• Origami Mami

1000 Cranes backstory

I folded my first crane as a child at my public library during a summer program. We read Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes and folded a huge batch of them to send over to Japan. I enjoyed folding paper, so I checked out books on origami and learned many patterns. I continued practicing origami throughout my life, but during my time at music school I began to flourish in my paper folding techniques. I was hanging out in bars listening to music, and my socially awkward self needed something to keep me focused in the strange situations I found myself in. Thus was born #barigami, and everyone loved it! I always carry origami paper on me, but I really enjoy folding cigarette foil because of how delicate and tiny the pieces turn out.

I have never smoked a cigarette and never will, but I have always felt a kindred spirit to smokers. I enjoy being outside, so at social gatherings I usually find myself spending time in the smoking circle. Cigarette foil origami was an easy way to justify my presence in the circle, and everyone enjoyed the pieces I created for them.


I lived with a smoker for over a year, and many of my friends were smokers, so there was a plethora of foil for me to fold. I kept a tin of the tiny origami pieces and used them to surprise a dear friend when I showed up to her show in Maryville, TN in November 2015. I got to the venue after they had set up and had gone outside, so I placed the tiny, shiny origami pieces throughout the stage area and on their cases before setting up by the merch table in the corner. I saw two of the band members walk in and go towards the set up, and when they saw the origami they excitedly looked around the bar until they found me.


Origami has been my calling card for awhile now, and I even have an origami crane on the front of my business card. I like to leave origami wherever I go as a thank you to the space for having me, and as a reminder that I’ve been there when I return at a later time. A bartender in downtown Spartanburg calls me “Origami” and a local drummer calls me “Origami Mami.” It has become a huge part of my identity, which continues to surprise me, since I used origami as a way to blend into the background. Instead it has gotten me noticed and has inspired many conversations with interesting people.

I was dumped on Father’s Day 2016 and needed something to keep my hands and mind occupied. I had built up a large collection of cigarette foil, so I decided it was time to do my own 1000 Crane Project. On July 28, 2016 I started with 40 cranes and by May 31, 2017 I had folded all 1000, 800 out of silver foil and 200 in various colors (black, gold, white, blue, and pink). Then began the tedious task of stringing them together to hang in what was originally going to be a shadow box.


I got a small tube of beads for $4 from Chevron Trading Post and Bead Co. located in Asheville and used cross stitch thread I had at home to make the strands. The tube held about 3500 beads, but 1400 were too small to fit over the needle. (I realized later that there are special bead needles…) Each strand has twenty cranes with three beads tied on the bottom and a bead above and below each crane. I tied each bead below the crane to hold it in place and I had to squish the bottom opening of the crane to make sure it wouldn’t swallow the tiny bead. There are 42 beads on each strand, totaling 2100 beads.


As I began assembling the strands I saw how the cranes moved and twisted on the thread and decided to find a birdcage to hang them in instead of a shadow box to allow airflow while still protecting the cranes. A birdcage is more apt for cranes, and it symbolizes my recently found freedom from toxic relationships. I had been waiting for three years to get divorced from my unstable husband, and working on the cranes gave me something to focus on while I waited for the process to be completed. The divorce was finalized on June 12, 2017, twelve days after I folded the 1000th crane.

I looked all over Elizabethton, TN for a bird cage while visiting my father, but none of the cages I found fit the size requirements. I eventually acquired a bird cage from a friend’s mother, which I then cleaned and spray painted. I painted the cage navy blue and the base and stand silver. It took two cans of navy blue and four cans of silver, costing about $25.


A few months into the project I realized that I was making them for someone in particular, my dear friend I had previously surprised with cigarette foil origami. The project became my act of contrition for exposing her to my unstable girlfriend (“I love you, but not the company you keep.”) and a promise to take better care of myself. Folding cranes was a meditative act; it kept me centered and focused on myself during the year of immense transitions. I was alone for the first time, since I used my girlfriend to escape my husband, and I used him to escape my mother.


I have been working on becoming my best self. I am doing it for myself but because of her. I want to be a person in her life, I miss her presence and her music. It is important who you choose to surround yourself with, and I have made some poor choices in my life. I am cautiously moving forward, making sure I connect with kind and genuine people who respect me for who I am and do not use me.

I am learning to love myself.

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©2017 by Kelsey Leahy

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This website was funded in part by Chapman Cultural Center, its donors, the County and City of Spartanburg and the South Carolina Arts Commission which receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John and Susan Bennett Memorial Arts Fund of the Coastal Community Foundation of SC.