The Japanese word "origami" is made up of two smaller Japanese words: "oru", meaning to fold, and "kami", meaning paper and looks like this when written in Japanese.
The earliest evidence of paperfolding in Europe is a picture of a small paper boat in Tractatus de sphaera mundi from 1490. There is also evidence of a cut and folded paper box from 1440. It is possible that paperfolding in the west originated with the Moors much earlier; however, it is not known if it was independently discovered or knowledge of origami came along the silk trade routes from the East.
Japanese origami began sometime after Buddhist monks carried paper with them from China to Japan during the 6th century. The first Japanese origami is dated from this period and was used for religious ceremonial purposes only, due to the high price of paper.
A reference in a poem by Ihara Saikaku from 1680, which describes the origami butterflies used during Shinto weddings to represent the bride and groom, indicates that origami had become a significant aspect of Japanese ceremony by the Heian period (794 - 1185).
Samurai warriors are known to have exchanged gifts adorned with noshi, a sort of good luck token made of folded strips of paper.
In 1797 the first known origami book was published in Japan: Senbazuru Orikata. Its publication marked a turning point in origami. Before this teaching origami was by direct instruction from one person to another but now because instructions could be written down, people in one part of the world could show people in another part without ever meeting. Also, origami instructions could be stored for future generations without fear of them being forgotten.
Origami turns up in the most unlikely of places. In the 1906 edition of Mrs Beetons Book of Household Management, comprising of over 2000 pages, there is a complete chapter covering ornate napkin folds.
From 1946 and every year after in the annual of the popular cartoon strip character Rupert Bear, paperfolding instructions were published.
Rupert and his friends would show the readers how to fold paper. The first model to be published was the traditional flapping bird.
This is the 1958 edition which shows the reader how to fold a napkin flower
The modern growth of interest in origami dates to the design in 1954 by Akira Yoshizawa of a method of notation to indicate how to fold origami models.
This Yoshizawa-Randlett system is now used internationally in most serious origami publications and has become the standard visual language for depicting origami instructions.
In the mid 1960's a famous magician of his time, Robert Harbin, produced a series of origami paperback books to accompany his television series. It was this exposure that encouraged many youngsters to start folding. Indeed many, now in their adult years have carried on to produce mind blowingly complex models that were never even imagined possible at the time.
Robert Harbin was a founder member and the first President of the British Origami Society and always tried to attend the conventions whenever his cabaret engagements permitted him to do so.
He gave the Society enormous help, the real extent of which has never been disclosed in public and upon his death in 1978 the copyrights to all of his origami publications was bequeathed to the British Origami Society in the hope that the origami magic he created would survive for future generations.
Robert Lang is a pioneer of the newest kind of origami using mathematics and engineering principles to fold mind-blowingly intricate designs that are beautiful and, sometimes, very useful.
He merges mathematics with aesthetics to fold elegant modern origami. His scientific approach helps him make folds once thought impossible and has secured his place as one of the first great Western masters of the art.
Click the video below to watch a talk Robert gave at Monterey California entitled "The Math and the Magic of Origami" for TED in 2008.