Paper: 2D to 3D

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One of the things I spend a lot of time thinking about is the sort of principles one should adopt in a MakerSpace.  And one of those critical principles is this one:

Principle #2: 2D makes 3D

What does that mean? It means that a student or an adult should take a 2-dimensional material, such as paper or fabric or plywood or sheet metal, and turn it into a 3-dimensional object. (I watched a video of Adam Savage making a box using a metal brake recently, and it was inspiring to see a box made so easily. [see about 6:33 and following]).

It’s better if that object has a fold or a bend or a twist in in, or has some sort of functional purpose — but just folding or bending or shaping a piece of paper in a deliberate or conscious way can turn a flat thing into a product. Sometimes it’s a box, sometimes it’s a house-shape, sometimes it’s a bag, sometimes it’s a yarn-winder. Sometimes it’s a question of folding or stacking pieces, sometimes it’s bending them.

What does that look like?

How do we know when a student’s efforts at working Principle #2 have succeeded? How do we know when our own efforts have succeeded?

How do we succeed if we don’t have a metal brake in the workshop (or a hundred bucks of leather for each and every student to make their own Chewbacca bandolier??).

It’s worth remembering the cheapness and versatility of that key material:


Paper is enormously versatile.  I think I got a sense of that with the Paper Roller Coasters people, and the work of Rob Ives.  You can do amazing things with paper.  But pop-up cards have tremendous versatility as a way of teaching the basics of 2D to 3D thinking. In these few cards, you can see one that turns into an easel, several that turn into steps, and several that turn into folded panels. There’s even a Japanese envelope-letter: write on one side of the paper, and then fold it, and it becomes its own envelope.

What are the benefits of working with paper first, before working with metal or leather or cloth? First it’s a lot cheaper.  A sheet of paper starts at around a penny a square foot (though it can get more expensive), while fabric starts at around a penny a square inch.  Paper is the place to teach conservation of materials, 2d to 3d, and the principles of cutting and measuring carefully. This is where the work begins. This — and drawing.

If you have to equip a MakerSpace, and you only have a $100 budget for the year, start with a lot of paper in a lot of weights, and invest in cutting and folding tools like Xacto knives, rulers, and bone folders.  You can download all the origami and pop-up card designs you could possibly want from the Internet.  Measure, cut, fold — make templates ,and cutting and folding diagrams, and set up production lines.  Teach the industrial revolution, Hallmark card-style, and reinvigorate letter-writing culture at the same time.

(While you’re at it, teach students to make the Platonic and Archimedean solids — geometry learning should go along with Maker learning. That’s practically standard).

Remember: No matter what you build, it’ll be a beginning. And everything you teach about folding, cutting, bending and scoring will ultimately be useful when you do get around to having a metal brake.

AWS: Further Insights


I’ve finished my own commitment to Autumnal Maker School, but something urged me to keep going. And something else said, “go back to some of your paper-engineering stuff. That’s important, because paper engineering is an important route into the Maker movement, especially for schools with little to no money to invest in tools and equipment.”

And then Deb Castellano kicked my ruck-sack with her current post, Glamour Practical: Burn this Place Down. Mentally, I’ve been under the weather, and unwilling to get out of my own head to get stuff done. Sure, I built a bunch of cool crafts and machine models for working on automata. But I was doing that for school, not for me.  I wasn’t contributing to my own wonder about the world, my own sense of amazement and my own joy in creating. That was work. But her she was, reminding me to play.

The Kavad & Making

And that meant going back to an idea which I’ve had for a long time. A long time indeed. The Kavad.

For those who are just joining me, and don’t feel like reading through a whole lot of posts from several years ago, the Kavad is this idea I had for a magical box.  The box would be made of wood, with a lot of hinged and spring-loaded panels.  Each of the panels would be painted and carved with traditional imagery from Hermetic and astrological teaching. It would be my Maker cabinet of curiosities, designed to teach me engineering and woodworking and three-dimensional design and astrology and Hermetics and neoplatonism, all at once.  I did manage to build four prototypes of it, in increasing complexity; but I got bogged down in the engineering and woodworking of it, and the challenges involved in learning how to automate it.

