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Fabric origami with Chris Palmer

posted by Karen McKevitt on Tue, Jan 24, 2012
in Costume shop , Prop shop , Scene shop

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Berkeley Rep's shops are filled with pretty awesome, talented artisans who are always curious and ready to learn new things (and build some awesome things too). That tradition continued last Friday when the costume shop hosted an in-house fabric origami workshop taught by the amazing artist Chris Palmer, author of Shadowfolds. He taught members of the costume, prop, and scenic shops his method of folding fabric to make three-dimensional geometric designs.


Kitty Muntzel, the costume shop's draper, instigated this post -- and pointed me to a terrific blog post by our Scenic Charge Artist Lisa Lazar, who allowed me to repost it (with some slight changes) here.

 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.

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 Berkeley Rep. The costumers, 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 room full 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.


Dear Chris,

After you wrote that you wanted to know more about our group, I wrote you an e-mail about 2 weeks ago and have not heard back. My computer has been saying that it cannot send some letters, so maybe you did not receive it. If you didn't, let me know and I will write again. We definately would like you to speak to our group and give a workshop in Sept. If that is not good we will pick a different month.

Sheila Rogstad Valley Stitchers Guild

Please use my other e-mail tks

Sheila Rogstad | Mon, Apr 16, 2012

Me parecen impactantes las creaciones de Chris Palmer, es un gran maestro del origami.
Debe ser un gran honor conocerlo en persona

Diana | Tue, Mar 19, 2013

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