Introduction: Origami Suspension Lamp

We had just moved into a new apartment, with bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling and a clause in the lease that said we're not allowed to make any holes because the walls and ceilings were freshly repainted. Some of the electrical cords and even one of the light bulbs bore traces of this recent repainting. After replacing 3 light fixtures and buying new bulbs for all of them (the new fixtures all had threads to screw in bulbs, and the old bulbs and sockets did not have threads), we wanted to see if we could find a way to retain the existing bulb and cord in our hallway while creating a new suspension shade around it.

Paper seemed like a good choice of materials because it's not very heavy. The hook in our ceiling is a closed loop which makes it more difficult to attach to. I looked at a bunch of photos of origami lampshades before settling on the design I wanted, but I was unable to find a complete tutorial, and I made some modifications to the design. Each of the examples I finds features photos of variations of the design alongside the design itself, without saying that they are variations, and the explicit folding pattern is never revealed.
The best version I found is here:
Another version is here on instructables, with a different design (4 rows) and not very detailed instructions:

My goal here is to walk through step by step in order to make it possible to make an origami lampshade like the one I made at home without excessive advance prototyping.

Tape measure
Hole punch
String of a weight similar to embroidery floss
Tapestry needle
Glue stick or glue
Old CD or lampshade circle with a slot for the bulb
Existing lamp cord or new suspension cord and LED bulb

Knitting spool (I made one out of 6 toothpicks and some duct tape)

*The choice of paper is something that was harder than expected, especially since I live in a small city.

There was a good discussion of this problem in the blogspot reference: Large paper tends to be heavyweight paper. Heavyweight (220-gram) paper is hard to fold precisely, as the author discovered through experience. Apparently after calling a bunch of art/stationery stores in Amsterdam, the author was able to source A1 paper in one of the two colors she was looking for, "not too thick", which she had to attach together in two places to get the size lampshade she wanted. In my small city, I wasn't even able to find thick large pieces of paper.

I had the idea that butcher paper, like what I'd seen used as table coverings that kids could draw on, would be useful to limit the seams in the construction, but I was unable to source this locally. Rolls sold as table coverings had a weird texture and weren't actually paper. The solution I settled on was IKEA Mala kids' drawing paper, sold in a 30-m roll for 5 € in the next big city over, almost 30 km away. It's a little finicky to work with - complex folds need to be handled with care - but at 45 cm high, it was big enough, and it still allows light to pass through the shade. It could easily be painted or decorated, since it's off-white unbleached-looking paper.

I saw examples on Etsy of people using maps as an interesting base for origami suspensions. I didn't have any big paper maps without lots of obnoxious advertising on them that I didn't mind cutting into long strips and folding up!

Step 1: Scaling and Measuring

Measure twice, cut once!

On tutorials I found for other styles of lamp, people said they drew out a bunch of lines before folding. I didn't want to have to erase all those pencil lines of have them shine through the lampshade, so I wanted to set the dimensions in a way that the folds would come out without a need to trace every line. The design of this lamp is based on the origami magic ball, which has a 2:1 ratio of length:height, but which is better-suited to a lamp if you have a 4:1 ratio. The catch is that my version only has 3 rows, and anyone who's ever tried to fold a letter into an envelope knows that it's far easier to fold things in half (or other powers of two) than to fold into thirds!

Basically, the large pattern is 3 rows of 8 large squares. The squares have to be squares for the diagonals to line up properly.

In my case, the paper is 45 cm high, so one square is 15 cm x 15 cm. This means I want a 120-cm-long piece for the pattern, and I added an extra 1 cm flap (later called "closure flap") to be able to glue the ends together into a circle. This is illustrated above.

Since my paper roll was new, I first cut off a vertical strip to remove the part of the roll that had been damaged by the product sticker to hold it closed.

I used my tape measure to measure out 120 and 121 cm from the end of the roll, and a pencil to mark off small dots at intervals a few cm apart. I used a 30-cm ruler to connect the dots into a straight vertical line and compared with the tape measure a second time to make sure it was really straight and parallel to the end of the roll. I did want lines here. When I thought I had a good line, I cut with scissors. I didn't have access to a paper cutter, ruled cutting board or T-square, so this was how I could do it!

Then I folded the 1-cm closure flap so that the pencil line would be hidden inside the fold. I used my ruler to help make this fold straight without tearing the edge of the paper.

Step 2: Starting to Fold: Vertical Grid

Folding was a mathematical exercise!

In origami terms, when you're looking at a pattern from above, a mountain fold is a fold which is pointing toward you, with the ends of the paper away from you. A valley fold is a fold where the ends of the paper are closest to you and the fold itself is farther away from you. Mountain + valleyfolds, which make up the majority of this step, mean you have to fold the paper in both directions along the same line.

The little flap to close the shape is just a mountain fold.

As shown on the diagram, the main pattern is 16 vertical sections of equal width, which means you need to make 15 folds that go in both directions. I did this by folding larger sections in half many times, subdividing the paper into smaller and smaller parts.

