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DIY Origami Butterfly Mobile


Over the holidays, my dad and I assembled this DIY origami butterfly mobile. I love it so much. This mobile is an object of ongoing beauty, gently twirling in my bedroom, and it is also a scale map of my creative process, which for me takes the shape of a labyrinth.

When I am depressed, and also when I am mentally stable but stressed and overwhelmed, I do not have the focus or energy for a long in-depth creative endeavour like a novel, or even an essay. But I need to practice my creativity to help me recover from stress and depression. It’s a Catch-22. How to do something artistic and fulfilling that I can manage?

That’s when I look for a mini-labyrinth: a highly structured small-scale creative project. This DIY origami butterfly mobile is a perfect example. In addition to being small and well-defined, I also prefer that a mini-labyrinth be cross-discipline (for me that means visual art, music, or dance, rather than writing), that it have some community element, and that it be meaningful and expressive of my values.

Let me illustrate by explaining the steps to make your own DIY origami butterfly mobile.


  • origami paper
  • nylon thread or monofilament
  • wooden embroidery hoop
  • crimp beads
  • large beads
  • wire

Step 1: Buy some paper

I made my mobile with a pack of 100 sheets of multi-coloured paper, 7.5 cm (3″) square. I found this paper in an enormous stationery shop in Hong Kong, across from the apartment where we were staying. This was during our three-week trip to China over March Break. My kids and I wandered the floors, enthralled, choosing our treasures carefully. I didn’t know yet what I would make from this paper but I knew it was special. So tiny! So many colours! So many possibilities!

You can buy your origami paper from Amazon, of course 🙂
Toyo Origami, Tant 7.5cm x 7.5cm, 100 Colors, 1 Each (007203)

Step 2: Sign up for #The100DayProject

#The100DayProject is a cool personal challenge with a big community component. The official website calls it “a free global art project that anyone can participate in.” You can sign up to get weekly prompts and announcements, or you can just post your photos with the hashtag.

Photo Source

The stars aligned for me on this. A week after arriving home from Hong Kong, I discovered that #The100DayProject was starting in just a few days. And I had exactly 100 pieces of origami paper. After a little research, I decided that I wanted to fold butterflies. (Cranes seemed too ubiquitous. Besides, spring and rebirth were on my mind.) I chose a custom hashtag, #100daysofbutterflies, to identify my project.

Step 3: Fold a butterfly

I followed the folding instructions from this origami butterfly tutorial, using scissors to round off the wings because I liked the way they looked.

Then I staged a photo and posted it on Instagram with the hashtags and a dedication to a special new friend.

This small act gave me a tremendous burst of joy and energy, which is a sign that this was a good mini-labyrinth for me.

Step 4: Get inspired

While I was looking for butterfly folds, I found this amazing origami maker in Australia, Peter Whitehouse, who was doing a fold every day in 2017! Some of them are incredibly intricate. I subscribed to his origami blog so I would get a steady supply of visual inspiration. (I was especially tickled when he went on a butterfly kick in June.)

Photo Source

I also discovered a woman on Instagram doing #100daysofpaperrabbits with found materials from her home. So imaginative and adorable.

A post shared by arrie (@rabbitpractice) on

And there were butterflies in my neighbourhood too, in the window display of a Japanese clothing store and in the advertising for HSBC.

All of these sightings made me feel befriended — serendipitous signs that I was not alone in the world, but that there were people out there like me, folding paper, making something that held a little piece of themselves.

Step 5: Fold more butterflies

If you fold one butterfly a day, it will take you a little more than three months. If you want to fold them all at once, you can probably finish in a day or two.

My natural length of attention for a daily project is two weeks. I know this about myself. Still, I hoped that the structure and community of #the100dayproject would keep me going longer than that. Alas, no. After about 14 days I started to get behind. Some days I just forgot. Some days I was unhappy with the quality of my folds, or the originality of my photo styling. Some days I was travelling. A few times I caught up, folding and posting multiple butterflies in a day. But then I got a month behind, and then six weeks. Unphotographed butterflies accumulated on my desk.

Finally, two months into the project, I asked myself, “What is my goal for this project? What is central? Is it the photos? The dedications? The daily consistency? Or the butterflies themselves? How do I want to complete this?”

