8 Fun and Frugal Things to Do with Origami

Origami is a Japanese word that means "fold paper", and it is a very popular pastime around the world. I enjoy origami because it is a very cheap hobby that requires only your hands and paper. I like to reuse magazine paper and left over wrapping paper to make my projects, but origami techniques can be applied to anything that is foldable to create amazing results. Here are some fun and frugal ideas for using origami in your life that goes beyond folding a simple crane.

Create Beautiful Center Pieces for Weddings and Other Events - The picture above is actually a center piece my husband and I used for our wedding. It is an origami wreath made it out of wrapping paper and the paper cost about $5 total for all the tables. We did spend a lot of time folding all the pieces and assembling it, but my husband made it a family activity and got a bunch of his cousins and aunts to help. In the end the guests loved these pieces and they took quite a few home. There are many other ways you could create your own origami center pieces that takes less time. For example, you can make origami flowers, or just a few stars. You are really only limited by your imagination.

Origami earrings by jessicafm
Make Unique Origami Jewelry - I first saw some of these origami earrings in San Francisco's Japantown and they were selling for $20 to $50 a pair. They are simply paper origami cranes with a coat of varnish linked to a pair of earwires. More interesting use of origami in jewelry can be seen at Etsy when you search for origami jewelry. I especially like this jeweler that uses precious metal clay to make her pieces. She calls her art "metalgami", which I think is very appropriate.

Produce Elegant Greeting Cards - A couple years ago I saw these origami greeting cards in a paper store selling for six dollars each, and they are extremely simple to make. All you need is to find a model that you like to fold, get some cardstock, and some glue. After you fold the crane or frog you can just paste it onto the cardstock, and voila, you have a very distinctive greeting card.

Build Attractive Containers - A couple years ago I stumbled upon folding fabric origami boxes . I got scraps of fabric from my mom and made quite a few of them. They require a bit of fabric stiffener and last a very long time. They are great for gifts, sewing, or jewelry. There are many ways to make boxes with origami and my husband actually proposed by putting the ring in an origami box he made which opens up to a rose.

Spruce Up Your Dinner Party - You often see these fancy looking folded napkins on TV and in expensive restaurants, but they are relatively easy to fold and it is basically an application of origami to napkins. If you have to throw a dinner party and want a dash of elegance you can follow these directions and make your table look like a top restaurant, too. My aunt did this once and she got quite a few compliments from her guests.

Get Rid of Old Business Cards - When you have worked for a few companies you may end up with hundreds and thousands of business cards you will never use again because the information on them is outdated. I had a few boxes of old business cards and did not really want to throw them away. This is where business card origami comes in. I have made boxes and dodecahedrons before and they look pretty impressive in a cubicle.

Teach Your Children Math and Science - The science behind origami models range from simple subjects such as geometry to complex graduate level math courses such as topography. If you are a chemistry or physics teacher who cannot afford to buy models of molecules you can actually build them yourself with modular origami. My husband built a model of a carbon nanotube in his summer research with origami and the lab kept it for future demostrations. There are many ways origami can be used in a classroom and there are resources on the web to help you do so.

Keep Yourself Sane When You Are Bored - When I am making modular origami projects I often have paper in my purse that I can use when I am sitting in a boring meeting or waiting on someone. Though I have heard of an amazing story about a man who was a new hire at a company and did not receive his computer for weeks. So he built an entire computer complete with a mouse and monitor out of origami. I am not sure what happened to that guy, but I wish I had a picture of his masterpiece.

I hope this article inspires you to pick up a sheet of paper and make something out of it. Here are a few of my favorite sites and books on the subject and I hope you find them useful:

Origami Diagrams - This is a database with hundreds of free origami diagrams
Tom Hull's Modular Origami
Modular Origami Gallery

Joseph Wu's Origami Page - A gallery of the most amazing models I have ever seen.
Modular Origami Polyhedra -This is the book with directions for making the origami wreath
Fabulous Origami Boxes by Tomoko Fuse - Tomoko Fuse also has several other books on modular origami, and the fabric origami page uses a lot of her designs.
Origami Insects by Robert Lang - My personal favorite book with complex origami models because I made some quite realistic looking bugs.


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Guest's picture

My partner likes to fiddle with origami when he's bored, and he *hates* to throw anything away, so we have a box of origami... things in our house. We use them instead of packing peanuts. People love getting them, even though many of them aren't really anything - it'll just be some partial triangles, and some boxes, maybe mixed with an un-identifiable animal or two. I think they probably get a bit smooshed during transit, too.

I wouldn't really recommend making them for this purpose (though it could be a good rainy-day project for kids, I guess). It could also give you a use for any "duds" you might end up with from the above projects...

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

haha, that is a lot of effort put into packing materials!  I guess if I got a box full of smushed origami animals in my package I'd be delighted too. 

David DeFranza's picture

I like to use the origami book method with large sheet of paper. You can make a great pocket size book for your weekly notes.

What a fun post!

Guest's picture


These tips keep us going through tight times.

We linked up to your article on our website:

Hypertext Bazaar - 01.29.08

All the best!


the memeticians

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Hey thanks memeticians!  Your site looks really cool.

Guest's picture

We had origami animals on the tables at our wedding, out of about 600 animals we ended up with about 30 because the guests liked them so much.
I've got some silver origami earrings made from that precious metal clay, I get all sorts of compliments on them.

Guest's picture

I love this post. I learned origami on exchange in Japan, and I swear I met my husband after I folded my 1,000th crane :)

I am going to try the fabric origami this weekend. My library has a book on it, and I have tons of quilt scraps. Fabric folded boxes would be great (and frugal) Christmas presents.

Thanks Xin!

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Glad to see more origami enthusiasts out there!  The fabric origami can be a little tricky and can get sticky, but the results are pretty impressive.  Fabric stiffener is a lot like Elmer's glue and holds the pieces together really well. 

Guest's picture

hey i relly like this website.i just wanted to know if you could accually show the public how to do these, or at least me, if you do decide to show me, please e-mail me thankyou

Guest's picture

Beautiful art! My cousen Is a fan of Origami, he create only flowers and he have a great result. thank you!

Guest's picture

I love a bit of origami, but all that paper folding is a bit too involved for me. I live in Japan, so when we go out to restaurants we get given wet hand towels called "oshibori". Oshibori origami is a fairly new, upcoming craze in Japan - much easier than real origami, and perhaps a bit more fun, too! Anyway, I've made some YouTube video tutorials for my site, OshiboriArt.com, and there are step-by-step instructions with photos. All free of course. Take a peek :)

Guest's picture

hello with the earings they take forever to make and we have to use washi paper which costs soo much money added with many layers of sealer which is not cheap too they are worth $20 for them!

Guest's picture

I believe origami is an amazing activity that you only use your creactivity in. Also is to have fun and do anything you want with it!!!!!!!!!!