The art of bookbinding and origami


Paper goes to the chair to give life to sculptures or everyday objects such as books, vases, lamps, lanterns or kaleidocycles. Among the many workshops that exist all over the world, we have chosen those of Barbara Ventura, an Italian architect who in recent years has made paper the privileged element of a personal expressive and formal research that dialectically crosses design and art, drawing on an aesthetic of Japanese matrix.

Suspended lightness, magic, sensuality, light and shadow alternate and overlap in the rigorous folds converge into soft and sinuous forms that become the keepers of her feeling. Since 2017 Barbara Ventura has designed a series of creative workshops using almost exclusively paper: from sewn books to techniques that can be traced back to structural origami, or the art of folding paper.  Let’s take a look with her at some of these fascinating techniques.

Stitched books – Fukuro toji 袋綴じ and Coptic binding 

The technique involves sewing the book with needle and thread without the use of glue. 

It is inspired by the four main techniques of Japanese thread binding: simple (Yotsume toji), noble (Kōki toji), hemp leaf (Asa-no-ha toji) and tortoise back (Kikkō toji). With these techniques it is possible to (re)bind any kind of loose paper, composing not only white notebooks but also very personal books composed of various materials.

The Japanese technique involves the use of loose sheets, while Coptic binding works by assembling even bundled sheets, Ventura points out.

In particular, learning Coptic technique bookbinding enables the binding of albums, notebooks or scattered sheets in a unique way by allowing them to be fully opened, and the extraordinary thing is that the stitching becomes, therefore, a structural element of the composition.

The technique is easy to carry out, and little time it is possible to create a personal notebook, choosing covers and yarn colors.

Itajime shibori paper

It is the folding technique that Japanese craft tradition applies to textiles to achieve a coloring composed of geometric shapes that are used to color or de-color the paper.

Precisely, Itajime Shibori Paper is inspired by the traditional Japanese Shiborizome 絞り染め technique of fabric decoration and uses the same principles to create colored papers with ornamental geometric patterns. The paper is pressed and bound with different templates and treated by fading, as well as by coloring in several passes: in this way, effects of veiled overlays and unpredictable transparencies are achieved. Each sheet of processed paper, once dried and laid out, turns out to be a unique piece that can then be used to wrap gifts, cover books, and decorate walls.


Let us now turn to techniques related back to structural origami. From the Japanese ori (fold) and kami (paper), structural origami investigates the possible spatial configurations of a flat surface once it has been characterized by specific folds and more closely related to abstract geometry. And once the fundamental techniques are learned, each person can apply them to bring life to sculptures or everyday objects, such as papervases, lampshapes, dynamic sculptures, decorative panels, and packaging.

In this case, the structural origami technique creates a kind of pot overlay and allows for geometric sculptures that transform simple vases or bottles or salvaged glass objects into sculptural containers. Through this technique, one can experiment with different folds and sizes, in black and white or in color.

According to Ventura, one could define structural origami as that folding practice that investigates the possible spatial configurations of a flat surface once it has been characterized by specific folds and more closely related to abstract geometry. Because of its formal characteristics and the possibilities of containing large structure that is minimized once folded, the study of structural origami is a multidicliplinary field of interest and investigation, from mathematics to architecture, medicine to design, art to aeronautics, fashion to plant engineering.

Turkish fold

“Turkish folding” is a technique originally used to fold maps so that they can open fully in a single gesture. Attributable to structural origami, which has already been discussed, it is particularly interesting for accompanying graphic projects: a kind of origami applied to bookbinding. 

Thanks to this technique, it is possible to make pop-up greeting cards, three-dimensional booklets or accordion document holders: a first discovery of the infinite variations that everyone can then develop into creativity, for personal projects, artist’s books or for the creation of professional presentations in the graphic and communication field.

Origami lanterns

We continue to explore the technique of paper folding to make, this time, a lantern. Paper lanterns are traditional elements that cross several different cultures and are a characteristic element of festive moments and poetry, particularly in Asian countries and Asian-majority neighborhoods.

Through the simple folding of a sheet using the Yoshimura Origami technique, a curvature is achieved such that the sheet takes on a cylindrical shape and lends itself to becoming a delicate lantern. Then using the structural origami technique-which transforms lightweight sheets of paper into faceted volumes-you can make small and large lanterns to hang from the branches of a tree or to decorate the table at a romantic dinner party.

You can experiment with different folds using monochrome, color, and various recycled papers, and discover how – by varying the angles of folding, the size of the sheets used, and the number of folds – you can achieve ever-changing and original shapes and sizes.

Light Folds: Diy Origami Lamp

Fold, drill, assemble, screw. Using the Yoshimura Origami technique, and including the use of wooden elements and hardware, it is possible to construct a lampshade. In fact, by treasuring both traditional practice and contemporary research, and drawing inspiration from the Yoshimura Origami technique, it is possible to construct a lamp-shade that can be used either standing or hanging, adapting from time to time to the different types of light source that each person decides to use.

Kaleidocycles: mutant origami

Concluding this journey into craft learning techniques are mutant origami: folded and glued paper structures that by their geometric configuration can be animated by changing their configuration. If decorated a priori, the magic is amplified by the kaleidoscopic effects achieved.

Even the name tells much about their function: kalòs = beautiful, eidos = figure and finally ciclos = circle, ring. In fact, kaleidocycles are extraordinary figures consisting of a chain of solids closed in a ring that can be spun an infinite number of times through its center.

Who is Barbara Ventura

Always enchanted by the dormant potential of things, places and people, Barbara Ventura over the years has had the opportunity to implement eclectic experiences, with frequent changes of scale and context, independently or by collaborating with design studios, companies and communication agencies. The common thread is a persevering and curious focus on the design process. He combines design and research activities with teaching experiences in workshops, seminars and new craft laboratories. He promotes design and artistic actions with a strong ethical and social trait.