Introduction: Modular Origami | Mini Winged Swan | 181 Pieces

About: Salutations! I am a Finance major and origami enthusiast.

3D Origami, Golden Venture Origami, Chinese Paperfolding, whatever you choose to call it, is an intensive form of origami which involves creating many pieces and assembling them together to create shapes, animals, flowers, and much more. To learn about the history, please see my first 3D origami guide.

The winged swan is one of the most breathtaking pieces in 3D origami—it takes the initial beauty of a regular swan, and incorporates a more anatomically-correct wing design. However, these models can take even the expert folder hours to create.

This is a simplified model of my own design, which incorporates the wing and tail detail from the original winged swan, but reduces the overall model size. In comparison, the pieces for this model can be made in around 45 minutes.

This model requires 181 units. It is intermediate in terms of difficulty.
I will be using orange units to denote steps.
If you have not folded 3D models before, can I recommend an easier origami swan to start?

Step 1: What You'll Need

To make this model, you will need:
  • 6 sheets of 8.5” x 11” paper/A4 size paper, each cut into 32 pieces
  • A black Sharpie/marker
  • A red Sharpie/marker
  • Scissors (optional)
  • Glue (optional)
  • Mod Podge (optional)
Prep your beak by coloring two of the pieces of paper with a red marker and a black marker. Alternatively, you can use red or black paper if you have it.

Step 2: Modular Origami Units 101 - Folding, Anatomy, and Stacking

  1. Start by folding the paper in half lengthwise.
  2. Fold it in half widthwise.
  3. Unfold the widthwise crease. This crease will be your median line.
  4. Now, take left side and fold it diagonally, lining up with the median line.
  5. Take the right side and also fold it diagonally, lining up with the median line. You should now have a pentagon shape.
  6. Flip the unit over.
  7. Line up the bottoms of the sides with the slope of triangleand crease, creating a diamond shape.
  8. Tuck the top of the corners in under the central triangle.
  9. Bring the two corners up and fold the triangle in half.


Throughout this Instructable, I will be referencing certain parts of modular origami units. Above is a diagram with the parts labeled.

To store the units and keep track, I recommend stacking them in groups of 20. Stacking is useful because it allows you to open up the pockets beforehand—units that have opened pockets are more aesthetically pleasing and structurally-sound. For this Instructable, stacking is important because of the model’s wings.

  1. Put the two points of one unit into the two pockets of another unit.
  2. Continue to do this until you have around 10 units.
  3. Then, take the units with unopened pockets and put them on the front of the stick, giving you a stack with units that all have opened pockets.

Step 3: Paper Quality/Size & How It Affects Modular Origami

Unlike other forms of origami, modular origami is entirely dependent on the qualities of the paper used.
The two major qualities that affect it are thickness and texture. The thicker the paper, the less likely the units will stay together, the thinner, the more likely the units will rip. The glossier the paper, the less likely the units will stay together, the more matte, the more difficult to fold the units. Experiment with lots of types of paper to see which is best.

In my experience—
Papers that work best: origami paper, computer paper, Post-its
Papers that work: some colored paper, magazine pages, scrapbooking paper, newspaper, wrapping paper
Papers that don’t work: construction paper, cardstock

Obviously, many of these types of papers have advantages and disadvantages outside of thickness and texture, such as color. Post-its offer a good compromise between thickness and texture, as well as allowing a wide variety of colors. Magazine pages are glossy and work relatively well, but do not allow much control over color. Some colored paper does not work for modular origami, but can be tamed with enough glue.

Step 4: Base | 65 Units

The base is rather simple. Make sure you’re using units that have opened pockets.

  1. Create 13 base pairs, and link them all together. A base pair is comprised of three units, where the right point of one unit is inserted in the left pocket of another unit, and the right point of that unit is inserted in the left pocket of another unit.
  2. To link pairs together, take the two left points of the bottom units, and slot it into the right pockets of the upper units. Be careful! This ring is very fragile.
  3. From here, add on two more tiers of units, for five tiers in total.

Step 5: Wings | 90 Units

The wings are the most difficult part of this model.
I will be introducing a technique where you will use the same amount of units for each row, but will not utilize all of the units’ pockets. This technique is usually used to increase the amount of units per tier, but we will be using it to create a sloping effect without compromising uniform size.

  1. Start with one wing by placing five units.
  2. Then, place four units on top, as if you are building up a triangle.
  3. Then, take a unit and use only the right pocket on the unit on the farthest right.
  4. This will basically allow the left pocket to be ignored, and the unit will be within the one from the tier below.
  5. Repeat these steps for the next five tiers, for 7 in total. Then, place four units, three units, two units, and one unit.
You have completed the wing!

  1. Turn the model to the left, skip two points, and place five units.
  2. Repeat the above steps, but place the unit that only uses one pocket on the lefthand side.

Step 6: Tail | 6 Units

The tail is the easiest part of this model, and only requires 6 units.

  1. Begin with two units, unconnected and side-by-side.
  2. Add one unit on top to connect them, creating a triangle.
  3. Add two more pieces on top—for one unit, use the first tier’s left point and the second tier’s left point, and for the other, the first tier’s right point and the second tier’s right point.
  4. Top it off with another unit in the middle.

To place the tail, there should be four points in between the two wings (the back of the swan).
Insert the unit, inverted, in the space.

Step 7: Neck | 20 Units

The neck is also rather simple.

Hopefully you have folded your red and black piece by now!
  1. Take your last stick, and take off 3 units. Put them aside.
  2. Place the black unit on the end of the stick, then the red unit.
  3. This is your neck! Bend it slightly to make it curved.

In the space between the two wings (opposite the tail), there should be two points.
Remember the 3 units you set aside? Place one unit there, and place two more units on top of that.

Place the neck, inverted, in the middle of the two units.

Step 8: Finishing Touches

Here, you can glue the neck in, add Mod Podge, whatever you like!

To glue, put glue in the pockets of the units and place.
Make sure the unit is exactly where you want it, because once you place it, you can't use those pieces again!

For Mod Podge, brush a thin layer over your model and allow 24 hours for it to completely dry. This should give your model a pretty sheen!