Practical origami: Or, making books with naught but paper

In August of last year, I took a continuing education workshop at Simmons College titled “Practical Origami.” Taught by the amazing and delightful Bill Hanscom (if you ever have the chance to work with him, do it!), the workshop focused on basic book, box, and envelope structures that can be made solely out of paper—that is, without the use of any adhesive. In addition to teaching me some fun new skills and encouraging me to think more deeply about the way these sorts of objects are designed and structured, it also inspired me to get started on another project—designing my business card. (You’ll see why below.) I left the class with a number of functional objects (and instructions for folding many others), a profound sense of respect for those people who designed these forms, and perhaps even a new hobby (at the very least, it compliments the other skills I’ve been acquiring).

I had originally planned for this entry to offer something of a how-to guide for folding one particular object that we didn’t create in the workshop, but it’s apparent that if I keep waiting until I have the time to work on reverse-engineering that structure, an entry on this workshop will never get published. So, we’ll file that one away for the future (perhaps); instead, I’ll let the pictures tell the story.


  1. Simple folded envelopes, plus one belt structure (which could be used to keep something else closed). I especially like the one with the cards inserted.
  2. These boxes are extremely easy to make, and quite handy to boot. Each requires three square pieces of paper. We used coated paper from old art magazines.
  3. A business-card holder of sorts made from Dur-O-Tone butcher paper (French Paper Company). It was tricky to get the cover right, but this one is just lovely when complete.
  4. This structure, folded by Bill Hanscom, is the one I had wanted to reverse-engineer for a tutorial. I love the use of an old map for the cover.
  5. Another shot of the same structure. At these dimensions, it would easily hold items larger than business cards, but the final dimensions depend heavily on the dimensions of the paper used to make them.
  6. This one (not made by me) could probably be used to hold cards of some kind, as well. It’s the same basic folding technique as before, although there’s no cover.
  7. This envelope fold (not made by me) is the same as the one with the card inserts above, but it better illustrates where the potential pockets are.
  8. Here’s a map-folding structure that Bill Hanscom had as a sample for us. I’d never really thought about the way maps were folded before, but you can bet I’ll be taking a closer look now!
  9. An accordion book, Tyvek wallet, and photo album, all folded by me. I especially love the latter two; the wallet structure was quite simple and has more pockets than you’d expect, and the photo album is adorable and feels great in your hand.

And that’s the end—or, rather, the beginning—of my folding adventure!


  • I love these pieces. Aside from the aesthetic value, which cannot be understated, I get excited just thinking about how to use these pieces. The box in particular catches my imagination. Depending on the paper chosen to make the box, it could be used purely as a piece of art, or could be styled to go with decor or personal taste. I love thinking about where and how I would use these pieces.

    clareobdoyleMarch 20, 2012
  • Hi Jackie, Kris Liberman from Simmons forwarded me a link to this post. Thanks for the very kind words about the workshop. I am glad you enjoyed it and that it got you thinking about some new things. I have made instructions for the “Blazzird Book” (invented by Hedi Kyle) that you wanted to reverse-engineer. If you email me I can send it to you. Best, Bill Hanscom

    Bill HanscomMarch 25, 2012
  • I’m a TOTAL fun of practical origami! I actually create my own models. I LOVE the one with the map cover! How is it called? I would really like to fold it and also to contact Mr. Bill Hanscom. The box dividers in the second photo were an extremely simple model created by Paolo Bascetta; I really respect his work!

    I’m really glad I got to see all this… thanks for sharing it : )

    GerardoJune 18, 2012
  • are there instructions i would be willing to purchase them

    DonnaOctober 8, 2014

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