Halves, 1 mountain + valley fold (Red-orange on the pattern and first photo): I started by folding the entire paper in half, touching the left hand edge of the paper to the mountain fold (just flip the paper so it's a mountain fold) that marks the start of the closure flap, lining up the corners precisely, creasing in towards the center from each side, sharpening up the whole fold, and then bending the paper back to crease sharply in the opposite direction.

Quarters, 2 mountain + valley folds (Orange-yellow on the pattern): Then I folded the edge of the paper to the center line, both on the left-hand side and right-hand side (right-hand edge being the pattern edge and not the edge of the closure flap). I checked the corners and creased in both directions.

Eighths, 4 mountain + valley folds (Yellow-green on the pattern, second photo): Next, I folded the edge of the paper to the nearest quarter line on both the left-hand side and right-hand side, making the mountain + valley folds. To complete the pattern, I folded the edge of the paper to the farthest quarter line, both on the left-hand-side and the right-hand side.

Sixteenths, 8 mountain + valley folds (Navy blue on the pattern, third photo): Finally, you need to fold the edge of the paper to the eighth lines. The same way as for eighths, start from the edges of the paper and work your way in, thinking carefully about which lines are the eighth lines.

At this point you may be thinking carefully about how long this is going to take. You still have a long way to go and many folds to make!

Step 3: Horizontal Folds

The horizontal mountain folds, which in a magic ball are easy because you can just fold in half a bunch of times, here need to be based on the squares of the pattern because folding into thirds is hard!

The diagram and first photo show a series of 2 diagonal valley folds per corner, folding the edge of the paper toward the first and second lines in, in order to establish the height of a row. Technically you only need the second diagonal line to get the square, but you'll need the first fold eventually, so why not do it now? Doing all corners helps you line up both sides of the long horizontal line.

The second photo shows the pattern from the back as the bottom of the pattern is folded horizontally to meet the line where the top of the pattern was already folded down to make the top row. The three rows should be of equal height!

Unfolded, you see the main bones of the pattern.

Step 4: Ain't No Valley Low... a Jillion Diagonal Valley Folds

There isn't a trick for this part, just a lot of folding.

You have to keep valley folding the edge of the paper to every single vertical line on the paper so you create a (square, if my diagram were perfect) grid of intersecting diagonal lines.

This feels natural until you reach the horizontal edge of the paper (lines shown in first photo).

After that, you start folding past the edge of the paper, continuing to align with the vertical lines and creasing from the edges in toward the center (second photo). It's a good idea to continue the diagonal line pattern out to the closure flap.

You keep folding this way (Photos 3 and 4)... until finally you unfold to the pattern shown in the final photo.

I would recommend that any decoration of the paper be completed by the end of this step. You can see where the pattern is going to be, but the paper is still relatively flat.

Step 5: Coaxing the Pattern Into Shape

This is the hardest part.

The diagram shows, superimposed on the grid you folded, what folds you eventually need in the final pattern. Mountain folds are red and valley folds are blue. The top two rows of the pattern are actually a magic ball pattern, which is a tiled pattern of water bomb structures. A water bomb on a single square of paper folds flat into an isosceles triangle: two sides are the same length, and in this case the base of the triangle is longer than the sides. The "X" part is valley folds, and the two mountain folds bring the top and bottom edges into the center of the pattern. The water bombs interacting together look like <-> arrows (pointing up to down) when tiled à la magic ball.

The bottom row was modified to make a sturdier lampshade shape. I think it gives the finished product a more complex and interesting look. You have kind of a zigzag pattern, but the water bomb shapes above it constrain the top so you have a Y shape of valley folds inside a pentagonal arrow-like raised shape. I drew lines on an initial prototype net shown in the first photo.

Starting from the corners, working from the edges of the pattern in, you need to coax the paper into the shape you want. Initially this is slow. The second photo shows the lines barely coming together on the bottom row pattern.

Don't try to fold too sharply, because it's hard for the paper to be well-folded on one half and relatively flat on the other. If you're using the kiddie drawing paper I used, it may tear if you pinch too hard too early! As the pattern comes together, try to pinch the raised arrow shapes sharper (5th photo), and flip to the reverse side of the pattern to pinch the water bombs and Y-shapes at the bottom of the lowest row sharper. You'll find the pattern can eventually really come together, and even fold flat (last photo, weighted down with scissors). Incidentally, this is the shape you should have when all is nice and flat. I decided to fold the little closure flap in continuity with the pattern so it wouldn't stick out and would fit perfectly into the opposite edge.

Check to make sure that all your folds are along a pre-folded line and that the vertices are all nice and sharp.

Now you're ready to form the lampshade!

Step 6: Forming the Lampshade

You have a nice textured pattern now, but you need to have something more like a ball.

The first step is to glue the closure flap to the opposite edge of the pattern to make the equivalent of a cylinder. I used a glue stick (first photo), since I had used up the rest of my tube of glue making a cardboard cat scratcher. I didn't think it would work, but gluing progressively and pressing each glued section together with my fingers for 10 seconds, working from the top row down, the glue held! The closure flap nested behind the pattern edge where it should, making a continuous pattern around the cylindrical tube. The second photo shows this shape, which wasn't super stable.

