Arts & crafts

The joy of origami

19 Oct 2022 | Written by By Nick Robinson

A photograph of two colourful origami swans, facing each other

Host of our regular origami sessions, Nick Robinson, tells the story of how fell in love with origami and made it his profession. After reading this, you might well be inclined to seek comfort and joy in the simple act of folding paper. 

Hello to The Joy Club, I’m 65 and live in Sheffield with my wife Alison. I have two “grown-up” children plus cats Pickle and Rhubarb. I’m involved with environmental and heritage voluntary work. As a former professional musician, I continue to perform within my band “Das Rad” as well as solo improvised ambient guitar gigs. I recently released an “all guitar” solo album “Lost Garden” which has drawn praise from some famous names. I also enjoy computer graphics and design.

In the early 80s I felt at a crossroads and had an urge to learn something creative. I worked my way through the library craft section, trying basket-weaving, macramé, and many other activities until I discovered origami. It was, for me, a reproducible process but one where I could put my own stamp on it.

I was struck by the magic of transforming an ordinary sheet of paper into something that had a life of its own. The meditative qualities of folding have also played a part in my life, helping me to deal with the various stresses we have to face. When I fold, the world contracts to the size of my table and my worries fade for a while.

Origami is a Japanese word that means “folding paper”. It’s both a craft which is accessible to all and an art, taken to perfection by a few. Few resources are needed, other than a flat surface and some paper and over the past 50 years it has turned from an obscure hobby to a world-wide passion for thousands of people. You don’t need endless patience or talent; anyone of almost any age can make simple models to delight themselves and their friends.

Origami has been my profession for nearly 40 years, but it’s never been a big earner, more a labour of love. I’ve written over 100 books on the subject since 1992 and made countless commercial commissions involving origami. I’ve also travelled around the world giving demonstrations and creating origami showpieces. Language is usually not as important as you think; I’ve successfully taught groups of non-English speakers, although it’s been fun to try and learn the important origami words for the country I’m working in.

The main benefit I have had from my professional career in origami is the many good friends I have made and the different cultures I have experienced whilst folding around the world. Creating new designs is usually a solitary activity, but the designs take on a life of their own as you share them with a group of people.

As a hobby, origami has never been more popular – the internet has allowed people everywhere to easily share their diagrams and videos and, compared to when I began, there is a huge range of easily available books on the subject. The technical aspects of origami have also grown and today there are amazing guides to the creation of new, complex subjects. You can even use software to create new folding sequences!

People often ask me how to begin with origami. My advice would be: fold slowly and carefully, try not to feel under pressure to finish quickly. Be patient (not always easy!) – when you have completed a tricky step, unfold and refold until you understand how the step works. Make every model several times and aim firstly for accuracy, then later on, for precision.

Speaking personally, the folding is the fun aspect, the resulting model may be great and you can admire it, but my involvement with that model is then completed. I usually give them away to a local school, since the house is already full of models!
Origami is a perfect hobby for anyone who wants to create beautiful objects either to decorate their home or to give as presents – people really appreciate them! Your expenses are minimal (although it’s worth investing in some beautiful paper) and you don’t need any expensive tools or equipment.

The appeal of origami is that we are transforming a very familiar material into something that has life of its own – it’s both magical and surprising. It appeals to adults as much as children and rarely fails to bring a smile to people’s faces.

Take a sheet, get folding!

Nick Robinson

Nick hosts regular origami sessions here at The Joy Club. For those of you looking to challenge your folding abilities, he will be hosting an improver’s origami session next Wednesday at 11:00am.

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