The Fitful Flog

February 13, 2009

Emma’s Dress


This is Nathan Austin, after a long night of working on a tessellation. We’re sure many of our readers know this feeling. Nathan is a film director, an occasional poet (that is, he writes nonce verse, not poems every so often), and an alumnus of the College where I work. We met a couple years back. (The photo is by Andy Tew, a talented young photographer, an alumnus, who works for the College. He’s also quite tall and has been known to pour milkshakes on people’s heads, so I hope he doesn’t mind my using it.)


What happened was that I had to go over to the Campus Center and drop off something. As I walked by the reception booth, I noticed half of a curved stellated tetrahedron, pinned to the bulletin board.

Spread Hexagons

Further up the wall, I spied Eric Gjerde‘s spread hexagons, folded from a stock certificate, and I thought to myself, “Hmm, there is some young person hereabouts of remarkable taste and abilities.” I asked the young woman working the booth and she said Nate, who worked the night shift, had folded them. “It’s really boring at night,” she explained.

I checked my visitor logs and found that, indeed, late at night, this blog was sometimes visited by someone with a Mac notebook and a College IP address.

The next time I walked through the campus center, I saw a young man in the booth, tessellating away, so I introduced myself. Nate was a little surprised. We chatted.

Some months later, Nate called me up and wanted to meet to talk folding. So we met at the Dirty Truth, a marvelous pub downtown, and spoke about a short film Nate had in his head, a movie about a girl and a tessellated dress. What did I know of such things? So, I told him about Eric and Christiane and Joel and Jane and of course, Polly — he knew most of the names already, but was impressed that we all knew each other. He described the plot to me — sounded fascinating.

That was a year ago. Yesterday, I received an email from Nate with this photo.
Emma in a Tessellated Dress

The actress is Emma Jaster, also an alumna. I met her briefly, when she was working in our Theater department. (All new employees are required to speak with me for thirty minutes — discourages the faint-hearted from applying, I like to think.)

Nate will tell you the rest:

The dress was created as a centerpiece to
a short film that I wrote and directed. (Currently
in postproduction.)

Not being an experienced dressmaker, I spent
about a week test folding various tessellations,
consulting with origami artists like yourself,
researching what has already been done (Polly),
and pondering brain puzzles of how to assemble
a garment with classic dress lines while
using as few pieces of paper as possible.
The paper I had special-ordered from Italy by
NY Central Art Supply.

“Simple is best” was my in-search-of-elegance
motto. Thus only two different tessellations and two
basic pleats. No stitching was involved, although
I did shoot for a “seamed” look on the bodice.
(The locking tessellations helped with that,
especially where the pleats meet the other panels.)
The primary folding took four weeks of ten-hour

In the picture I already sent you you can see me
fitting part of the dress on Emma’s body. She
patiently stood for hours while enmeshed in
not-quite-closed-up paper panels.

(Beg pardon for not having any close-up pictures
of the final fitting handy. These at least give you
the basic idea.)

The tailor’s dummy was set up only for the
climactic moment of the film, in which the dress
is destroyed.

The Dress on a Dummy

The rending of the paper had to be captured in
one shot– we didn’t have time to shoot again
should anything go wrong, and there certainly
wasn’t time to make a backup dress or to “fix”
things back up for a second take.

Thankfully the actors and camera crew nailed
it perfectly.

Setting up the Crane

There’s an idea that maintains that the most
interesting kind of Value is when the thing we’re
valuing gets its worth because of the parts of
ourselves held within it– when something
holds power over you because in part it has
become you.

Contrary enough, after a full month of my life
spent endlessly creasing, the moment when
I felt most alive, most awake to vitality, was the
moment when my painstaking work had to be
destroyed. It felt like death, to be sundered so.

Next time, I’m making a miniskirt.


And, if you’ve read this far, you get the secret bonus — a link to a clip on the YouTubes. (You may want to let it load completely before playing — something squirrelly about it, at least on my machine.)

9 Responses to “Emma’s Dress”

  1. 1
    margaret Says:


  2. 2
    Amy Clark Says:

    Awesome job, Nathan! Too bad you had to destroy it:(

  3. 3
    Sarah DiGloria Says:

    Keep folding, Nathan! Your work is beautiful.

  4. 4
    Swetlana ???????? Says:

    ORIGAMI danke

  5. 5
    Vinita Says:

    Amazing folding Nathan! Whoever destroyed your work must be punsihed…But you did a commandable job.

  6. 6
    David Hobson Says:

    NO WAY!!! That’s absolutely incredible! There’s no chance there’s a CP for that is there? Or the names/links to the tessellations used to make it?

  7. 7
    David Hobson Says:

    PS. I watched the youtube clip. Very intrigued. Is there any way to watch the whole film?

  8. 8
    Pooja Says:

    Very beautiful & intresting.

  9. 9
    edlk Says:

    fascinating overall, and the YouTube “trailer” is haunting and beautiful

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