The Lister List

The Handkerchief

Handkerchief Folding

There have recently been few postings to Origami-L. Indeed, there have been some days when searching for a posting amidst all the spams and scams and bounced-back spurious messages when I have needed a microscope to find any postings on Origami. I was, however, recently asked by a private correspondent about the folding of handkerchiefs and thought that subscribers to Origami-L might be interested to read what I wrote.

Handkerchief Folding

I must have been interested in handkerchief folding as long as I have been interested in paperfolding - and that goes back some seventy years, since I was a small child. A favourite entertainment was to fold a handkerchief into a sausage or a Christmas cracker and I soon learnt the trick. This remains one of the commonest folds in what is usually termed "handkerchief folding".

Although we use the words "paperfolding", "pliage du papier", "papierfalten" and "origami", which all strictly mean the folding of Paper as such. I think it is wrong to confine our interest just to paper. The same techniques of folding apply in exactly the same way to plane sheets made from other substances. The main difference is that paper takes a sharp crease, but other substances are often more difficult to crease. It is very difficult to crease plastic. Cloth folding is an obvious alternative to paper; cloth is also reluctant to take a sharp cease, but preliminary starching, as for dinner napkins, helps. Leather is another foldable medium, which can be persuaded to take a permanent crease and some people even fold sheet metal. In the 15th century, elaborate napkin folding was one of the earliest instances of folding resembling our modern origami. And today, there is the curious new phenomenon of "Towel Folding". All round the world, hotels are folding towels into interesting shapes, often of animals, for the entertainment of their guests when they enter their rooms..

There have been several discussions of this topic in the Origami List on the Internet (often known as "Origami-L"). But here I will concentrate on what I know as "handkerchief folding".

Unfortunately, so far as I am aware, no substantial book on this subject has ever been published in a western language. This is a serious gap, but the filling of it will have to await the appearance of someone with the interest and enthusiasm to fill it. As far as I know, there is nothing in print at the present moment. But this does not mean that there have not been books and booklets that have included sections on Napkin Folding.

The first book I turned to was Robert Harbin's "Party Lines" of 1963. This is a collection of indoor tricks and stunts which used to be called "parlour tricks" in England. There are even small sections about paperfolding and napkin folding. Among the sections is a small collection of handkerchief folds. They include the handkerchief sausage, and Christmas Cracker (the two folds are the same, but the cracker has to corners of the handkerchief pulled out) which were familiar to me from my childhood. They also include a handkerchief doughnut, the handkerchief mouse (derived from the sausage), the handkerchief ballet dancer and a simple handkerchief puppet.

This was not the first book on the subject. An earlier work was "Fun at Dinner with Napkin Folds" by the American, Tom Osborne dated 1945. I have never seen this first edition and do not know its date, but I have a copy of the second edition, which apparently contained amendments or additions. This is a booklet of 48 pages which was reprinted in 1972 with the changed title of "Napkin Folding: Entertaining Stunts with Napkins" and published by D. Robbins and Company of New York. Despite its title, it contains only one ordinary napkin fold, which is the Water Lilly, to which the name of "The Basket Rosette" is given. Apart from this, the whole of the contents are handkerchief folds. Included are such well-known folds as the Brassiere, the Dancer, the Mouse, the Old Fashioned Girl, and the Hindu. Sadly, the remainder of the folds are not as interesting as these.  

I first learnt of Osborne's booklet from Gershon Legman's "Bibliography of Paper-Folding" (1952). Legman lists one other book or booklet in this vein. It is "Out of a Handkerchief" by Frances E. Jacobs, which was published by Lothrop, Lee and Shepard of New York in 1942. I haven't seen this book and know nothing more about its contents.

It seems that handkerchief folds were included in a book called the "Ireland Year Book, 1943", but I have no information about this book. However, Jay Marshall of Magic Inc. was thinking about making a reprint of these handkerchief folds when he met Philip R. Willmarth, a magician who was proposing to publish his own collection of such folds. The two projects were combined and "Fun with a Handkerchief", written by Philip R. Willmarth and published by Magic. Inc. appeared in 1969. It is another booklet of 64 pages, part two of which (pages 24 to 40) is about handkerchief folds. However, the folds included are only the classical ones, the Bunny Puppet, The Dancer (called "Miss Fatima"), the Brassiere, The Turban (called "the Little Hindu") and the Mouse. Several entertaining routines for the mouse are given. The Brassiere is also shown in its alternative form, worn on the head, where it is called "Cat's Ears", a version considered to be more suitable for polite society! Part one of the book contains a number of tricks and stunts using handkerchiefs while part three is a simple introduction to Chapeaugraphy, or the folding of hats.

Another small booklet by Patrick Page with the name "Tricks with Handkerchiefs" was published in London by Wolfe Publishing Limited in 1974. It consists mainly of conjuring tricks using handkerchiefs, but it includes a Rabbit Puppet, the Dancer (called "Fatima" again), and the Mouse.

Yet another booklet in this vein is "Hanky Panky", by Paul Jackson, the British paperfolder, who, since his marriage now lives in Israel. I have a copy of this booklet, which I bought at a cost of two pounds in September, 1990, when I was attending a convention of the British Origami Society in Bristol. However, I didn't buy it at the Convention, but at George's bookshop in Bristol itself. So far I have been unable to find it. It was not published as a British Origami Society booklet. The word "hanky" is a diminutive name for a handkerchief in English and "hanky panky" is an expression used for underhand trickery, so here it is used by Paul Jackson as a play on words. I regret that I do not remember anything about the contents of this booklet, but will go on searching for it.

These are all the books and booklets in English on the subject of handkerchief folding of which I am aware and I have not found any in any other European languages. However, knowing of my interest in this kind of folding, Philip Shen sent me from Hong Kong three small books on handkerchief folding, each of them measuring 13 cm x 180 cm. I received them in July 1983. All three were published in Hong Kong and not in mainland China. One with a pink cover has 58 pages and another, with 60 pages has a blue cover. The third book has a dark blue cover with a puppet wearing a red handkerchief for a robe and the classic turban on its head. This book is more substantial and has 218 pages. Unfortunately I do not read Chinese and I have no knowledge at all of the meaning of their titles. I do not even know the names of the publishers or the dates of publication. All three are most interesting books and take the art of folding handkerchiefs much further than any of the publications in English which I have mentioned. It would be impossible for me to describe the contents of the three books in detail. What are really needed are translations into English.

Dipping into the books casually, I find a duck, a pair of cowboy trousers, an umbrella and a rabbit. In another book, there is dachshund, an owl, a cat and a bull's head. There are also a variety of flowers and bow ties. All the classic models, known from the English books are present, too. Many of the models in the two smaller books are also in the larger book.

This is the total of the information that I can give you about handkerchief folding. I hope it will be of some use to subscribers, although I regret that it will not be easy for you to obtain any of the publications I have mentioned. I am now hoping that someone (perhaps a habitual world traveller) will put together a book about towel folding.

David Lister.

Grimsby, England

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