And then I discovered bookbinding. And see, the Kavad of Hermetics was always a cool thing, but it was a three-dimensional representation of a set of spiritual concepts, trying to cram a western/magical system into a device/tool/imaginarium that came out of India’s vedic and yogic traditions.  Whereas the Western world has always crammed its mysteries into books and scrolls, into grimoires and sworn books and papyri.  Different technologies, different mysteries.  It’s not to say that the Kavad can’t be built, or won’t be built.  Just that right now, I’m learning the skills that are required to build it.

clockwise from top: pulley card, two origami envelope folds, and a midori book page with contrasting inserts

See, the nature of the Kavad for me was always as a tool for exploring the nature of Making.  It would require skills in carpentry and cabinetry, rendering a two-dimensional material (like plywood or wood or foam core) into a 3-dimensional object. But the source material kept pulling me back to books, to paper.  How can these materials be used to convey particular ideas, particular concepts?  Not just concepts of spirituality, but also concepts of Making?


In any case, I got out my paper cutting mat and some scrap and good paper, and made a bunch of things.  I’m not happy with many of them, but I’m looking forward to fussing with these elements further.

Gender and Craft

Ironically, a good deal of the paper and book arts generally have been left to women, in the form of scrap-booking and album making.  I don’t wish to get into a huge fight about gender here, but women’s arts have been regularly relegated to the realm of “arts and crafts” and discounted as less valuable than the more ‘masculine’ arts of painting and sculpture.  Which is silly — painting and sculpture are wonderful, but they’re also sort of useless.  Whereas “women’s crafts” like knitting and sewing and paper and scrap-booking and related book-binding and -making arts are intensely practical… but also seen as less valuable? What’s up with that?  

Women have known this for years, of course.  And I have, too.  But Design Thinking teachers have to take care to notice this, to call it out, to object to it, and to demand that their students notice it and work to minimize and correct it.  When we run MakerSpaces, we have to take care that the gender issues in our society begin to be corrected in what and how we teach.  Hence the continuing focus in my Design Lab on making the tools for braiding, weaving, spinning — because those tools and skills lay at the heart of the Industrial Revolution.

(I’ve seen this in my own Design Lab, and I have to work to nip it in the bud, that the girls move in the direction of fabric or paper arts and the boys move in the direction of carpentry.  I have to work to stop this, or at least arrange for more divergence.)

Paper Album

I also spent some time tonight building a little paper album based on some designs I found on Pinterest.  I intended it to be a frame for some calligraphy practice, writing out some of the prayers and hymns and calls of druidry in the various pages.  The video is very fast — time-lapse photo rather than a true video — but it gives you a sense of what paper craft can accomplish these days.

This is based on Loretta’s video, here (and the website from which she got it is here):

She’s quite right — this is not particularly complicated or heavy-duty work to make.  But you have to Make it to learn how to do it, just as with the Pulley Card.  And you have to have a sense of what you’re going to use it for. Could this be a book about geology for one of your colleague’s classrooms?  Could it be a place to collect a short story in a foreign language?  Could it be a place to store a kid’s short poems?  Photographs? How do you make the process of teaching someone to Make this part of curriculum, whether in Design or embedded in core (or encore) curriculum?  I don’t know yet.  But I know that Making it helped me develop a sense of what’s important in a MakerSpace, and how to use paper as one of the key materials to teach important skills for Making generally.

Make Summer Camp: Coptic Books II


This post is part of the Make Summer Camp Series.  The goal is to make 10 objects or things between now and September 21, that help you become a more effective Maker and teacher of Makers.  I’ve made a bunch of things, from origami to a red tunic. Make Summer Camp has been great for me to learn a bunch of new skills, mostly in paper engineering, but also in mechanics and some [very] basic woodworking.

