Be a `Correct-Folding' Person!

I DON'T want to boast or anything, but I have to tell you: I'm pleased with my "open and squash technique." Very pleased. Have you tried the "open and squash technique?" Nothing to it, really!

On the other hand, ah, well, ... my "open and reverse" fold was a disaster. Yes. I think what threw me was having to do two things at once. Like rubbing your stomach with one hand and patting your head with the other. Never could do that. In the "open and reverse fold," you have to do some pressing down and some pulling forward all together and that, at the first attempt, defeated me. You need a good-sized wastebasket nearby when you are doing origami! (Because that was what I was trying to do.) My finge rs tripped over my thumbs and the piece of paper creased and bent in all sorts of places it wasn't meant to. Finally, at all the points where the folds in the colored square were meant to meet exactly, they missed. Everything was at sixes and sevens.

However ... at the beginning of their book "Essential Origami," Steve and Megumi Biddle, real experts at this paper-folding business, give some good advice. They say: "Do not panic if your first few attempts at folding are not very successful. With practice you will come to understand the many ways in which a piece of paper behaves when it is folded."

So I tried the "open and reverse fold" again, with another square of brightly colored origami paper, and, you know, this time it wasn't too bad at all. The paper did look a little tired, as if it had been through a war, but all the points were approximately in the right places.

Steve and Megumi's book is helpful if you've never done origami before. Megumi's drawings and diagrams are easy to grasp, and Steve's instructions couldn't be clearer. They told me, when I had the pleasure of meeting them in the south of England, that they have both come across other books on origami that leave out stages in their instructions (for making a rabbit or a goldfish or whatever) but that in their book they have made every effort to explain absolutely everything. And I really think they have. Even I can follow it.

Steve first learned how to fold a paper hat at the age of four, and he's been folding ever since. Origami came to the West from Japan (and Japan seems to have got the idea in the first place from China). Megumi, who is originally from Japan, says that children in her country start folding paper at the age of two.

It is certainly part of Japanese culture, an art form particularly taught by mothers to their children and by teachers in kindergarten. Paper folding is so much a part of everyone's upbringing in Japan that there is even a Japanese word that translates into English as "a correct-folding person." It means that this person has good manners and correct public behavior.

To Westerners, origami seems to be mainly mathematical and geometrical, like making models - following instructions and diagrams. "In Japan," says Megumi, however, "you don't need a diagram." It's just second nature. "But in the West you do have to be able to read a diagram. It's all based on squares and rectangles and triangles." And hexagons and octagons and just about any shape you could imagine. While she is talking she is neatly folding a little emerald green star with six points. Immaculate!

Steve says he can't draw to save his life. Megumi has been drawing since she was knee-high to a grasshopper. So they make a good team for all the books about origami and other papery doings they have written and illustrated for both children and adults. He says: "I'm the mouth and she's the brains." Megumi giggles at this but doesn't argue. They also do performances and teach groups. In large places, Steve folds enormous pieces of paper so everyone can see. And of course he has to do it sort of upside-do wn while everyone who's learning is doing it the right way up, watching his every move and following his every instruction. I think he feels kids are really more fun to teach because they aren't so bothered as adults are about "making a mistake." And both he and Megumi agree that the worst people to teach are ... teachers. I wonder why.

Steve may not be able to draw, but hand him a square of paper and those fingers of his go magic, folding and folding as if folding is as everyday and natural as breathing, and presto, he's made a little green-yellow jumping frog, or a bright-red heart, or a brown puppy. Give him a little longer (though not much) and he'll produce a couple of sumo wrestlers (a traditional Japanese origami) or a panda, (which is his own original design). But these are more difficult pieces near the end of the book, and one

thing the Biddles are definite about is that you can only learn origami step by step, in the right order. Start with the simplest folds or you'll get confused is their motto (except some of us get confused with the simplest folds anyway).

I ask if Steve can teach me how to make a piece of origami, and off we go. He is neat and precise. I fumble. But quite soon, we fold top to bottom and bottom to top and two sides to the middle ("the same way you close the doors of a cupboard," says Steve) and then we open out the doors.

"Now!" he commands, "click your fingers and say, `Origami is magic!' and gently give it a little push forward, and tiddly-tumpty-tip-tup-tip!" (Or words to that effect.) I squeal with delight because my first completed piece of origami goes tumbling over itself as if it has a life of its own. It's a "tumbler" and if you line it up with other tumblers they can go over and over like dominoes. "One hundred and forty-eight is my personal record," Steve says.

You can use any kind of paper - magazines cut up, newspapers - even money. Steve folded a British pounds5 note (something like a $5 bill, but worth more) and when you pressed it, a little rabbit character popped up from nowhere like a jack-in-the-box. Unfortunately, I had to spend this British pounds5 note later so Steve's handiwork had to be unfolded.

You can use any paper, but I do like the packet of colored papers made in Japan the Biddles gave me. Every color of the rainbow.

If you can't find a store near you that sells origami paper or you would like to know more about origami, you can always contact The Friends of the Origami Center of America at 15 West 77th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192.

So here's hoping you'll become a "correct-folding" person!

`Kidspace' is a place on the Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will tickle imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, always on a Tuesday.

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