You Got to Know When to Fold ‘Em

Napkin OrigamiA couple months after quietly releasing me from their employment (due to circumstances beyond either of our control), Hollan Publishing quietly released a new craft book with my name* on the cover: Napkin Origami. For a number of reasons that probably aren’t worth getting into (you don’t really need to know how the sausage is made, do you?), this book was particularly challenging from beginning to end, but it really gave me a chance to both flex my editing muscles and test my crafting abilities.

The challenge I’m perhaps most proud of overcoming was the need to learn and perfect (well, at least become pretty darn good for some more advanced examples) a craft I’d never attempted before, all in the matter of a couple short weeks. Yes, as craft editor, with no previous origami experience, I was called upon to fold each of the 25 projects in the book–featuring traditional and original origami creations, using paper and/or cloth napkins exclusively–for final photography.

And how did I find myself in this predicament? Well, as curator of an entirely contributed volume of projects from various artists, there really was no one but me to take the lead. That said, I had hoped to enlist some assistance from experienced folders, but a couple unexpected problems stood in my way. First, I had no idea how expensive it would be to contract professional origami artists (the book budget couldn’t even afford the retainer required by the couple experts I contacted). And second, I underestimated the time it would take to iron all of the cloth napkins needed for the book, bringing me up to the wire for the shooting schedule and leaving me without time to hunt through the amateur organizations to find adequate help.

After taking several passes with spray starch and iron to get a single cloth napkin to the appropriate crispness for folding, I knew I couldn’t do them all myself on my deadline. But I was quickly rebuffed by a couple local dry cleaners, who told me rather matter-of-factly that they couldn’t do the job in less than a week. So, we hired someone to come into the office and do nothing but starch and iron for a complete workday, while I feverishly folded the specimens for photography, all of which I completed within about a week (folding the last couple while the photo shoot was in progress).

I guess it’s a good thing I was a fairly quick study, though that isn’t to say there wasn’t a fair amount of cursing involved throughout my steep learning curve. Here’s a prototype for one of the easier projects in the book (designed by Francis Ow), folded out of regular decorative paper and photographed by myself on my own kitchen counter early in my self-taught training:

Heart Prototype

Pretty basic, I know. But still, as it was pretty much the first origami creation I’ve ever attempted (at least, it’s the first one I remember, though I’m sure I must have fooled around with folding paper in some capacity before), it was pretty satisfying, and at least my son got a kick out of it (and still does, by the way, since he’s kept it as a kind of reusable Valentine).

How gratifying, then, to see my heart on display in its finished form, folded from a colorful cloth napkin (chosen, as all napkins in the book were, by myself and creative director Wendy Simard), embellished with simple but creative styling by Jennifer Dunlea, and beautifully photographed by Allan Penn:

Napkin Origami Heart

A few of my favorites in the collection include the traditional shirt and tie on the front cover, Rick Beech’s bunny:

Napkin Origami Bunny

and these cute baby bootees by Nick Robinson (who also provided the excellent step-by-step folding illustrations for every project in the book):

Napkin Origami Bootees

My son’s favorite was probably the carousel, but the fact that he got to keep the toy horses probably biased him a little:

Napkin Origami Carousel

Finally, as a little warning for the timid or a challenge for the brave, I’d like to give a little shout-out to Edwin Corrie, who designed the hardest project in the book, especially when created using napkins. This swan had me struggling right up to the moment we had to shoot it:

Napkin Origami Swan

Some complicated precreasing and a couple tricky inside- and outside-reverse folds made it hard enough, but I cannot stress enough the need for thick, stiff luxury napkins for this design. While every other project in the book works great with the cloth or paper napkins specified, this is the only one that I think works significantly better with regular paper. Still, if you can pull it off (as I evidently managed to do, somehow), the results can be pretty impressive.

* Disclaimer: Though I collected a salary while working on this book, I didn’t get anything extra for getting my name on the cover. I’d of course love for everyone to use and enjoy the book, but I will never receive any royalties or anything, so I have nothing invested in it besides my pride.