At the time, I couldn’t let go of any of those things. I wanted to finish thoroughly, the way I had started. I did try. I arranged all the folded, unphotographed butterflies on a calendar. I worked away at them for a few days. But I posted my last butterfly on June 2. I stopped folding altogether. I felt sad and guilty and flummoxed every time I looked at the pile of butterflies I kept in a glass vase.

Step 6: Enlist a partner

In December, my mom and dad arrived for a three-week visit and I knew there was hope for my butterfly mobile after all. My father is a retired dentist, very skilled with his hands, having sculpted many teeth over the years, who has now turned his attention to wood carving and paper crafts. He made an exquisite bird mobile for my daughter Lia, and I knew he had the interest and abilities to help me finish this particular project.

I also knew that I love getting immersed in a project, spending an intensely focused period of time to get it done. And I am more likely to apply myself when I’m working with someone else. So I was confident that this was the way to completion. I let go of photographing and dedicating the butterflies, let go of creating a photo book from my Instagram stream, and concentrated on the finished product: a mobile hanging in my room.

I presented my dad with the goal early on in our visit, and we spent some time planning and researching. I had bought some metal rings and monofilament at the bead store, but Dad showed me that the monofilament would not hold knots well, nor would it stay stable on the metal rings.

Then we came across the idea of using bead crimps thanks to this how-to for an origami crane mobile. Bead crimps were easier to use than knots and would allow us to be more precise with butterfly placement. We visited the bead store again to buy crimps, and also picked up some sample beads to use as weights, and some nylon thread to test.

We debated how many strings to make, how many butterflies would go on each string, and how far apart they would be spaced. I tried several arrangements — did I want all butterflies of one colour on a single string? Did I want them arranged by tone, with pastels at the top and brights at the bottom?

Finally, I settled on a gradient, with yellows at the top, transitioning to greens, blues, purples, pinks, and reds. This also meant that each individual string was its own mini-gradient.

I played with the colours, re-arranging to get the most contrast. I also decided not to fold butterflies from the grey and black paper at the bottom of the stack. I let go of making 100 butterflies and just kept the colours that made me happy.

After a few test strings, where we compared fastenings and considered spacing, we were ready to go.

Step 7: Assemble the mobile

Lay out seven strings of butterflies, which will give your mobile some asymmetry when it’s hanging. I varied the number of butterflies in a string from 10 to 14 so that the strings would be of different lengths.

Glue the butterflies with hot glue to keep it from coming apart in the mobile. We unfolded each butterfly’s “antenna” and used a tiny dot of glue underneath to secure it.

Cut a 50″ length of white nylon string. I chose the nylon string because it hung more naturally. But if you prefer your thread to be invisible, use monofilament.

Attach a crimp bead 5″ from the bottom of the string. We used silver-coloured crimp tubes but you could possibly use smaller round crimp beads. My dad created a little paper template and attached it to the table, to make the measurements easier. We used both needle-nosed pliers and some larger locking pliers to flatten the crimps enough so that they didn’t slide off the string.

(My dad’s poor hands! He provided all the muscle while I just held things. It took me back to the days when I would assist him at the dental office, handing him tools and suctioning while he worked.)

With a needle on the thread, pierce the bottom butterfly from bottom to top, in about the middle of the central fold. Push it down until it sits against the crimp bead.

Attach another crimp bead 2″ above the first butterfly.

Continue to string butterflies and attach crimps until you have seven completed strings. If you cut the string when you’re squeezing a crimp, as we did a few times, thread both ends of the cut string into the crimp bead, one from below and one from above, and squeeze the crimp to hold them together.

Thread an anchor bead on the bottom of each string. Attach a crimp as close to the bottom of the string as possible to hold the bead on.

Cut grooves into your embroidery hoop. We used the inner hoop (without the screw mechanism) from a 9″ embroidery hoop. Cut 7 evenly spaced grooves on one edge of the hoop — these will be used to anchor the strings. Cut 4 evenly spaced grooved on the other edge of the hoop — these will be used to anchor the hanging wire. My dad used his pocket knife as a saw to make the grooves.

