You are here

Origami Designer's Secrets: Christiane Bettens (Mélisande)

Edited by Patsy Wang-Iverson

Christiane Bettens (Image by Endre Somos, Hungary. All other images courtesy of
Christiane Bettens)

Funeral bouquet for Christiane's dad, folded from his old kraft paper.

A box by Tomoko Fuse

Triangular dish by Philip Shen, reverse-engineered from a picture.

This interview project is a product of the delight I felt when I started to attend international origami conventions. After being in touch with many folders and artists thorough digital means, it was no less than an amazing and thrilling experience to meet them in person. Yet, meeting someone is not really knowing someone. I met Mélisande at a CDO convention; we talked, we shared models, we had lunch together, but it was only after reading her answers that I realized how unique are her story and way of thinking. With great pleasure, allow me to introduce you to Christiane Bettens.

Who is Christiane Bettens? Please tell me what I must know about you.

Christiane: Paper was a tradition in my family: editing, printing, selling paper. My parents were paper whole sellers; everybody entering our house said: ah, that paper smell! Then the business went down, and my parents took other jobs, I forgot the paper smell. My father kept a lot of paper, and I still own some brown kraft paper from the sixties. In an era of all things going virtual, I enjoy folding that old paper from my childhood.

What is origami to you? Why are you interested in origami? What was your first model to fold? What types of origami do you like to fold? And to create?

Christiane: I was forced to get interested in origami ten years ago, when my son asked if I was able to fold something else than the salt cellar. I remembered the boat/hat, and my repertoire was finished. I searched the internet and the jumping frog, flapping bird, etc, were the first models I folded. These opened my eyes to the infinite possibilities of origami; my search was only starting. My interest focused on abstract, geometrical models, I'm still fascinated to be able to construct complicated structures with a simple piece of paper, without any tool, measurement or calculation.

Do you fold other people's models? If so, do you have a favorite designer? What one origami book will you take with you if you were stranded on an island? If you don’t fold other models, why so? What is your inspiration source?

Christiane: At the begining, I've folded a lot of Tomoko Fuse's boxes, and several variations of Phizz modulars by Tom Hull. My favorite designer is Philip Shen, whose models are so clever and elegant. I'd take one of his booklet on a desert island, with a ream of paper. My inspiration often comes by searching variations of someone else's model, by seeing patterns in my environment, by experimenting with new techniques.

You master the geometrical and repetitive field. Why is that? Have you tried other fields of origami? Tessellations are relatively new in the origami world, but in the last years many folders and creators are plowing this field. Do you think there is more hidden potential in it, or is the well nearly dry? Do you have new directions in which you want to go?

Migration fractal

Christiane: While I admire representative origami, I prefer abstract models, there is more freedom in this field; if you try to fold an animal, likely someone chimes in to say this or that detail isn't anatomically such problem with boxes or tessellations. I belong to a group of pioneers of tessellation. I'm glad the genre is now widespread, with different people finding their niche in it. However, during the last two years, I mostly focused on origami quilts. I'm the one who prefer the less traveled path.

Creation is a mysterious process. Can you shed some light on your process? How much of it is planned in advance? Do you calculate your steps? Is it trial and error? Do you know in advance what will come out? Can you create at will?

Blue Square Quilt

Christiane: When I'm creating, I usually have a mental image of the finished model. and I search the best way to obtain it. Sometimes I take a set of creases, like a twist or a lock, and I try to transpose it to another paper format, for example from square to triangle or hexagon, or circle. I'm unable to fold someone else's model without trying variations of it. I've developed several models in collaboration with friends; the collective creating process is quite fascinating. I've learned a lot while reverse-engineering models from pictures when diagrams aren't available. I work by trial and error, I don't use calculations or computer software. Drawing a CP is an afterthought, not a part of my creative process. Love and creative mood are the same, they come and go when and where they want, one cannot force them into a schedule. For that reason I don't like commissions.

From kraft paper to marble

What papers do you usually use? Why? How do you decide what paper to choose? Do you try to match the paper to the model?

Christiane: My test-folds are always from copy paper, I move to some better quality paper when I'm satisfied with the model. For tessellations I use EH or Tant, for quilts kami or kraft, for boxes EH, kraft, stardream. I can spend a lot of time selecting the right paper, I like choosing colors and textures. Sometimes, I use acrylic inks with stamps, or fingers, to decorate my paper. I have some Tyvek for outdoor installations. Anything looking like a sheet, I try to fold it.

Trastevere quilt (pattern from a church floor in Roma, Italy)

I believe origami is a medium to communicate with other people. As a unique art field, you can stir emotions in the hearts of your art observers. What do you try to communicate through your origami with your audience?

Christiane: I'm not trying to deliver a message through my origami work. Most patterns I use are among us for centuries, on church floors, traditional weavings, etc. When I recycle them and am pleased with my result, I feel able to share some aesthetic emotions with those people of the past, and with fellow folders on the internet. Sometimes I leave my origami in public places, no clue what people think of it. To each his/her own private interpretation.

Four leaves tato-box

I am sure there is one model of yours that you would like to point out for us. Which one is it, and please tell us why you chose it?

Christiane: I've folded tons of tato-boxes, in various sizes ad shapes. My favorite is the four-leaves tato-box : it is elegant yet functional, and it has a life of its own. I uploaded a diagram on my website, it has been reprinted in BOS and OSN magazine, and I know it has been taught several times at conventions. I'm happy that others enjoy this box as much as I do.

Collective installation during 2013 French Origami Convention in Dijon

Is there one last question I should have asked? Ask yourself, but don’t answer. Just let us know what the question is…

Christiane: How many new friends (for real, not on facebook) did you get through origami?

Name Christiane Bettens
Place of residence Cossonay, Switzerland
Education Medicine at Lausanne University
Profession primary care physician
Email cbettens [at]


To really know a designer, you must fold his models. Exploring the quilt domain, Christiane is giving you here an option to try it yourself!

Click here to download the diagram.

-Ilan Garibi