Mark off in pencil the spot where you're going to punch. Then punch holes in the top of the cylinder for string to go through. This is shown in my 3rd photo. I had a mini punch that worked really well for making holes, but you can use what you have on hand.

Draw your string through the holes you punched. Using a tapestry needle helps this go extra smoothly. My string is like embroidery floss without being shiny, found in a crafts aisle next to embroidery floss. I chose to orient the loose ends of the string where my glue seam was (4th photo).

Once you have your ends where you want them, pull the ends tight as you want and tie a knot. Trim and tuck the ends inside the shade. Tying the top together helps the shade maintain its shape. The final photo shows the final form, next to a smaller prototype I made with 2 sheets of A4 paper.

Step 7: Assemble and Hang the Lamp!

Actually going from shade to lamp is a part that wasn't always clear in tutorials I found.

Even though we had an LED bulb, I didn't want to risk a fire hazard by having the bulb socket directly touching the paper shade. I threaded the bulb holder through an old CD before threading on my lampshade. You can see from the bottom view (1st photo) that I didn't pull the top of the lamp as tight as possible, since I knew I had a little "shelf" to hang the shade from. The pattern works well with the CD shape. I would have liked to have a more professional-looking bulb holder, and perhaps you could twist heavy-gauge wire into a ring shape with an inner ring for the bulb, but this was easy and effective. The CD does make weird neon rainbow patterns on the floor directly underneath the suspension, but I would have loved this when I was a kid!

The lamp hardware we had was marred by paint overlap - white paint on a black cord. I didn't have a knitting spool on hand and thought it would be easiest to work in the round, so I whipped up a spool of my own by cutting down 6 toothpicks to make them shorter and less pointy at the tips, folded duct tape in half around them in a roughly equally-spaced pattern and taped them into a loop. I knitted an I-cord with some of the remaining string from tying the lamp together, looping the string once around each toothpick post from the inside of the circle, in series, until there were two loops around each post, then drawing the bottom loop over the top one with the help of my tapestry needle so I could continue the cord by adding another row of loops. I crunched the I-cord into a wider tube, fed it over the cord, stretched it back out long, tied it off a few cm away from the bulb holder inside the lampshade and tied the top off before the "domino" with the electrical wiring inside.

Finally, hang the lamp! For me this meant standing on a chair getting the domino hooked up (just screwing in two wires) and through the ring in the ceiling, adjusting the angle of the suspension lampshade, and hiding the seam in the least-visible angle. The final photos show the lamp on and off. Follow the directions for your suspension fixture if you bought a new one.

Step 8: Extending Your Experience to Other Shapes and Ideas

I experimented with other shapes I'd seen, including the different possible shapes from a magic ball base.

The 4-row and many-column magic ball shape (tied together in the first photo) doesn't hold its shape very well if tied at only one end, despite using the modified bottom row. Using fewer, larger pattern elements makes for a sturdier shape.

There's a nice zigzag pattern that I've seen used in different kinds of suspension lampshades, which is also pretty easy to figure out from the base. I could post instructions upon request. The big white flat module is a large version of this pattern, like continuing the principle of the bottom row of my lamp on upward. The little red module is the zigzag base, only two rows, for a suspension that opens wide at the bottom. We didn't need that kind of light, but it could be nice above a table or kitchen island.

The model with the blue bottom in the first photo, I modified to make a sort of sconce shade.

We had a lightbulb sticking at a slight angle out of the wall (about 2 cm of wire sticking from a rough hole in the wall), and the bulb had grey paint on it from the repainting. I wanted to cover it and went with a pattern I liked (which may benefit from construction from heavier paper). However, I didn't have enough room behind the bulb to close it around into the tulip shape I had seen. I think the round shape helps the lamps hold their shape and evens out the pattern. I started from the pattern I liked, a typical accordion lampshade shape with a zigzag detail at the bottom, and adjusted the top to create a little shelf like in my suspension lampshade. I show the model prototype and its profile in the 2nd and 3rd photos.

I adjusted the proportions slightly since this prototype to make the lamp shape longer and doubled the width:height ratio and thus the number of columns of patterns to increase the volume. I punched holes and used string to tie the top together, then used masking tape placed only behind the top structure to attach the sconce shade to the wall without making any holes in the wall. It's light enough to hold up there on just masking tape, plus it diffuses the light and looks nicer than a bare bulb. The one shortcoming of this pattern, and why I'm not publishing it separately, is that the semicircular shape highlights any imperfections in the pattern and looks odd at the edges pressed against the wall because they are more compressed than the part of the pattern in the center of the arc.

I thought about what else could be done with the same framework and sketched out ideas for vertex shapes, but nothing else very original surfaced. If I had a specific idea for a shape I wanted, it would be easier to work out what needs to be done.

Once you've messed around with all those interlocking water bombs and seen that this structure can be changed in other parts of the lamp structure, the sky's the limit for adapting it to other needs!

Lights Contest 2017

Participated in the
Lights Contest 2017