As someone who learned quilting very young, I have – literally – a lifetime’s worth of remnants that are just too pretty to part with. Sturdy broadcloth is sandwiched in with fine scraps of satin, a rainbow of colors smooshed into a large tub that I always find myself thinking, “They’ll find their way into something” and can’t throw them away.
How far from the world of origami and the pretty folded swans, bookmarks, and boxes these scraps of fabric always seemed to be. The truth is, though, that fabric creates some of the most breathtaking boxes, ornaments, and items when folded origami fashion. It’s more forgiving than paper – you can just iron out your mistakes and go at it again – and it’s durable, which makes it perfectly giftable.
Getting excited yet? I was, when I stumbled across this idea. Here’s what you need to know.
Fabric Origami Basics
Beyond these basic steps, all that you need is an origami pattern. Thousands are available for free online, and you can find intricate patterns in books. Regardless of the pattern you do, though, these are the steps you will need to take before you get started.
1. Select Your Fabric: Some of the neatest origami patterns require nothing more than 3″ of material to work with. The more intricate the pattern, the larger the piece of material you’ll need – but obviously, size is your first concern. Read the pattern carefully and find several fabric candidates that are roughly the size you need.
As for actual fabric material, you can get truly wild. Sturdy cotton broadcloth will likely always be the most popular fabric, because it is so durable and produces such a crisp crease when starched and folded. Another consideration is display. Pieces that will be “fingered” often – bookmark corners, for example – should ideally be made from a material that won’t fade easily like silk and taffeta will. In the end, though, simply experiment and try to match the fabric that you choose with the “mood” of what you’re creating.
2. Prepare the Fabric: Trim your scrap of fabric so that the edges are straight, but try to keep the overall size just a bit larger than the piece that you need for the origami pattern you’re using. Then, spray a heavy starch evenly on your fabric. Allow to dry just slightly, and then iron according to the fabric you’ve chosen. Ensure that there are no lines or creases present in your fabric, and that when “dry” it is quite stiff – about the same stiffness as a piece of computer paper.
3. Allow to Cool: Some starches require a bit of sitting after ironing to really stiffen up. Don’t ask me why, and I’ve never seen instructions on a starch can state this – it’s just from doing thousands of doilies and screaming in frustration when the “dried” doily was so stiff I could have snapped it that I’ve learned this. So, while the fabric cools off, review the folding instructions for the pattern you’ll be using.
I’ve found that one trick to minimizing frustration is to practice the pattern using a piece of paper before you try using your fabric. This way, you can identify any spots in the instructions that are tricky and work your way around them without having to re-iron and cool your fabric once more.
4. Trim & Fold: Another irritating habit of starch and irons is that they often make your fabric a bit “larger” than you thought it was when you first trimmed it. Re-check the size of your fabric and trim it down if necessary. Then, fold your fabric according to the instructions in your pattern.
5. Re-Iron: This isn’t always necessary – and sometimes, it’s perfectly impossible – but when you’re using “softer” fabrics like silk and satin, you may want to re-starch and re-iron after you’ve folded your piece.
The Silk Swan Pattern
Hey now, the title wasn’t just a pretty gimmick (though it is a pretty image, isn’t it?) – I’m going to share the steps to make one of the most basic origami folds, a swan. This is traditional origami, with the added benefit of being absolutely stunning when finished.
1. Select a piece of silk (or any other fabric, silk is just beautiful so I’m recommending it) and trim it to about 3 inches by 3 inches square. Then, follow the general guidelines for beginning above.
2. Once your fabric is cool (or if you’re practicing with a piece of square paper first), start out by pacing your fabric facedown (right side against a hard table-top surface). Then, fold the top left corner down so that it meets the bottom right corner. This will form two equal triangle halves in your fabric. Hold the corners together, and crease the fold tightly using your fingernail or the smooth side of a dinner knife. Then, unfold your fabric, leaving the crease visible.
3. Using the first crease as a “marker”, bring the left corner to the center of your square and crease it sharply. Repeat for the right corner. Your fabric should look like a long diamond at this point.
4. Turn your fabric over, so that the right-side is facing you and the previous folds are against the table. Once more, fold and crease the left corner to the center, and repeat with the right corner. Your fabric still looks like a long diamond, but it’s even thinner than it was before.
5. Don’t turn your fabric over again. Instead, grab the bottom point of your diamond and fold it upward so that it meets the top point of your diamond. Crease sharply – this part of your fabric will make the swan’s neck and head.
6. To create the swan’s head, fold down the top area of the section you just folded and crease about 1/4 of this section. You want to see a small head and a long neck after doing this step.
7. You’re nearly done – now, fold the entire piece of fabric in half. Do this underneath the piece, following the very first crease that you made. Flatten the fabric at this point.
8. Now you get to breathe life into your silk swan. Gently tug at the swan’s neck and head, and it will pull into an upright position – beautiful!