The Lister List

The First Paper For Folding

David Mitchell asked:

When and where was paper first manufactured specifically for folding?

I can't be sure about the Japanese. They may possibly have manufactured specially strong kinds of washi for things like the Senbazuru Orikata. I suspect, however, that the Japanese handmade papers available generally were perfectly adequate for any folding purpose and that no specially made papers were made in Japan until the end of the 19th or the beginning of the 20th Century.

Apart from that, the first paper for folding was used by the Froebel Kindergarten movement, probably in Germany. The Froebelians habitually used paper that was white on one side and blue on the other. But whether it was specially made for this purpose, I do not know. Presumably this showed up the patterns of the "Folds of Beauty" made from blintzing the square paper which were a large feature of Froebelian Folding. There are examples of folds using the blue and white papers in the Froebel Museum at Bad Blankenburg in Germany.

Froebelian folding was taken to Japan with the introduction there of the Kindergarten around 1880 and the Froebelians took with them their blue and white paper. Before this date, the Japanese had always used plain white paper for their own folding. Incidentally, there are indications that some Japanese resented the importation of this foreign kind of folding, which they considered greatly inferior to their own. However, the Japanese did take over the folding of the Folds of Beauty created by manipulation of the blintzed base.

Apparently the paperfolding of the Foebelians led to a reawakened interest in the native tradition of folding and there was a demand for suitable paper for folding and for using coloured papers.

On page 22 of "Origami Omnibus", Kunihiko Kashara writes that the history of coloured papers in origami is fairly short. In the late 19th century, a paper dealer in the Yushima district of Tokyo imported coloured papers from Europe, cut them into small pieces and sold them in sets called "origami". (Packets of origami paper are still called "origami in Japan.) This was the origin of the kind of origami paper popular today. Presumably the dealer imported paper from Europe because it was machine made and cheaper than the handmade paper available in Japan

Kasahara continues: "It seems likely that the Yushima paper dealer decided to cut his paper square because many of the outstanding traditional origami folds......... were produced from squares of paper. No matter what his reasons, however, his idea was an excellent one and ensured great future development."

Eventually the tables were turned and in the 1950s, Western folders in Europe and America imported their coloured papers from Japan. Washi paper has presumably always been particularly suitable for folding, but I suggest that Yoshizawa was the first to use specially selected papers. Certainly he marketed packets of large squares of exotic papers in the 1960s, specially for folding his models. I bought a pack, but I have never used it. I still have it and It is far too beautiful in its own right ever to fold!

David Lister

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