I could a tale unfold...


On Friday I had the great fortune to participate in a workshop with artist Chris Palmer.

If you've ever seen the origami documentary Between the Folds (and you really should), he's the one who makes the incredible rotating "flower tower" and who has the wild squirrel wandering into his Chicago apartment.

A terrible photo,
Anya's head is about to explode with joy.

Chris makes mind-bending works of art, at the dazzling intersection of origami and fabric pleating. The workshop was hosted by the costume shop of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The costumiers, props artisans and my little team of scenic artists attended, and I think everyone who participated felt they had stuck their finger directly into high-voltage creativity. It was hot stuff, let me tell you!

A roomful of artists says "whoa..." in unison.


Chris spoke of his influences, which include classical Islamic tile. In his works, he establishes a structured pattern through pleating. In some cases he maintains a strict structure to the direction of his pleats.

And in other cases, he twists and rotates the direction of the pleats to create an astonishing array of variations. (See how the star shapes have the same structure, but vary wildly from one another? Brilliant!)

The backs of his work are as mesmerizing as the fronts sides.

The workshop wasn't a mere show-and-tell. We got hands-on. Chris presented a large sheet of elaborately folded silk. And then he asked us to gently stretch it out from the corners.

Unfolded, it was a mysterious rumpled ocean of silk. The pattern was no longer evident.

At this point, he invited us to poke, prod and coax the fabric. The material had memory. Although we had no understanding of the structure, the fabric knew what it was doing.

Slowly at first, but with growing confidence, we manipulated the folds back into place.

This was mind-blowing. I don't know if this one of those you-just-had-to-be-there-to-understand experiences, or not.

After that, Chris shared some of his templates. We laid out our patterns, drawn with pencil on cotton. And we started sewing.

This photo shows one hexagon of my project sewn. Without ironing, the fabric is already twisting into place.

Here's one completed motif of a central hexagon, surrounded by alternating squares and triangles. My project will be an all-over pattern, when I finish it.

I have an unreasonable love of repeating pattern, and this workshop had my brain jumping with glee. As I said in the previous blog post, the interns gave me a really hard teasing because every time I stitched another section and turned my project over to see what was revealed, I said -- in an awestruck tone -- "This is sooooooooo cool."

It's such an honor to work at a place that values artistic learning and exploration, and I was so fortunate to have been a part of this fascinating workshop.

If you want to learn more about this technique, Chris Palmer has a beautiful book, with remarkably simple tutorials. Click here for more information.


knitica said…
Wow! What an experience! Beautiful work, and kudos to Berkley rep for facilitating this for their creative staff.
boodely said…
That was a great documentary. I'm envious of your hands on experience, it looks wonderful.
Noreen said…
Wow...amazing and so beautiful!
Stefaneener said…
Ooooooooooh. That is, indeed, intensely cool.
Marissa Dupont said…
I have seen that documentary, and I am SO JEALOUS!!! You get to do the coolest stuff!!! :)
Unknown said…
I too am overcome with envy, although I must admit you will have made more of the experience than I would have. Glad you got a chance to try it!
Wow, that is simply awesome! And I thought that origami crane I made way back in elementary school was something to write home about...

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