "purse" by Endla Saar. From it I worked out a double-ended variety with four sides. This was reminiscent of what is often called "The Moroccan Purse" made from leather except that it was double-ended and didn't need glue. This which may be at the back of Lynn's mind. I have a collection of some thirty of these square leather purses which I have collected during visits to Spain, Majorca and Greece. I have also received gifts from friends from Italy and the Channel Isles and I have acquired a specimen from India marketed by the British aid organisation, Oxfam. During visits to Japan, I have bought examples made not from leather, but from heavy Yuzen ("brocade") paper.

All these, however were square whereas Lynn asks about octagonal purses. But an octagonal purse is made on exactly the same twist principle. In March, 1978, Ritva Manninen of Finland, (a talented folder who sadly died young) sent me a ten-sided leather twisted purse made from pale soft leather (about 2 1/2 inches in diameter). She said it was Swedish. In March 1983, in Portugal, I bought a ten-sided purse. The top had a leather flap over it which closed with a press-stud..

In March 1985, the Mr. and Mrs. Momotani gave me a larger, ten-sided example in heavy craft paper. It has ten sides and leaves and also has sides a little over half and inch deep, so it forms a shallow box. Finally, in March, 1988 and October 1988, I bought two ten-sides purse in Portugal and Gran Canaria receptively. Both had covers with press-studs like the one bought in Portugal in March, 1983.

Admittedly, none of these purses has eight sides, but there is no reason at all why they shouldn't have been made with eight sides. There is no difference in principle.

Whereas the four-sided ""Moroccan" purses are all made from "made-up" cubes where the four sides and bottom are glued together, all of these eight and ten-side purses are made from single sheets of folded leather (apart from the covers of those which have this addition).

So far as I can tell, the principles of leather-folding are identical with those of paperfolding. However, leather is more "springy" than paper and doesn't crease so easily or so sharply. I think, therefore, that these leather purses have been pressed together under some weight or pressure (Lynn's mallet?) . Perhaps heat or steam has been applied to them to make the creases more permanent in the way that a tailor presses trousers..

Presumably leather craftsmen could advise on the best techniques for leather folding. For Lynn and perhaps others who are seeking a new avenue of folding, this could be a very rewarding new development. I shall be pleased to hear from them or from anyone who does have actual experience of leather folding.

David Lister

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Rabbit by Stephen O'Hanlon