The origin of the “original” Sonobe module is somewhat unknown, but two Japanese Origamists seem to be associated with it: Mitsunobu Sonobe and Toshie Takahama. It was first mentioned in a book by Mitsunobu Sonobe in 1968, but was long forgotten up until about 1975, when other Origami artists started to experiment with these kind of modules. The Sonobe Module from this article is a Sonobe variation.
For the last two weeks I was preoccupied with my quest for an Origami lamp I have seen first on Flickr. There was no description besides that it is a Sonobe variation. That sparked my interest into Sonobe modules, which are the actual original building blocks for basic Kusudama and other geometric shapes. By varying the last fold of the parallelogram shaped module, you can build any shape starting from Tetrahedrons to Cubes and up to Dodecahedra.
Sonobe Cube Lamp
From the moment I first saw a Sonobe Cube Lamp, I was mesmerized by the beautiful light/shadow effect of the lamp. The stunning effect gets created by putting together several Sonobe units to form a cube. Each time you add a module to the cube, it adds a kind of invisible pattern that can only be brought to life with light. You can use almost any light source but LED lights should be preferred out of safety concerns especially with the context of paper and heat. You will be surprised how LED lights are almost identical to the warmness of incandescent light bulbs, yet they are so much cheaper in operating as they take considerably less energy.
Sonobe Cube Variations
There are a few different Sonobe cubes you can build by just varying the number of units used. The simplest Sonobe cube only needs 6 units – but “three end folds”. A more complex cube can be built with 12 units and only the diagonal end fold. See this picture. It is the front leftest cube. The assembly of the 12 unit Sonobe cube is a bit different than the 6 – and 24 unit cubes, as you don’t build little pyramids, but form a face of the dice with 4 units. The most complex cube that I want to show you is made from 24 units and one triangle fold at the end.
Paper and Measurements
You can build your Sonobe cubes with really any kind of paper, ranging from Origami paper, newspaper, copy paper to card stock. If you want to use your Sonobe cube as an Origami Lamp, I suggest you use either baking paper or tracing paper. Baking paper is more readily available as you only need to go to the super market to get it. But it is softer in its texture than tracing paper, which is why I prefer the latter. Don’t even try to make your Origami Lamp from copy paper, as it won’t let any light through – especially if you are following this tutorial for the Sonobe cube (more than one layer of paper in the finished model).
The Sonobe cubes are made from square, single colored paper. Only one side shows in the finished model. You can choose only one color to many different colors, to give your Sonobe cube a special look. A good color/number combination is 3 * 8 or 4 * 6 – for the 24 unit Sonobe cube.
If you want to make a Mini Cube, then use paper of about 5 cm x 5 cm/2 in x 2 in. I used three different colors (3 * 8) and 24 units all together. This size is shown in the assembly part of the the tutorial video. Be warned though, the units don’t stick together as neatly as a bigger sized cube. The bigger sized cube I made was from square paper of about 9 cm x 9 cm/3.5 in x 3.5 in. This size is very good for the Sonobe Cube model. It holds together quite firmly and is also easy in it’s assembly stage. The Origami Lamp cube was made from tracing paper of about 21 cm x 21 cm/8.3 in x 8.3 in. Be warned that you might want to use glue to hold your cube together more permanently. Even though tracing paper is preferred over baking paper, it has one downside to any regular paper. It is so smooth, that the units tend to slide apart by just looking at them. 😉
Folding & Assembly
The folding of the Sonobe modules is very easy, which makes this the perfect beginner project. It is only a few steps, which can be memorized after folding only one unit. Just keep in mind to stop folding your corners just before/at the 3/4 line. If you go slightly above this line, your finished module might be distorted. Also be sure to follow my hints for the correct ending folds to suit your cube model (6 or 24 units).
The assembly of the Sonobe Cube is not tricky at all. In the video you can see the 24 unit cube assembly. The 6 unit version is not shown, but is based on the exact same principle. If you put a little bit of thought into the placement of the different colors of your cube, you can achieve nice patterns. But even without placing your colored modules in any pattern, the random Sonobe cube looks very nice too.
I also want to add that you can change up the assembly of the 24 unit Sonobe cube. I don’t mean the color of the pieces, but the way you piece the cube together. Have a look at this picture (big cube in the back) and this one. Now compare it to this one, and you see that the pattern is very different to the regular cube I have shown you.
The Sonobe Cube is a beautiful Origami project for novices and intermediate Origamists. You can create a stunning Origami ornament or an amazing Origami Lamp cube. I hope I awakened your interest with my article/tutorial to get you creative to try to fold your own.