How to Teach a Fold

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This article originally appeared in British Origami Magazine, August, 1985.

Those who don’t invent (the “unwashed heathen” to the creative folder) are usually quite disgusted by the inventor’s smug posturing, and look forward to their moment of revenge—the teaching session. Creative folders who also teach their own folds are utterly insufferable—they make use of “only”s, as in “it’s only a triple inverse-sink with a semi-rabbit ear in the center, sort of like my Cockroach, only asymmetric” (naturally, no one in the Western Hemisphere has ever seen the Cockroach, let alone folded it); they can make use of all the techniques of the creative folder (see part I) to subjugate the audience. Nevertheless, the well-equipped teacher can easily reduce the most egotistical inventor to a bowl of quivering apricot yogurt with ease and simplicity.

First off, definite unclarity is a no-no. The ideal scenario for the teacher is for absolutely everyone at the table to come up afterwards and say, “gee, your instructions were just great—I guess I just couldn’t handle that last step.” In short, the onus of inadequacy must be shifted to the teachee, not the teacher. The first step in obtaining this response is to acquire an unfamiliar fold to teach. Some of them may be found in uncommon books and newsletters (e.g. the Gambian Origami Society Newsletter, in Swahili), but you can never be sure that someone in your audience does not have access to the same material. Your best bet is to cultivate an acquaintanceship with a creative folder who, with proper ego massage and training (a manual on training one’s dog provides valuable insights) will happily provide you with fiendishly difficult models, and even teach you how to fold it yourself. Then, since he already knows it, he won’t sit at your table and ruin your show with clarifying remarks; on the contrary, he knows that every person who fails to fold his model enhances his own reputation as a clever and ingenious artist.

The next step is to weed out those people with some skill who might cause trouble by showing others how the fold is done. Their very ability is their Achilles heel. Start with a “bring one corner to the opposite corner.” The accomplished folder will already have made a razor-sharp crease and started doing the opposite corner before you finish the phrase, at which point you add, “but don’t crease it, or you will ruin the final effect!” The speed demon is now vainly attempting to erase the marks of the crease (which, if you use foil, are utterly indelible). “I told you not to crease it; can’t you follow simple directions, you befuddled toad?” is usually enough to send him slinking off into a corner to fold flapping birds and lick his wounds.

With all potential trouble out of the way, you can now turn to the main task, which is to flabbergast the audience with your own folding prowess. One of the most effective techniques is to use an arcane term (“Do a carburetor-fold”), pause (to let the puzzled expressions gather), then apologize with the fillip “O, I’m sorry—we invented that term at the Bulgarian convention. I guess it hasn’t made it out here yet.” If you happen to be in Bulgaria, make it the Tongan convention. Of course, there is the remote possibility that someone at your table was at the Tongan convention and will promptly denounce you as a fraud, a fake, and a person who uses scissors when no one is looking. Should such a thing occur, give him a cold stare, and say “the South Tongan convention,” which silences your nemesis and impresses everyone else because they didn’t even know there was a South Tongan convention (since it doesn’t exist). If in fact it does exist, and (worse yet) your nemesis was there, the Fates have clearly conspired against you and you’d better take up stamp collecting.

Another goal of teaching origami is to impress the audience with your own folding ability. Precreasing your own paper is a clever ploy, but anyone sitting close to you will not be deceived, and worse yet, may accuse you of cheating. The professional should go to more subtle means. For example, you can heavily precrease a piece of foil paper, and then bond tissue paper to each side of it, covering the creases. Then although your paper looks virgin, it takes practically no effort to make it fall into place. With practice, you can get the entire model to fold itself with just a flick of the wrist. The same technique can be applied to the audience’s paper; only you make all the creases just a bit off-center, ensuring that the result will be a crumpled monstrosity and further enhancing your image. There are, of course, innumerable variations, including approximate distances (“fold this about that far…no too much…back a little…yeah, that’s it”) and exact distances (“this should be precisely 39/77 of the way between the two points,” you, of course, have previously marked the correct distance with an infinitesimal tick on the paper). The devoted paperfolder should develop his own unique methods; for conventionsmanshhip, more than any other bending of paper, is truly a fine art.