Coptic bound booksThere’s no point in making something if you’re not going to make it twice, preferably three times. So today, when I got out my finished coptic-bound book from last time, to use with my geomancy wands for the first time today, my thoughts also turned at the same time to the idea of producing a second book, with the second set of pages I’d assembled when I made book blocks earlier this summer.  Book forms are a great way to develop your paper engineering skills generally — but the coptic-bound book offers a great way to bind up a collection of around a hundred pages or so, minimum.  And that means that it’s great for a lot of the kinds of things that I’m likely to eventually make into a book, like my poetry for example (of which there’s quite a bit). I was planning on taking more pictures of the actual process of binding a coptic-bound book, and maybe making a tutorial of sorts.  I’m using Esther K. Smith’s book on making books, though, and she’s terrific at explaining — if you take the time to do it once, wrong, and then go back at least once more to do it right, once the mistake becomes glaringly obvious. Which is not, precisely, to complain about Esther Smith. I think the book is fantastic. How-to books are terribly difficult to write in the first place. How does one explain how to do something, to someone who’s never done the thing before?  That has to be complicated.  And I was far more ambitious with my first book than I think she ever imagined I would be, which added to my challenges, of course. More

Make Summer Camp: Origami


This entry is part of the continuing Make Summer Camp Series, about which I gave a progress report not too long ago.

Garden of origami

a garden of origami

I completed my goal.  I made every origami model in the training booklet, and a few more besides.  I made a number of models more than three times, and I feel that I learned about ten forms more permanently, or as permanently, as I know the traditional crane form.  I still have more paper with which to experiment, and I want to learn a few of the standard multi-paper polyhedra and box forms. But I feel that I’ve made excellent progress on this project overall. I was talking with Sean Hutchinson yesterday. He’s a teacher too, from Stamford, CT — very interested in starting up a Makers program at his school, and it sounds like he’s on the right track.  I’m very excited for him, because he’s going to have the chance to create a program from scratch, and it’s an amazing place to be when there are so many more resources available now than there were when I started. So much of what there was, was theory, rather than practice — and now the pendulum is swinging more toward practice than toward the theoretical. But the thing that we talked about most, and my own deepest insight from the conversation, is the importance of teaching kids to move from two dimensions to three.  This happens with working with tools, of course, but there’s the issue of expense in new programs.  Origami paper is cheap (copier paper is cheaper but then you have to teach kids to cut it to scale, and to stay interested with only white and a few pastels in their tool box). The underlying principle remains the same: teaching kids to think three-dimensionally is one of the key goals of my design program.  Whether they eventually design the layout of diodes and resistors on a circuit board and then fit them into a case, or arrange plumbing inside of walls (accounting for gravity and water flow alike), or figure out how to saw up plywood to build their own workshop, sooner or later a kid will be an adult who has to think 3-D. Origami appears to do that.Origami boxes

Then the question becomes, “now what?”  I mean, the containers are beautiful, but they’re fragile.  Will the kids understand what it is that they’ve learned, once they’ve built the boxes, folded the animals, made the tulip cup and the masu box with its lid, learned to master the square and hexagonal boxes? They’re not easy; I don’t feel that I’ve mastered them by any means.  And what I’ve done is not a technical education by any means: it’s an education in geometry and procedural.

I’m also starting to find processes/folds that make use of regular copier paper — that is, A4 paper from Europe or US Letter paper (it’s interesting that A4 paper conforms to a standard based on geometry, and US paper corresponds to a standard based on measurement… which means that folds for A4 paper sometimes work with US Letter paper, and sometimes they don’t…)

Letterhead boxThis one is particularly nice, though, and it works with US Letter even though it’s designed for A4.  I found it here, through Pinterest.  If your first fold is lengthwise, you get a long, skinny box.  If your first fold is width-wise, you get a deep, square box.  I like them both.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them, but I think it’s pretty cool.

