The Public Paperfolding History Project

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Fold and Cut Paper Doilies
This page attempts to record what is known about the origin and history of Geometric Fold and Cut Designs from Squares with 16-fold Symmetry which are nowadays usually known as Paper Doilies and are still widely used as a craft activity in British primary schools.

The cutting of patterns in complex symmetric patterns of this kind has sometimes been included in conjuring performances.

There is a separate page about the history of the specific magical effect known as The Ship's Wheel.

Compare also The Froebelian Occupation of Ausschneiden und Aufkleben / Cutting Out and Mounting



A fold and cut design that resembles a flower, although it is called a Candle Ornament, appears in 'The Girl's Own Book' by Lydia Marie Child, which was published by Clark Austin and Co in New York in 1833. This design is included on this page as it appears to be an early forerunner of the Paper Doily design.



As far as I know the earliest known instruction for making a Paper Doily appear under the title 'Paper Cuttings' in 'The Girl's Own Toymaker' by Ebenezer Landells and Alice Landells was published in 1860 by Griffin and Farran in London and Shephard, Clark and Brown in Boston.



Brief instructions for a making patterns with sixteen-fold symmetry appear in 'Hanky Panky', a book of magical effects, puzzles, recreational mathematics and other amusements, by W H Cremer, Jun, which was published by John Camden Hotten in London in 1872. No specific pattern is suggested.


The effect also appears:


Under the title 'Fancy Mats' in 'Paper Magic' by Will Blyth, which was first published by C Arthur Pearson in London in 1920. The same book includes similar instructions for malking the Ship's Wheel.



In 'Houdini's Paper Magic', which was published by E P Dutton and Company of New York in 1922, includes instructions for several complex versions of the Paper Doily intended to be performed as magical effects. One of these is stated to be of Japanese origin.



As 'The Brownies' Tea Cloth' in 'More Paper Magic' by Will Blyth, which was published by C Arthur Pearson in London in 1923.



In 'Fun with Paperfolding' by William D Murray and Francis J Rigney was published by the Fleming H Revell Company, New York in 1928.



In 'La Nature' Issue 2872 of 1st January 1932 in an article by Alber headed 'Dechirures et Dechiquetures de Papier' (Paper Tearing and Shredding?).



'La Nature' Issue 2944 of 1st January 1935 also contained an article by Alber which explained how to present the making of several versions of the Chain of Dolls and Paper Doilies as magical effects.



As 'The Table-Cloth' in 'Paper Toy Making' by Margaret Campbell was first published by Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons Ltd in London, probably in 1937, although both the Foreword and Preface are dated 1936, which argues that the book was complete at that date.


A similar method is used in the same book to create 'Guests', which is a cross between a Paper Doily and a Chain of Dolls.



In 'At Home Tonight' by Herbert McKay, which was published by Oxford University Press in London, New York and Toronto in 1940, contains the standard Paper Doily effect, under the title of 'Paper Mats', as well as an effect called 'Dancers', which is similar to 'Guests' in Margaret Campbell's 'Paper Toy Making' except that in this case the circle of figures is intended to stand upright rather than lay flat.


In 'El Plegado y Cartonaje en la Escuela Primaria' by Antonio M Luchia and Corina Luciani de Luchia, which was published by Editorial Kapelusz in Buenos Aires in 1940 contains a section about 'Figuras Simetricos Recortadas' which contains designs for paper friezes and doilies.


In 'Willane's Wizardry' by Willane, which was pubished by ARCAS, in London, and has a foreword dated 1947, which contains the interesting information that this effect was often used by buskers performing to theatre queues.



In 'Au Pays des Mains Agiles', which was published by Editions Fleurus in Paris in 1949, as 'Des Napperons'.