Patterns in paper

Last night I went with a few colleagues to a ‘Mindful Origami’ workshop in Knightsbridge, led by Samuel Tsang (hashtag thanks to his wife: Origami + mindfulness = #MindFOLDness)  A uniquely relaxing evening: pleasing symmetry and shapes + pretty colourful stationery + making things = perfect after a day on a computer!

It was a lot less cheesy than I was expecting: I sometimes think of mindfulness with skepticism, especially when advocated too strongly, but this was really relaxed – I think perhaps because he had come across it almost accidentally. Sam was already living those values in his life, but didn’t know them under that name until it was later described to him. Mindfulness is what you make it to be! But more on that later.

The session was a mix of interesting history, mindfulness origins, and learning a new doing skill. Origami was originally Chinese (for practical uses, first practiced shortly after the very invention of paper as far back as 95 BC!) rather than Japanese (they later adapted origami for decorative purposes, and this form spread more widely).

We made an envelope to warm up, then straight into a tulip, a crane, and a cat / fox (picture at the top – I made those!! The crane’s wings even move when you push the tail back & forth). Sam told us short stories in between each, with some inspiring messages providing plenty of food for thought whilst our hands were kept busy crafting.

Other impressive pieces are: dragon, elephants, a koala. All you need is paper, so I’ll definitely be trying out a few other models. (I didn’t make these – yet!)


With my maths hat on, I found it really interesting that almost all models are based around the triangle or the square, and thinking of the structure of the models (creating 4 spines for strength for example) is almost architectural. There is also a lot of symmetry – you also almost always do the same thing on the right & left hand-sides. Some of my favourite geometric designs:


There are many origami maths links: Erik Demaine, a professor at MIT who studies the mathematics of origami, uses design programs to push the theoretical limits of folding possibilities; he has designed a computer program that he believes will create an origami pattern for any three-dimensional object the user chooses, some of which would be almost impossible for humans to do. Chris Palmer uses repeated folding in one direction then the other to create a tiered spiral, he creates movement in paper as it returns to its lowest energy state and pops back up to reveal beautiful repeating geometric patterns. Professor Lang ( is another prominent origami pioneer – using maths and engineering principles to fold intricate designs that are beautiful and, sometimes, very useful. He has recorded an origami & maths TED talk here.

Sam showed us how people use origami to make money (some pieces on Etsy are sold for a surprising amount!), to help society  (the principles have been used to create foldup rockets etc, and it’s often used to teach symmetry and shapes), but also it can mean so much more to the individual. And this is where mindfulness comes in, or focusing on something that’s a DOING activity – we all need something like this to live in the moment, and we don’t get enough of seeing the physical manifestation of our efforts in this day and age. The resurgence of mindfulness & craft making is a very human response to digitalisation of our lives.

As with any activity, with origami you have to practice before seeing the benefits. You have to learn a model well enough to be able to do it without really thinking, before being able to dedicate your mind to something more – it’s the same with playing the piano or sports. Once you can do it off-by-heart then the real magic (mindfulness) can start – Sam’s suggestions were to use the time to think of a particular person in a positive way for the entire time (not something we do often or intently enough otherwise) or to dedicate it to a particular attribute you’re trying to work on.

Sam does team building workshops, sells his origami book, holds private evening sessions or sells special origami requests (the most popular is men buying 1st anniversary – paper – presents for their wives, replicating their wedding bouquet!). He’s available at if you’re interested to know more 🙂

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