I have an exercise which I think I’ll do with the MakerSpace/Design Lab kids, where I say, “you have to design a package label for a bottle that fits in this box.  How and where do you put the text?  How and where do you put the logo? How and where do you put the ingredient information?

Make Summer Camp: Origami Continuation


This is part of the ongoing series, Make Summer Camp, which is designed to help me boost my skills as a Maker, and have a broader range of insight and depth of mindset around Making.  In that context, origami might not make much sense. Isn’t Making more about drills and 2x4s, more about welding and chicken wire.  But as I said recently on Twitter, origami is one of those ways we teach the critical skills of 2D to 3D — how to take a flat object like a sheet of paper, and produce a three-dimensional object like a dog face or a cat or a horse or a crane.  It’s easier to do this with paper than plywood, and somewhat less expensive.  And it’s one of those skills at which I need practice. So here goes.

Origami efforts

triangular box and lid

I am not happy either with the triangular box, or its lid, but it’s still easier than the hexagon box with the star-shaped lid.  Both the lid and the box are made of three sheets of origami paper apiece; both require a bit of geometrical chicanery that displeases me, e.g., “slightly fold the paper in half, but only crease it on one edge to about 2cm.” First, I have no reference sense of how much two centimeters is.  I sort of know that it’s sort of close to an inch. But I don’t know.  And, it’s a measurement dependent upon starting with a specifically-sized piece of paper, rather than ANY sized piece of paper that happens to be square.  So my sensibilities around this measure are offended.  But second, it’s not actually geometry.  A geometry proof has procedures, and procedures can be learned — you can make your hands do them with ruler and straightedge, or you can make your hands or mind do them with origami paper and a bone folder… but you can do them. This process for this box requires something other than a learned process that is repeatable; it requires knowing more than the usual order.  So I dislike it a bit.  Origami Envelope

The Seashell envelope is more fun — but again, it’s based on a specific size/shape of paper, namely the A4 European standard. I learned it from pinterest via this post on a Korean website, and I like it a lot.  There’s an envelope neatly stuffed into this, and a discreet bit of wax could make it into a sealed envelope with this elaborate shell-fold on the outside.  I like it a lot, I just wish it wasn’t dependent upon a specific size of paper.  I have to figure out some adjustments to the pattern for US Letter paper. If I do that, it demonstrates the kind of learning that I’m hoping to get from this exercise — namely, learning to produce 3D objects from 2D materials.

Even so, it’s an elegant design, and I’m looking forward to thinking of a use for it — like an invitation to a fancy party, for example.

Origami effortsThe owl is going to take a bit of time.  I think I should have used a piece of paper with a bit of a higher contrast than red to pink or pink to red.  Brown and yellow would have wound up looking more owlish.  And it doesn’t stand up on its own, which wasn’t clear from the pictures. OR maybe I made it wrong. Three times. It took me three ruined pieces of paper before I got this not-quite-right model down.  I learned the owl fold from this site (which appears to be in Denmark but is also in Spanish… Spanish?) I’m pleased enough with the big box that folds into an 4-pointed star, but I also felt like I wanted to learn some other box and container folds for the purpose of creating talismans and mojo boxes, as well as teaching kids about the importance of packaging in design work.  This kind of thing matters, and caring about what the box looks like is critical. So I also taught myself this fold for a box which has a fold-in-on-itself lid, and which I’ve seen in photographs as made out of cardstock and other beautiful papers.  It appears to hold up quite well!

Origami BoxesThis third box, as you can see, has an internal compartment which is somewhat smaller than the frame of the lid.  With this poor-quality copier paper, it’s a little flimsy, but I’ve since made one out of heavier cardstock, and it’s pretty sturdy.  I must have folded this one a dozen times while visiting family in Maine last week, because it was so satisfying to fold.

Even though I’ve folded it a dozen times, though, I don’t think I’ve actually learned this fold.  It’s a fairly complicated procedure, unfortunately, and doesn’t share much in common with the masu or measuring box.

