Wet-folding Origami

In my last (and first) post I said I’d try wet-folding, because some of these models seem to require either thinner or more malleable paper. So I decided that the African Elephant would be a good place to start, partly because the pattern (although tricky) doesn’t have very many folds overall (and doesn’t require any particularly precise folding), and partly because the instructions suggested it. So first I folded it in the usual way (i.e. with dry, normal paper):

Elephant (dry)

It worked, more or less. The hand-drawn instructions failed me when they tried to describe the fold for the tusks, but I made something up, which seemed to work. The model, however, only gives the general 3D shape of an elephant, requires a certain amount of paper-sculpting at the end, which is hard to do with normal paper.

So I took the advice of Wikipedia and wet both sides of a piece of paper using a damp kleenex, to ready it for wet-folding (using, of course, the same type and size of paper as before, albeit of a different color). As I tried to manipulate the paper I  noticed a couple of things:

  1. The paper I’ve been using has a grain–most of the fibers run in the same direction. If it’s wet equally on both sides it doesn’t wrinkle much out of the plane, but in the plane it expands different amounts along different axes when wet. So to start off, my paper wasn’t square. Like, really not square, with a difference of maybe a third of an inch (out of seven inches) between the two directions. But I was afraid it would dry out if I wasted time trying to trim it, so I just ignored it, and did all of my folds to within a 1/6 inch error. Good thing the pattern didn’t require much precision.
  2. The color on the paper is water-soluble. I could swear I ended up with almost as much color on the tissue I was using to wet the paper as on the paper itself.
  3. My (unvarnished) wooden table-top is much dirtier than I had thought. It turns out that wet paper picks up a lot of dirt. Of course, the more I tried to wipe off the dirt, the more color I lost…
  4. In this condition, I started folding the elephant, completely botching the folds leading up to the tusks, which in turn made even my makeshift tusk-fold impossible (I sort of skipped that part, just twisting the tusks into existence, which seemed to work, more or less). And I noticed some more things:

  5. Wet origami paper does hold creases (I’d been rather suspicious that it wouldn’t at all), but they become very hard to see after a while.
  6. The paper dries quite quickly. That is, too quickly to finish folding a (simple) elephant. And furthermore, re-dampening a semi-3D elephant with a wet kleenex is hard.

Anyway, here’s how it came out:

Elephant (wet)I suppose the non-crease folds tend to be somewhat smoother, and the model holds its shape better, but if I was hoping to use wet-folding to facilitate folding through thick sections in complex models, I am bound to be disappointed unless I can significantly improve my technique.

Conclusion:  Next time I should try using a spray bottle, a ruler and exacto knife, and a clean, non-absorbent hard surface, and maybe I’ll be able to make a better elephant.


2 Responses

  1. There has to be a joke in this somewhere about blue elephants and pink elephants…

    Also, “re-dampening a semi-3D elephant with a wet kleenex is hard” has joined the ranks of wonderful aphorisms. Not to mention potential inputs for the Paper Game.

    But seriously, the pink elephant looks about as good as the blue one (not bad for a first run), and it sounds as though you learned enough from it that a second run would be more successful than the first. Keep us posted if you try it again!

    [I put categories and a title in your post. If you don’t like them, obviously feel free to edit]

  2. I definitely think that in theory wet-folding is pretty awesome. In practice it’s apparent that I’ve got a lot to learn. Given the starting conditions, I was pretty surprised when I managed to make it to the end of the instructions and have something that actually looked rather like an elephant.

    I was going to put categories in, but the page was still loading when I had to go to rehearsal. (I admit, I’d forgotten about the title.)

    And it’s purple, not blue.

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