After 16 years, I finally folded the King Cobra origami!

Origami King Cobra

I’ve been folding origami since high school. About 16 years ago, right at the start of my hobby, I found these instructions for the King Cobra by Ronald Koh (all credit to him). And I was amazed! I fell in love with the beauty of the model, but I had one problem: I didn’t have paper long enough to fold it!

Most origami is folded from a square, 1 x 1. Koh suggested a strip of paper 1 x 28! Where would I find such a paper? In the instructions, he says that the original model was constructed from a 100m long paper! Here’s a link to a blog that shows the result of that original Cobra model.

This summer I went to Japan, and found several paper shops! I didn’t find the length of paper I needed, but I found a decent-sized handmade sheet of beautiful gold and red paper.

Red and gold paper

For 5,200 yen (about $5) I now had the paper I needed.

I cut the paper into four strips, then carefully taped them together with masking tape. I used masking tape since it folds easily, unlike plastic tape. You can’t even see the seams in the final model!

Origami paper

Cutting origami paperTaping strips of paper with masking tape

I don’t think I quite got to the dimensions of 1 x 28, closer to 1 x 24, but that’s okay.

Now it was time to fold the sucker! I printed off the 25 page instructions (!) and went to town! Because the paper was handmade, it was a little thicker than standard origami paper. It has a cloth-like texture, not unlike paper money. Because of this, the paper didn’t hold creases as well as I would’ve liked. However, it held enough to keep the form.

One challenge of working with such a long strip of paper is keeping it under control! I rolled up the paper and held it together with paper clips to make it easier to handle.

Rolled up paper

Beginning folding the cobra

Beginning folding the cobra

Unfortunately, I made a mistake. It was difficult to tell from Koh’s instructions whether the colored side should start facing up or down. I began with it facing down: and after two hours of folding the head, realized I’d made a mistake! So I unfolded it completely, unrolled the paper, then started from the other end, which wasn’t tainted with mistaken folds.

Luckily, I was able to fold the head faster the second time. After about an hour and a half, the head was complete.

Origami Cobra head

The head was the most difficult part. The fan on the side of the cobra’s head required a lot of pleating, and then folding at angles to get it to flare out.

The next step was folding the scales. This was by far the most tedious part of the entire model. It took several hours just to get all the precreases in place. Then I had to pleat a diamond pattern across the entire length of the model! The body was more than 10′ long, and required hundreds of creases.

Origami Cobra scales

As you can see, the scales weren’t folded precisely. The thickness of the paper caused a lot of problems, and the creases didn’t want to stay in place. But then again, animals aren’t perfect, right?

After several more hours, I completed the pleating. With all the pleats in place, I could no longer roll up the snake’s body. I had to fold the snake on the floor it was so long! The final model was 9’4″.

Pleated origami cobra scales

Origami Cobra 9 feet 4 inches

Now the model needed the final shaping. It looked like a shed snake skin!

The paper isn’t strong enough to support its own weight: Koh recognized this and recommending supporting the neck and head with wire. Technically this violates the spirit of pure origami, but who cares?

I cut three lengths of 22 gauge wire and twisted them together. I did this twice. Then I bent the wire and hid it along the cobra’s back as best I could. I bent the wire into an S-shape to get that classic cobra stance.

Underwire for Origami Cobra

Underwire for Origami Cobra

The head was too heavy to stay on the underwire, so I used tape to pin down as many flaps as I could. The underwire is still visible: however, the model will be displayed so that the head is looking outward, the back toward the wall, so most people won’t see the underwire unless they really look for it.

Underwire for Origami Cobra

Next came the shaping of the body. I curled the paper in my hand, but again, because the paper was so thick, it didn’t want to retain its shape.

Shaping Origami Cobra

I packed the inside with cotton balls: I used an entire bag to do this! Then I held together the two sides with masking tape. The tape appears on the bottom of the snake, so nobody will see it. I decided on masking tape so that if I didn’t like the snake’s final shape I could remove it easily without damaging the paper.

However, I wonder about the long-term strength of the tape, so someday I might have to switch to something stronger, like packaging tape.

Origami Cobra packed with cotton balls

Filling origami Cobra with cotton

Finally, the model was complete! I curled the snake around itself, just as Koh did in his diagram. I think it turned out well!

Front view of Origami Cobra

Top view of Origami Cobra

Back view of Origami Cobra

The body still needs a little more shaping to smooth out the rough angles. Once I move the cobra to my office (somehow) I’ll put the final touches on it.

Overall, I’m really proud of this snake! It took approximately 12 hours of work to get this far! This is the most difficult and time consuming origami I’ve ever done. I had to take frequent breaks in the folding process because my back and legs got really sore from hunching over so much.

I hope you enjoy!

Happy folding,

Origami Cobra

Origami to Strangers, From Strangers

I’ve never been satisfied with the assigned computers in my school offices. The school computers are always out-of-date, and every little update to internet browsers, Adobe, Flash, JavaScript, or any other essential piece of software requires authorization from IT. Of course, all these things offer updates every week, so naturally, they go un-updated (undated?). I’m not going to bother IT for every little thing.

Second, being that these computers are on the school network, they are loaded (encumbered is a better word) with security software. Because of all these layers of software and checks, plus the out-of-datedness of the computers itself, it always takes forever to log on.