I’m about to try folding a second origami butterfly box, which appears to be useful for containing secret messages. But I don’t like the video format of learning nearly as much as following printed directions with drawn diagrams or folding photographs. It’s much more effort to watch the video, pause, do the step, and then unpause the video.

Funny how the act of learning things from multiple sources shows us what our strengths and weaknesses are as learners.

Make Summer Camp: Butterfly Origami


This post is part of the Make Summer Camp series, in which I’m practicing or working on various Maker projects as a way of developing the skills that I need to run the Design Lab. One of the skills I wanted to develop was with origami, the Japanese folding-paper techniques used to make charming but ephemeral sculptures. In some ways it’s a party trick; in others, it’s a way of getting adults and kids to engage in the world in a new way.  

Butterfly origamiI saw this one on Pinterest.  I have to say, the photographs of the butterfly origami pattern are much more interesting and cute than the actual fold in person, which is more ordinary-looking than I expected. It photographs well, but it’s not so impressive in person.

But again, the point is to grow in proficiency in origami. And that means, apparently, knowing a lot of folds more or less by heart, as well as being able to invent folds that lead to recognizable forms.   I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to invent folds. There’s a 2D-to-3D skill there that I don’t have nearly as much experience with as I’d like.

And yet. The things that I really admire about origami for kids and for teaching is that there are actual skills here. There’s a patience and precision, and a love of what I might call emergent geometry: each fold has consequences both beneficial and unfortunate; the resulting object(s) have a power and beauty all their own which is a result of how those consequences play out.  Some origami pieces can be folded in the ‘wrong’ order and ‘fixed’ later; others follow a precise sequence of steps which cannot be altered.

Magically, origami forms appear to belong to the Moon, to Venus, and to Mercury: there’s a personal love (that’s Venus) of the form which matters for quality results; the Mercurial quality is the result of the precision that the forms require in their ideal form; the Moon is the substance of the paper used, and how the chosen paper affects the final product.  For those less versed in the language of astrology and alchemy and magic, we might say that the physical properties of the paper (both the crispness or floppiness of the paper, and its printed patterns and ‘tooth’) help determine the final form, but the idealized diagrams of origami books are useless without personal interest and love of the creative work that it takes to translate those diagrams into reality.

My goal has been to learn the twenty-five folds in a basic origami tutorial guide that came packaged with seventy-five sheets of origami paper, of the kind usually called washi.  I think there’s a potential magic in origami, in that it can be used to make containers and boxes of various shapes, like the boxes I made last time.  I’ve made good progress. Even a few days after my first efforts, I can fold the following:

  1. The Japanese crane
  2. The Kabuto or samurai helmet
  3. The star-box
  4. The masu-box (also called the square box)
  5. The table
  6. The cup
  7. The hat
  8. The piano
  9. The house
  10. The butterfly (not part of my original list of twenty-five)

Still to come? Whales and airplanes and seals and birds, tulips and irises, swans, sailboats and cars.  And more boxes. Definitely boxes.

Why boxes? What’s the appeal of boxes?  Part of it is the magician in me— creating space set apart from the rest of the universe, with only a single piece of paper (or sometimes dozens of pieces of paper, for some of the more elaborate origami folds), opens opportunities for the recognition of subtle differences.  Part of it is that one of the things that designers are expected to do is package and set apart their work from the world in some fashion— and getting kids to think about how to present their work is part of a design thinking teacher’s job.

But the appeal of origami to a Maker program in general should be obvious.  First, paper is a low-cost material.  Second, origami and its related traditions of kirigami (cut paper) and pop-up book are all about teaching kids to take one (flat) material, and turn them into something 3D or sculptural.  It’s much cheaper than a 3D printer, frankly, and yet it teaches kids those all-importatn skills of taking a flat object, like for example a sheet of plywood, and turning it into something designed to be viewed in the round.  This is not easy for children, or for adults.  And yet it’s a simple way to connect kids to those concepts.

