Four Things That Most People Overlook About Valley Folds

And Why You Need to Pay Attention to Them in Order to Advance Your Origami Skills

Sometimes, in order to find the root cause of a problem, which in this case refers to the blocks that hold you back from advancing your origami skills, we need to go back to the basics. Let’s start with the most basic of folds – the valley fold. Even at this stage, you may be overlooking the following things, and though you may not realize it, they are limiting you. The basic starting folds and precreases are crucial for setting up the rest of the folding sequence and the quality of the finished model.

Instruction Ambiguity

Many beginner instructions tell the folder to make folds at arbitrary spots without landmarks, but that puts the paper into an ambiguous state in the following step. It could affect the size or position of future folds in ways that are not readily apparent unless the folder closely monitors where the fold ends up later in the sequence. For simple models, it could affect the proportions of features in the final model. Most advanced models have precise landmarks for each fold, since the folder may be unable to properly perform future steps without them. For these reasons, designers should strive to eliminate instruction ambiguity as much as possible.

Physical Properties of Paper

Origami designers also need to consider the physical properties of paper when creating designs or instructions. One such issue is creep, which refers to the offsetting of creases that occurs when folding due to the thickness of the paper. For example, when comparing some diagrams for the initial folds for the traditional crane or some other basic model, some of them fold the second diagonal from the folded sheet instead of the flat sheet, which increases the risk of making inaccurate folds. The paper’s thickness becomes more relevant when folding two or more layers together. The extra thickness could offset some of the folds, making them less accurate. It also puts more strain on some of the outer layers, making them more likely to tear.

Folder Inaccuracy

Beginner folders may sometimes perform individual steps inaccurately, producing results that differ from the instructions. In some cases, inaccurate folds may still allow the folder to continue, but usually, it leaves the model in a state that is different from the diagrams and could result in being unable to continue, so the folder will have no choice but to adapt the next step to the current state or backtrack to the point in which the inaccurate fold was made.

Over the course of the folding sequence, the inaccuracies will compound until the model cannot be completed or it ends up looking very different from the intended final result.

Therefore, folders need to perform the folds as accurately as possible. That requires one to understand and use the proper techniques.

Differences in Technique

I find that most books do not actually cover the mechanics of properly folding the basic folds in terms of where to place the hands and fingers and how to move them. When valley folds are used in different contexts, I find it necessary to use different techniques. I call them the “fold to”, in which the focus is on positioning a point or edge to lie on a landmark, and the “fold through”, in which the focus is on the fold itself and making sure that it passes through certain landmarks. I will cover more of these in depth in a future post.


Jonathan Hirschberg is an origami creator based in California, USA, and has been folding origami for over 25 years. He focuses on creating complex and super complex representational origami models of animals, vehicles, fantasy characters, and more. His works have been published in convention books for Origami USA, Tanteidan, and others. He has also taught origami at local events and conventions.

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