What is Ullagami?

A few years ago my family and I moved to northern Scotland, where the winters are long and the nights seemingly without end. And so, in order to beguile the many hours of darkness, I began working with paper. I have been doing origami for over a decade, but here I quickly moved on to kirigami, fascinated by the possibilities I found available by interrupting the folded surfaces that origami generally likes to keep intact.

The parameters I set for myself were simple: each model should collapse folded flat when completed; and each model should be created from a single sheet of paper — nothing should be added or removed, but rather the surface of the paper should be rearranged without loosing a shred of its area.

Beginning with simple building-block designs, the pieces evolved further and further within the limits of my basic parameters, and my manual and mathematical abilities.


Ullapool, cut using survey map contour lines.

The name Ullagami is a portmanteau; it is a mixture of origami and kirigami, and because the village I live in is called Ullapool. It wasn’t until I decided to create a Japanese “chop” to stamp the backs of the pieces I was constructing that I learned, quite by surprise, that the transliteration of “ullagami” into Japanese is ウラガミ, which literally means “the back of the paper” — exactly where I wanted to put the stamp! Perfect! A very happy accident indeed.


(You can imagine how hard my palm hit my forehead when I proudly showed a Japanese friend my new stamp, and she said, “That’s cute and very American. But we normally write it top-down and right-to-left.”

D’oh! So I remade the stamp. Like everything else I design: you have to cut it, evaluate it, and then cut it again right.)

Of course I soon learned that these models fall loosely into the more general category of Origamic Architecture, but since OA includes a huge variety of crafts which, though often amazing, do not match specifically with my own purely geometric approach, I use the term Ullagami instead. And besides: it’s a lot easier to say!