According to the film documentary entitled “Between the Folds,” which was produced and directed by Vanessa Gould and featured on the popular PBS program IndepentLens, origami is “composed of the Japanese words oru (to fold) and kami (paper), [it] has a rich and complex history that spans culture, class, and geography.” The most iconic origami design is the paper crane, which is often thought to be a good luck charm.
The advent of origami began 500 years after the time when paper was invented in 105 AD. As paper was expensive to produce and import from China (where the first paper originated), the first examples of Japanese origami were produced by monks and were confined to ceremonial and religious purposes.
Widespread practice of more recreational paper folding didn’t arrive for nearly a millennium after the first Japanese monks began to use it. In the Japanese Edo period, which spanned the years of 1603 to 1868 AD, paper folding became a cultural craze and began to take on a great deal of complexity through the application of multiple cuts and folds. The new popularity of origami is generally attributed to two things. First, the mass-production of paper made the practice of paper folding affordable to a larger social group. Also, the publication of instructional books (also made possible by the affordability of paper) such as Akisato Rito’s “Sembazuru Orikata,” which roughly translates to “thousand crane folding,” and Adachi Kazuyuki’s more comprehensive guide to paper folding, provided step-by-step instructions for many of the more popular designs. These books were published in 1797 and 1845, respectively. And, while the practice of paper folding is generally attributed to the Japanese, it is interesting to note that the Spanish had their own form of artistic paper folding known as “papiroflexia” or “pajarita,” which was thought to be a tradition passed to the Spaniards from the Moors somewhere around the 12th century AD.
Alongside the art of origami exists another, less well-known, version of artistic folding called “orinuno.” The translation of “orinuno” is very similar to “origami.” It derives from the Japanese roots of “oru” (to fold) and “nuno” (fabric).
One of the most famous orinuno artists of today is Reiko Sudo, who heads the Nuno Cooperation in Japan. Some of her designs can be viewed on the website “origami-resource-center.com.” According to this site “fabric folding is like origami but with fabric instead of paper. The major difference between fabric and paper is that fabric is softer and won’t hold creases well. Thus, unless you use fabric stiffener, objects folded from fabric will have rounded corners and look softer than traditional origami.”
Fabric folding is accomplished in a variety of mediums. The most common modern application is the folding of napkins. Napkin folding is often used as a way to add ambience to a dining setup, especially for banquets and other large events. However, unlike origami constructions, orinuno napkins are meant to be unfolded and used. True orinuno napkin folding is usually done with linen napkins. While artistic folding can certainly be accomplished with paper napkins, this type of folding would technically still be called origami (as the medium is paper).
There are a great deal of instructional sources dealing with the art of napkin folding. Beyond the many online sites devoted to the topic are entire books on napkin orinuno. “The Simple Art of Napkin Folding,” by Linda Hetzer, “The Art of Napkin Folding,” by Merrile Gross, and “Decorative Napkin Folding,” by Linda Oppenheimer and Natelie Epstein are just a few of the literary sources devoted to the subject.
Another example of orinuno is the decorative folding of towels. Alison Jenkins, in her book entitled “The Lost Art of Towel Origami,” describes this practice at great length. Because of the size and weight of towels, towel folding is one of the more difficult orinuno practices. However, Carnival Cruises uses towel folding as a decorative element in their cruise suites. On some of the ships an orinuno towel is left on the bed as a final touch to the daily cleaning of the suites. Often, a different towel animal is left each time to surprise the guests.
Quilting is another craft that is often enhanced by the practice of orinuno. It is possible to fold orinuno designs and then add them to quilts as an applique. Rebeca Wat’s book “Fantastic Fabric Folding” describes this process in detail. For some of the finer orinuno work such as quilting qpplique it is often necessary to use a fabric stiffener such as starch to achieve sturdier creases. Glenda, from fabricorigami.com, shares some of these fabric stiffening techniques to any who might be interested.
The art of decorative folding is ancient, spanning nearly 1500 years. Like many other ancient art forms it has expanded in both scope and complexity as access and interest increases into the modern era. The use of fabric mediums provides a whole new world of possibilities to those who are interested in decorative folding and, with the easy availability of a wide variety of mediums in today’s global village, there is virtually no end to the ways and things we can fold in new and exciting ways.