Lisa Vollrath is a prolific mixed-media artist whose work includes altered books, art journals, collage, gluebooks, and paper crafts.
What is Iris Folding?
Iris folding is a simple paper-folding technique that originated in Holland. Color-coordinated strips of folded paper are taped into place over a pattern, creating a spiraling design that resembles the iris of an eye or camera. Originally, Dutch crafters would cut their strips from envelopes with patterned interiors, but now it is common to use lightweight papers such as wrapping and origami paper to create iris-folded designs.
Iris Folding by Lisa Vollrath
The following sections, covering basic materials, steps and tips, are from my book, Iris Folding: Spiral Folding for Paper Arts.
Most iris folding designs require the following items:
- Lightweight papers for folding
- Permanent transparent tape
- A ruler or paper trimmer
- A work table or board on which to mount your pattern and aperture
- Removable masking tape or drafting tape
Lightweight Paper Sources
Stuck for lightweight papers? Here are some ideas on what to use, and where to find them:
- Origami paper comes in a large variety of patterns and colors, and is an ideal weight for iris folding. You'll find it in many craft stores, in the kid's craft section.
- Stamp on regular bond paper. I like to use text background stamps, or small rubber stamp images stamped repeatedly.
- Gift wrap is often the right weight for iris folding, so save your scraps when wrapping presents.
- Magazine pages make great iris folding papers. Look for large areas of solid color, or repetitive pattern. Decorating magazines are good for both.
- Check the inside of your bill envelopes. Some compaines use a pattern inside the envelope to protect your privacy, and those can be used as folding papers.
Basic Folding Instructions
Almost all iris folding patterns can be executed using these same basic instructions.
Trace or copy the pattern you want to use. Cut the pattern out around the outer edge. Position the pattern where desired on a piece of cardstock, and trace around the outer edge.
Create an opening in the cardstock by cutting away the traced shape with a sharp craft knife. This will be your aperture, or frame.
Turn the cardstock over. You will be working on the wrong side of the cardstock to create your design.
Position the pattern in the aperture, and lightly tape both the pattern and cardstock to your work table with removable tape.
Using a paper trimmer, cut patterned paper into strips, a little more than twice as wide as the largest section of your pattern. Fold the strips in half lengthwise, creating strips with one folded edge.
Assemble the strips into piles, one pile for each paper design. Assign each pile a letter that corresponds with your pattern: A, B, C and so on.
TIP: To create an attractive pattern, you can either alternate light and dark designs, or arrange your paper designs from lightest to darkest.
Start working your pattern with section 1A. Place the folded edge of paper A against the 1A line closest to the edge of the aperture, covering section 1A completely.
Tape the strip in place with permanent tape, and trim any excess length away.
Now, pick up the paper strip of paper B, and tape it over pattern section 2.
Next, use paper C paper to cover section 3.
Keep following the pattern, working your way around, one paper at a time, covering each numbered section in order.
It's very important to follow your numbers and letters. The design won't look very pretty from the back side, but that's OK. It will look lovely from the front.
Resist the temptation to pick up the piece and peek at the front side, because it's often difficult for beginners to realign their pattern once it's been moved.
When all the sections have been covered with paper strips, your design is almost complete.
Gently remove your cardstock from the work table and turn it over to reveal your iris, with an opening in the center. This opening can be filled with apper or a photo. Simply tape it in place from the back side of the design.
Often, you will want to cover the back side of your iris folded design, both to protect it, and to hide all the tape and ragged edges.
For cards, it's easiest to work the design on a flat piece of cardstock, and then trim it down to create a card front. Apply this to a card of the appropriate size.
For other items, simply cover the back side of the finished design with a piece of paper or cardstock
Basic Iris Folding How-Tos & Patterns
These links will lead you to iris folding instructions and patterns.
- Iris Folding Projects at Go Make Something
Here are three basic, simple shapes for you to practice: square, circle and oval. Step-by-step instructions and a pattern are included in each lesson. I use the square to teach iris folding at trade shows, and nobody ever fails to learn how!
- Iris Fold Greeting Cards
Many lovely card examples that include materials lists, instructions and .pdf patterns.
Free Patterns - Animals
- Six Animal-Themed Patterns
Patterns for a poodle, cat, dog paw, turtle, robin, and dachshound.
A card-sized turkey pattern, from the people at Simplicity of Iris Folding.
Free Patterns - Christmas
- Three Christmas Patterns
A Santa, a string of lights, and a Christmas tree.
- Two Christmas Patterns
A stocking and a bell.
A nicely designed sleigh pattern that's a little more elegant.
Free Patterns - Garden Themed
- Five-Petal Flower
A simple flower shape.
- Six-Color Flower
Six petals and six colors make up this flower.
This shamrock pattern is really three hearts worked separately. Need a four leaf clover? Add a fourth heart to the design!
- Four Leaf Clover
Four connected leaves with a stem make up this pattern.
Two tulips with leaves, sized for a card front.
Another easy fall design.
Free Patterns - Girl Stuff
- Fancy Dress
A free form folding template, plus a video tutorial.
- Tea Kettle
A simple tea kettle pattern.
Iris Folding Groups
Want to find other folks who are into iris folding? Try these communities, where there are often piles of free patterns and links, as well as plenty of people to answer questions when you get stuck.
- Iris Folders
A fairly active group for iris folding enthusiasts.
- Iris Folding on Facebook
Open to anyone interested in iris folding.
If you know of other free iris folding patterns online, please post a link to them and I'll take a look.
Questions & Answers
Question: I love that we can get free patterns for foldings, but I am so confused on how to size them and print them off my computer. Can you help me?
Answer: Generally, patterns are presented at the size they were designed. Resizing them can create problems, because your strip size will have to change. Having said that, you can simply save each pattern, open it in graphics editing software, and size it to suit your needs, then print from there. Some people also do this in Word.
Kari Poulsen from Ohio on September 11, 2017:
Wow, Where did you learn all these things? What a perfect way to recycle! :)
peachy from Home Sweet Home on February 01, 2015:
Wow, beautiful folding, thanks for the links
ScentsWithBling on August 17, 2013:
What a wonderful craft! I am going to have to try this
anonymous on March 23, 2012:
That looks really pretty. I have to try it :)
Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on February 28, 2012:
I love the look of iris folding. I need to give this a try!