A good five minutes, sometimes ten minutes if the computer’s been restarted (or restarted itself).

I have a lot of time on my hands, in other words.

Folding away the minutes

I use this time, then, to fold. My entire library of origami books is in my office, plus a file drawer full of different papers. This school year I bought a Star Wars origami book. All of the models are new to me, so I thought this would help me pass the time.

Star Wars Origami

The book can be purchased cheaply on Amazon.

Students and colleagues are always pleased by my origami, so I decided to do something different this year. Outside my office I have a small bulletin board. As I complete the models, I pin the models to the board and entice people to take them. The folding is what makes me happy; giving away the finished model makes other people happy. Here’s the current state of my board. Notice the A-Wing blasting away at the fire alarm.

Origami Board

If you can’t read the caption, it says “Do you enjoy origami as much as I do? Take one! It’ll brighten your day! I’ll just make more!”

Sometimes I see the models show up on other people’s boards: other times, they just disappear. I hope they find good homes.

Recently, though, I noticed something different. Somebody else left me a model:

Mysterious origami crane

A classic model, but one that still brightened my day. This person folded the model a little differently than I usually do. They only puffed the back pyramid shape halfway: I usually flatten it completely, but I kind of like the half-puffed look.

So here’s to the secret language of origami, communicated between people in-the-know.

Fold on,

So I Met a 5-Year-Old Yesterday and had an Origami ‘Fold-Off’ with Her

My roommate plays in his church’s orchestra and last night he invited me to the annual Christmas music event. The night consisted of dinner at 6, followed by a 2-hour holiday concert.

I don’t go to his church, and he was busy preparing for the show, so when I arrived, I looked around the large room for an open table to sit at. I found a nice family of four to share dinner with. The parents had two little girls, a 3-year-old and 5-year-old. We concluded dinner around 6:30 or so and had plenty of time before the show started. The girls were getting antsy, so I thought I’d entertain them with some origami.

I’ve been folding for about 14 years now, and while I’ve folded all kinds of different models, I only have a few memorized at any given time. I started by folding the 3-year-old a flapping crane, a classic model. I used one of the placeholders on the table, made of cardstock. Unlike the traditional crane model, this version flaps its wings when you hold it at a certain spot and pull the tail.

Her eyes lit up and she flew the crane around for about 10 minutes (and then started making the crane walk on its head).

I didn’t want to leave the other girl, Jasmine, out, so I folded her my signature model: the lily. She watched me intently for about 5 minutes, but when I gave it to her, she wasn’t impressed. She looked at it for a moment, then grabbed a program and decided she’d show me how origami is done.

Origami fold off

The three models I made for the girls, from left to right: a lily, a flapping crane, and a bunny. It’s hard to tell, but the crane’s head is smashed backward from all that walking around upside-down.


She took the rectangular piece of paper and first folded it diagonal, then tore off the extra so that she had a “perfect” square (the tear wasn’t exactly straight, but she earned an approving nod from me nonetheless: she had the right idea).

Then she folded the square diagonally both ways so that she had a triangle, then started tearing chunks out of the edges. Her dad informed me that she learned how to make snowflakes at school this week. She did the best she could making a snowflake in spite of not having scissors.

(She was actually engaging in kirigami, which is the art of cutting paper).

She gave it to me, then went to work on the next model. She tore the remainder of the program to make a rectangle with the proper proportions, then made an airplane.

Origami fold-off

Jasmine folded me an airplane and snowflake.

I countered by making her a bunny. Once again, she wasn’t impressed. She found a new program and decided to make another model using the entire sheet! My models were all tiny: she was going big by using the largest sheet of paper on the table.

The kindergartener folded another paper airplane, same design as the first one. But then she did something peculiar. Once she was finished, the model nearly symmetrical, she decided to tear a third of the right wing off. Why? I have no idea. But it wasn’t an accident. She intentionally finished the model properly, looked at it, and concluded that it wasn’t finished. So she tore a bit of the right wing off.

Origami airplane

Jasmine’s asymmetrical airplane.

The program was about to start at this point, so we concluded our fold-off. She gave the big plane to her little sister who promptly threw it at me. It did fly a bit in spite of the torn wing.

Her family left before the program concluded, so I never got to say goodbye. I’ll probably never see her again. I can honestly say in my 14 years of folding, I’ve never met somebody who was willing to go toe to toe with me, fold to fold with me, matching each of my models with one of her own. Even though I’ve been folding 3 times longer than she’s walked this earth, I think she won this fold-off.

In honor of her win and my defeat, I’ve decided that I’m going to fold cranes differently from now on. Introducing the Jasmine Variant.

Origami crane, Jasmine Variant

The Jasmine Variant of the traditional crane.

The Jasmine Variant is pretty simple. Start by folding a traditional crane (instructions here, or video tutorial here). When finished, tear about a third of the right wing off. Don’t just fold the tip under, and don’t just inside reverse fold it either. Tear it off. Technically pure origami doesn’t involve tearing, but you know what? Who cares. As long as the tear is for aesthetic reasons and not functional reasons, I’m fine with a little tearing here and there (the bunny I folded, on the other hand, I’m disappointed in, as it involves a tear to form the ears).

I kind of like the asymmetrical look after folding the same model for so many years.

Fold on,