From the folds: Students create art as old as paper itself (with a how-to video)
April 10, 2020
Editor’s note: Interviews for this story were conducted in January and February, before Virginia Tech moved all classes online and public schools in Virginia closed due to COVID-19. The story content has been updated and modified to include information relevant to the current environment and to encourage appropriate activities during social distancing.
Early on a February morning before the first bells rang to open the day at Kipps Elementary School in Blacksburg, a group of children huddled around four Virginia Tech students. They watched closely as the young adults demonstrated how to fold pieces of paper into different shapes, including an ice cream cone and a bug.
The Hokies, all members of the student-organized Origami Club at Virginia Tech, were on site to demonstrate the art of paper folding, also known as origami. The event marked the second time that members of the newly formed club had visited an elementary school in the New River Valley to teach the craft. Members also traveled to Gilbert Linkous Elementary School in Blacksburg in February.
“I wanted to do something more than just have weekly meetings where people could learn origami,” said Brandon Medellin, a sophomore who started the Origami Club last fall. “I wanted to add a purpose to the origami.”
In his research about origami, which draws its origins from China and Japan, Medellin learned that the craft was used to teach geometry in early kindergarten curricula.
Although the exact origins of the art of origami are unknown, research indicates that paper was invented in China around 105 A.D. and brought to Japan by Buddhist monks in the sixth century A.D. In Japanese, “oru” refers to folding and “kami” means paper.
Early origami instructions were passed down by oral tradition, and because paper was expensive, the art was largely restricted to religious ceremonial use. As paper became more readily available, the art spread across Europe. The most well-known origami model is the Japanese paper crane.
Today, origami is a popular hobby, but the craft is also is used in religion, science, math, and technology fields. There are many different types of origami, with most using a single sheet of paper to create a shape using only folds, no glue or scissors. Numerous books and online resources are available for those interested in developing their skills.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia Tech’s Origami Club met weekly in Squires Student Center to fold paper together. Now, the group, comprising students at all paper-folding skill levels, hosts virtual meetings via Zoom to stay connected and, of course, practice origami techniques.
After all, the craft helps with stress relief, said Philip Lopez, a member of the club who learned origami as a child.
“Origami is a good hobby because it takes some time to fold, and it's very calming,” said Lopez, a Virginia Tech freshman.
By Haley Cummings, VT News intern
Free origami classes via Zoom
Tatsu Takeuchi, an associate professor of physics at Virginia Tech, is hosting free online origami classes beginning this Saturday, April 11 from 2 to 4 p.m. He plans to offer the Zoom classes each Saturday through May 30 as a service to the community, in particular children, while social distancing and quarantine guidelines are in place.
Takeuchi grew up in Japan, where he learned origami from his parents when he was young.
“Origami is all about imagination in my opinion,” he said. “You are not trying to create something that looks exactly like a bird or a flower. You want to create a representation that kind of suggests a certain object to you.”
For the first online classes, he plans to discuss the history of origami and show simple ways of folding paper into figures. All participants need is a piece of paper.
"I don't want to make things too complicated," he said. "I want the kids to basically explore on their own and try to create new folds."
To access his class via Zoom, click here.