I’ve said in the past that drawing is a secret super-power for designers. But it occurs to me that thinking in terms of taking materials and moving them from parts to product is another superpower.   Origami is a way to do that with younger children, and I hope to make use of this work in the fall.

Make Summer Camp: Origami Progress Report


Origami experimentsBoxes. That’s what I wanted to learn how to fold in origami. I’ve already learned the masu box, which is a simple one-unit high by two units wide, by two units deep box.  Two of them make a box with a lid. But ever since I saw this box on Pinterest, I’ve been interested in folding it.  And last Thursday I did.  It’s an elegant little container, I think.  I wish I’d had a better/smaller hole-punch for making the holes on the smaller boxes; I used a standard-sized three-ring binder hole-punch on the larger one. And threading that one was much easier. I think the biggest challenge is that I don’t see how to assure that the link to Pinterest remains stable.  Which means taking photographs of my own, and making my own tutorial on how to make this box.  Origami experimentsI took a second picture with the largest box open.  You can see that it forms a shape rather like an eight-pointed star.  This makes me want to do it in orange paper in honor of Mercury, and fill it with lavender flowers and other Mercurial herbs, maybe with a talisman of Mercury at the bottom of the box, overlaid on top of the kamea and seals of Mercury. In the background, you can see some of my other origami efforts—The Table fold in the upper center, and to the left of that The Piano, and the Kabuto or Japanese Samurai helmet on the right-hand side.

I don’t feel that I’ve mastered the twenty-five shapes in the book I’m working through, that came with a set of papers called The Ancient Art of Origami. But I’m making progress.  Among other things, I’m growing to appreciate both the precision that comes from practicing origami, and the practical education in geometry.

When I was working on my geometry book regularly, I learned with a pretty high degree of precision how to do the necessary steps to make the medieval-style page layout.  When you’re working with parchment pages, the pages are not necessarily all going to be the same size.  They’ll be close, but not precisely the same.  And so geometry, rather than measurement, becomes the way to assure beauty rather than accuracy of measurement.  This is especially true in a medieval environment—where measuring tools with precise measurements, like inches and centimeters and quarters or halves of those, are considerably more difficult to make than the straight edges and compasses of geometry.
Origami experimentsEventually, I hope to be able to lay out seventy-five or a hundred origami models simultaneously— twenty-five to thirty origami forms of which I’ve made at least three exemplars.  That’s my goal for this art-form, to show Maker proficiency in it. Why origami, though?  I mean, aren’t there better things I could be learning, like Robotics or Electronics?  We don’t usually think of paper as the quintessential material of the Maker movement; and this is often derided as “kids’ stuff” or silliness. But no. I think there’s real learning here.  Understanding how two-dimensional material like paper (or plywood sheets!) can be cut and shaped into new forms, and made three-dimensional, is a critical skill to teach and to learn.  I remember the first time I tried to teach formal knot making to a group of student in school.  It was ridiculous.  No one had the slightest idea what to do with a piece of string. Which is almost as basic a technology as there is.  What’s the use of teaching kids how to work with plywood if they’re going to dump their plywood in the road during a trip home from the lumber yard due to bad knot work? Origami instructableBut more than that.   Paper, and its related materials of cardstock and cardboard, is a flexible and cheap material.  It can be used to represent many other materials in design work, from wood paneling to fabric.  When shaped and folded, it can be structural.  When folded and re-folded, as in origami, it can become stable or dynamic three-dimensional forms.  In other words, it’s a material of substantial grace and beauty, especially when we consider its cheapness as a modeling material for design thinking modes in the Maker Space or Design Lab.

But most of all, origami is beautiful.  Part of me can’t wait to give a small present to someone, something that will fit inside of such a box as this.  Because the simplicity and smallness of the present will likely be enhanced by the experience of having the gift delivered in such an unusual and beautiful box.  There’s tremendous usefulness in teaching children and adults to appreciate beauty and elegance, even in small doses; and an even more tremendous power in teaching them to create it—especially as a gift for others.