Fold your way to fabulous greeting cards, gift tags, and more with iris folding! Learn how today with this easy step-by-step tutorial.
A New Look at an Old Technique
If there’s one thing we paper crafters go crazy over besides new supplies, it’s new techniques. Thankfully, the world is full of innovators, and the Internet puts all those awesome new ideas right at our fingertips. Sometimes, however, I think we get so caught up in the search for new things to try, that we forget there are a lot of old techniques that are just as worthwhile. Iris folding is one really great example of this.
Have you heard of or tried iris folding? This 18th century Nederlander (“Dutch”) paper craft involves layering folded paper strips in a spiral pattern.
The layering is done on the back of a shaped frame, so that when you turn the frame over, it appears to be filled with the pattern. A small iris-shaped opening is left at the center of each design, which is what gives this craft its name.
Although iris fold designs look complicated when finished, they’re actually pretty easy to create. The secret is the folding template — a little paint-by-number sort of guide that you place behind the frame you want to fill. All you have to do to create your design is follow the numbers on the shaped spaces. You can even color in the spaces if you want, to track the colors or patterns of papers you plan to use.
Iris folding templates come in a wide variety of shapes, from simple squares to elegant ornaments. Books of iris folding patterns are available to purchase, but you can also find many templates for free on the Internet. (Search “free iris folding template” or “free iris folding pattern”.) Once you get the hang of using them, you can even create your own!
How to Iris Fold
Ready to try your hand at iris folding? Grab your supplies and follow along! I’ve included three iris folding templates — square, circle, and triangle — as one PDF sheet that you can download and print for free below.
- Iris Folding Templates (Click to download, then print)
- 1 piece of plain cardstock for the frame – must be bigger than your folding template
- Miscellaneous papers or paper scraps (must be at least 1 inch wide and at least 1/2 inch longer than the widest part of your template)
- Cutting mat
- Craft knife
- Paper trimmer
- Paper scissors
- Painter’s tape or similar low-tack tape
- Cellophane (“Scotch”) tape
- OPTIONAL: Colored pencils
1. If you haven’t already, download and print the free iris folding templates linked in the supplies list above.
2. Using paper scissors, cut out your iris folding template around the outside edge. Do not cut along any of the the inside lines.
3. With your pencil, trace the outline of your template onto the back side of your cardstock.
4. Lay the cardstock on your craft mat and then, using your craft knife, cut out the traced shape along the pencil lines. This will create a window in the cardstock, and you will use this as the frame for your iris fold design.
TIP: For best leverage, pull the craft knife towards you as you cut.
5. Next, use your paper trimmer to trim each of the paper scraps you plan to use into strips that are 1 inch wide and at least half an inch longer than the widest part of the shaped window on your frame.
6. Fold each paper strip in half along one of the long sides, with the color or pattern that you want to use showing on the outside. When finished, each strip should measure 1/2 inch wide.
6. OPTIONAL: If you plan to alternate your paper strips in a specific pattern of colors or prints, color code the numbered spaces on the iris folding template with your colored pencils to help you remember the pattern. For example, let’s say you plan to alternate three colors — red, blue, and green — in that order. You would then color or mark spaces 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, and every third space thereafter with your red pencil. Spaces 2, 5, 8, etc. would be marked blue, and spaces 3, 6, 9, etc. would be marked green.
7. Lay the printed iris folding template flat on your work surface, and then lay your frame face-down on top of the template. This will be the back of the design.
8. Roll a piece of cellophane tape, and stick it to the middle of your iris folding template.
9. Stick the taped iris folding template down in the center of the cut-out window.
10. With painters or similar low-tack tape, tape the corners of the frame to your work surface. This will keep the frame from moving around while you apply the paper strips.
Build the Iris Fold Design
1. Line up the folded edge of a strip of paper with the inside edge of the template space labeled with the number ‘1’. Once properly aligned, tape the ends of the strip to the frame with cellophane tape.
TIP: If the ends of the paper strip extend outside the frame, trim them before taping them to the frame.
2. Working in numerical order around the template, repeat step 1 above to layer the rest of your paper strips onto the frame. Each subsequent paper strip will lay over the previous slightly, and that is how it should be. Remember to tape the ends of each strip after you lay it in place.
Although the design will look somewhat messy as you work, that’s OK. Remember — this is the back side of the frame! You’ll also notice that the design gets a bit bulky, and again, that is normal.
Admire Your Handiwork
Once you’ve applied the last strip of paper, remove the tape from the corners of the frame. Then flip the frame over to view your finished design.
Isn’t that a gorgeous piece? Don’t let it go to waste! Put your iris fold design to use by attaching it to a greeting card, gift tag, or scrapbook page.
TIP: Because iris folding creates dimension on the back of the frame, the best way to attach it to a project is with foam tape. You can layer the foam tape around the design on the back of the frame to level it out with the bulk of the design, and then stick it down to your card or other project.
Take it to the Next Level
Now that you’ve got the basics down, here are some simple ways to take your newfound skills to the next level:
1. Embellish the empty ‘iris’ of your design. Nederlander crafters traditionally place holographic paper in this space, but you could also use a button, brad, flower, or whatever other small embellishment suits your fancy.
2. Experiment with different kinds of papers, including household finds such as aluminum foil, newspaper or even toilet paper. The original creators of iris folding used the patterned linings of envelopes to create their designs, and goodness knows we all get plenty of those with all the junk mail the postal service delivers every week!
3. Play with colored papers to see what kind of neat effects you can create. Rainbow? Ombre? Use your imagination!
4. Go big! Iris folding is perfect for decorating greeting cards, but would also look fabulous on a book cover, gift box, or even your craft room bulletin board.
Iris folding is an old technique to be sure, but it’s also a fun and easy way to create stunning greeting cards, tags, and embellishments. With this technique, you can fill frames of any size or shape, including those left over from your die cuts. Any relatively thin, foldable paper will work, including household staples like parchment paper, aluminum foil, and wrapping paper. Moreover, because the paper strips needed to complete a design are rather small, iris folding is a great way to use up paper scraps. The latter alone makes iris folding worth trying!
Share Your Thoughts
What do you think of iris folding? How will you use the designs that you make? What other ways can you think of to take iris folding to the next level? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts!
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