A Complete Origami Nativity

Peter Buchan-Symons, from Origamishop.com – €29.95 paperback / €19.95 e-book

Scroll down for a model list with recommended papers, and for acknowledgements.

Review by Lee Armstrong:

It feels like a long time ago that I went to my first BOS convention, in Birmingham. One of the highlights for me was the exhibition and that was where I first saw designs by Peter Buchan-Symons. He brought along a couple of highly detailed animals which were by some way the most complex original designs at the convention. Since then I’ve always looked out for his models and included a small number of clever, simpler designs in BOS model collections. So I was excited to see that he has published this book – full of brand new designs.

The choice of a Nativity theme is a smart move as it means the author can cover a wide range of subjects and explore a lot of different origami techniques. Peter’s ambition, however, is even grander. The book sets out to be more than just a collection of models and styles, and includes extensive and accessible sections on design techniques too.  

At 214 pages, and with 30 models, this is a substantial book. Many of the models also lead to “extension models” – tasks that take the folder to the next level. This can be a simple enhancement like removing all the unnecessary creases from a design, so that the finished model has no unsightly crease lines showing, but can also provide a challenge to stretch the more advanced folder, for example using a crease pattern to fold a more complex version of the model. 

Complex origami loving geeks might want to skip to the later designs of the book, but they’d be missing out. Peter’s simpler works are innovative designs with clever sequences which are very rewarding to fold. I especially like the way he uses an asymmetric sequence to fold a symmetrical model – like the versions of the manger. There are also designs here to interest those who like geometric folding (a star, with a particularly challenging tessellation for the advanced folder, as well as the wise mens’ gifts). There is even a five pointed crown from a single square. Modular folders are catered for with the elegant modular construction of the stable, and again you can decide to go for the simpler or the more complex version. 

For those who want to make a whole nativity scene, each model includes a note on the size of paper to best learn the model, and the size to fold it to scale. In the case of the crown, we also get the dimensions for a wearable version! If I had one small criticism, it would be that mostly the designs don’t have recommended papers. There is a small section in the introduction on paper choice, and while this is probably not an issue for more experienced folders, who will already have their preferred papers (and perhaps can identify the papers used in the photographs), some people might find it easier if they paper options detailed.  The diagrams, however are first rate throughout. Everything is drawn well and I didn’t spot a single step where there was an error that might mislead  the unwary folder – full marks to Peter and his test folders. 

Lots of origami books start with the simplest model and work up to the most complex,  but without really thinking through how the folder can build up their repertoire of techniques, or how folding one model can incrementally lead to the later designs. As you work through this book, it is obvious Peter has thought this through, and the more complex human figures in particular build in difficulty in a way that makes the harder subjects within reach of less experienced folders. At each stage Peter also covers the theory behind the design, and the folding techniques, so we get wet folding, the theory and practical approach to following a crease pattern, box pleating, 22.5 degree and more. If you have ever tried to make your way through Robert Lang’s “Origami Design Secrets”, perhaps some of the theory will be familiar to you, but Peter has managed to set it out in a very approachable way, with the models really helping you build your understanding as you go, and without a heavy reliance on mathematics. 

We are fortunate these days to have a wide range of origami books to choose from, and many of us have shelves heaving with volumes that we have hardly opened or folded much from. So I can’t really give you a better recommendation for this book than to say that I’ll be coming back to it more, not just because it has models I want to fold, but because there are design techniques I want to understand better. To do all this in your first origami book is quite an achievement. I wish Peter every success and can’t wait to see what he does next.

Lee is quite right that the book doesn’t contain explicit mention of recommended paper for each model, so here is a quick list of recommended papers with links.

  • Shepherd’s Crook, Slender Crook – thick, sturdy paper e.g. elephant hide
  • Manger (& Smooth Manger) – thick paper e.g. wood textured paper
  • Manger with Legs – medium thickness paper e.g. tant
  • Gold (& Smooth Gold) – metallic paper e.g. foil-backed paper
  • Frankincense (& Smooth Frankincense) – metallic paper e.g. foil-backed paper
  • Myrrh (& Smooth Myrrh) – metallic paper e.g. foil-backed paper
  • Baby Jesus, Christ Child – medium thickness e.g. tissue-foil
  • Stable, Stable Barn – strong but thin e.g. biotope
  • Coronet, Antique Crown – metallic paper e.g. Grimoire roller-back
  • Star/Star of Bethlehem – medium thickness e.g. tant
  • Star Tessellation – strong and large paper e.g. elephant hide
  • Joseph, Shepherd – suitable for wetfolding e.g. elephant hide
  • Mary, Standing Mary – suitable for wetfolding, comes in blue e.g. tant
  • Angel, Feathered Angel – medium thickness e.g. tissue-foil
  • Kneeling Wise Man, Standing Wise Man – suitable for wetfolding e.g. elephant hide
  • Sheep, Lamb – duo coloured, not too thick e.g. duo thai
  • Donkey – duo coloured, not too thick e.g. large kami
  • Ox, Calf – suitable for wetfolding e.g. elephant hide
  • Two-humped Camel, Camel with Toes – suitable for wetfolding e.g. elephant hide


I’m very grateful to Ezra Glaser-Smyth, Robin Glynn, Carmen Hagemeister, Andrea Slade, Sampreet Manna (who also kindly provided fantastic photographs of his models of the Calf and Donkey), Lenora Giachetto, Carlos Alberto, Antonio Lobos, Martín Mendoza, André Luís, Cécile Gauthier, Karla Bojorges Cano, Andrés F. Gordillo, Isidoro González, and Brian Hofmann for their help with testing diagrams and crease patterns, and to Simon Capper for directions regarding wooden construction nomenclature.

Thanks also to my sister-in-law, Natasha Symons, for a tremendous amount of editing wisdom, to Nick Robinson for extreme thoroughness and significant contributions to folding and diagramming techniques as well as a very flattering foreword, to Marc Kirschenbaum for helping address a number of issues in a short timescale, and Lee Armstrong for the wonderful review above!

And above all, thank you to Nicolas Terry for taking a chance and publishing my book!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: