Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Origami Interlude: Sonobe Unit Origami

This January, I've been thinking about what I'd like to accomplish this year, both with this blog and with my beady and crafty art in general. I want to get back to exploring some of the basic geometric shapes that I've used in my work, both in beads and in origami. 

I was first introduced to modular origami many years ago through the Sonobe unit, an invention of Mitsonobu Sonobe. As one of the simplest units in modular origami, combinations of multiple Sonobe units can be pieced together to form an infinite number of polyhedra. Twelve units create this stellated octahedron:

Here's an individual basic Sonobe unit. Each unit has two tabs on the edges and two corresponding pockets in the center.

I used four sheets each in three colors of paper to create this polyhedron. The flower-patterned paper is washi, which is a dream to fold.

The smallest Sonobe octahedron that I've ever made measures about 20 mm in diameter, or about the size of a medium beaded bead. I've thought about creating beads out of Sonobe origami, but they would need to be reinforced with glue or a layer of varnish to withstand any wear and tear. 

An additional fold to the Sonobe unit results in a slightly different effect, as shown in this cube. It uses six units in three colors:

A popular Sonobe polyhedron is the stellated icosahedron, which requires 30 units. Here's one in six colors:

Free instructions for a simple Sonobe unit can be found at this link, with instructions on how to piece together the 30-unit polyhedron here. Check out this page for a taste of the many more variations on this unit, which have been thoroughly explored by origami masters such as Tomoko FuséKunihiko Kasahara, and Meenakshi Mukerji.


  1. Great stuff. I did a stellated icosohedron in long beads a while ago. I'll have to put it up on my blog. But I love what you can do with colors in these origami pieces.

  2. Thanks Emilie! I have a few stellated octahedra beaded beads, but I haven't been happy enough with them to show them as of yet. I haven't quite found an optimal way to make them stable enough for my liking.


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