Monday, November 18, 2013

Paper Snowflake Week: My Snowflake Secrets

It has been a while. My excuse is morning sickness. But I am back with a bang and will give you a post each day this week, each one about paper snowflakes. It has started to snow a bit lately and I actually love snow. In my opinion, if it is going to be cold and grey, it might as well snow. Since the weather doesn't always oblige, I will give you ideas about making it snow yourself. I am going to skip false humility here and admit up front that I actually consider myself pretty good at making snowflakes. However, this has not always been the case.

I remember the first time I had my snowflake making epiphany. I went to high school in the Seattle area where it really doesn't snow much. My Dad was fond of listing a quarter inch of snow as a Seattle natural disaster. In my junior year, I had physics directly after lunch. On this particular day, the weather during lunch had been a bit windy, but not particularly stormy looking. In fact, I believe the sun had been shining. On the agenda in physics that day was a test review, so my teacher was reviewing some principle when she happened to look to the side of the class where there was a row of windows. She stopped mid-sentence and just stared out the window where the snow was coming down like crazy. She determined that we would now end the formal review (but she would be still open for questions). She then went into her office and brought out a large stack of scratch paper; we spent the rest of the period making paper snowflakes. (Lest anyone worry about the test, the class average was higher than normal).

Somewhere in that physics class I began to formulate my snowflake principles, which I perfected in the next several years. Understand that some of these principles are very important for a good snowflakes of any kind, but others are just what works for me. You don't have to follow all my principles to make a pretty snowflake. Nevertheless, here are the principles:

Fold the paper very precisely. Take great care to line up all edges and fold your paper as sharply as you can. I crease all my folds with a ruler. This step is one I consider important for all snowflakes. The more precise your folds are, the more symmetrical/even the snowflake will end up. There are several ways to fold snowflakes and this video shows you mine. I think methods that fold the paper into 12 make the best snowflakes, but mine is not the only method that folds into 12.

Remove as much paper as possible. The more paper you remove, the more delicate the snowflake looks. I try not to remove large chunks at once as that would just make big holes in the snowflake, but I do try to take out probably as much paper as I leave.

Remember to think backwards. When you make a snowflake, you are removing the negative space. This means that the shape you cut out will not likely be what the eye goes to first. Before my epiphany, snowflake making involved folding paper and cutting out shapes: take out a circle here and a triangle there. Now, my snowflake making involves leaving shapes.

Think in lines. I consider this principle to be the most of a suggestion. In my snowflakes I almost always make pairs of parallel cuts so the shape I leave behind is a line. In this sense, I think of my paper snowflakes as drawings I make with scissors. It is important to remember any line you cut out along either fold will wind up twice as thick looking as it was when you cut it because you will unfold it. Therefore, I advise cutting along a fold half as thick as you do everywhere else. 

Make a cap. With the way I fold my snowflakes, I end up with six repetitions of a symmetrical pattern. In other words, I have actually cut out twelve of the same thing and six are mirror images of the other six. This means that one side of the triangle I have to cut out is the center of the design and the other is the edge. Which side is which is subjective, but I generally make the longer side the side I put my cap on. I feel snowflakes look so much more snowflake-like (and less doily- or spider-web-like) if they appear to have six points. I always put some sort of cap on whatever I deem to be my point. I tend to use circles, diamonds, the classic poky snowflake design, and teardrops a lot, but you could do anything. The point is that it defines the sections well and gives the illusion of a kind of spoke. The snowflake above is an example of not having caps. It is pretty, but looks a lot more like a doily than a snowflake.

Get them flat. If your snowflake looks like a creased mess, it isn't going to look beautiful. I iron my snowflakes. I either use a clothes iron on a low setting or I frequently use a flat iron for hair. I just clamp it down on the folds. When I use a clothes iron I sometimes cover the snowflake with another sheet of paper or a paper towel, but I have never had any bad results without them. Don't leave the iron down long. It takes probably 2 seconds at most.

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