Mark each string 2″ above the top butterfly with a black marker.

Wrap each string around the hoop in one of the pre-cut grooves, positioning the black mark at the top of the hoop. Wrap several times and then secure with a dab of hot glue. Continue until you have attached all seven strings.

Cut lengths of wire and attach to the 4 grooves at the top of the hoop. Twist the lengths of wire together to form a hanger.

Hang and enjoy!

There you have it, my latest creative project. I was so happy when I saw it hanging that I clapped my hands, jumped up and down, and gave my dad a big hug. I loved the process of collaborating with him, sharing ideas, evaluating methods, and crafting in extended companionable silence. Those feelings and memories come back to me whenever I watch the mobile from my bed.


Now, tell me about your mini-labyrinths.

What small creative projects have seen you through droughts and difficulties? I have more of mine to share with you, but I love seeing what others are doing. And please link to your projects! It would be fun to feature others here too.

P.S. I wish I had a better name than “mini-labyrinths.” I will think on that. Let me know if you come up with something.

P.P.S. This is my first blog post since my paperback was released last summer! You can now get my memoir, Pilgrimage of Desire: An Explorer’s Journey Through the Labyrinths of Life, in a form you can hold in your hands, highlight, dog-ear, and fill with margin notes.

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I think I’ll stay under here where it’s safe.

In his podcast episode called Emergency, Benjamen Walker speaks into a secret recorder hidden in a pen while sitting in a hot tub:

I fled my studio for Spa Castle … I’m just finding it impossible to work these days. It’s the news, blaring out of the radio, blasting from the computer. It’s relentless, and it climbs over every wall I build and slides in under every door I close. There’s no escape.

And as far as I can tell, this is a new thing. Of course, the 24-hour news cycle has been around for decades now, we got that in the 1990s with the Iraq War and the O.J. Simpson case. But it was still a news cycle. That cycle has disintegrated. Today, now, it’s just news all the time. And once you check in, there’s no checking out. There’s no longer a calm after the storm, because it’s a storm that never ends.

And this non-stop hurricane of pain, it’s affecting my mental health, my physical well-being, and my podcast. This is why I’m here, talking to you, dear listener, from a hot tub at Spa Castle. …

The musician Neil Young once said that what is most precious to him is his creative space, a space he goes to great lengths to maintain and protect. Well, the past few months of breaking news has completely broken down the barriers protecting my creative space. It’s now been overrun by hot takes and longreads and memes, tweets, and I’m scared—terrified, actually—that I won’t be able to put everything back together again.

This captures how I feel about writing in the last three years, in general, and definitely here, online. The non-stop hurricane of pain has decimated my mental, physical, and digital creative spaces.

I don’t know how to write on this blog anymore. I know how I used to write, so when I’m in that headspace for the week or so it takes me to write a post, I can write here, but otherwise I feel like I have tape over my mouth. It’s the news and it’s Facebook and it’s parenting pre-teens and it’s Year 5 of living across the country from my family and it’s depression and it’s being in my 40s, facing the reality that things aren’t always going to keep getting better, sometimes things will regress and contract and get worse.

So while I flounder around, boarding up broken windows, sweeping up shards of glass, turning down the volume on the news, I thought I’d tell you where things stand right now.

Lia is eleven. I love her so much that I have to hug and kiss her every chance I get, and thank God she still likes it. She is reading books from the Grade 7 shelf and perfecting her round-off back handspring back tuck. Every day from December to April she wore an orange fox hat named Tiki. A few weeks ago she made a coconut cake from scratch all by herself. I like buying her presents—it’s easy, you just buy something with a fox on it, or something made from strawberries or mango or both.

Nico is nine. He just bought himself a fidget cube, and he has assigned noises to each button and gizmo. His life’s ambition is to get me to belly laugh, which he does often, but he needs to find another audience for his potty humour, because I’m not it. He wrote an excellent short story called “Death Battle,” about a boy named Thor who defends Canada from the monster Holy Fish. I get him to tutoring sessions by play-fighting with him at the bus stop and bribing him with jalapeno Cheetos.

My children are part of the hurricane, and part of the bunker against it.

Today is my wedding anniversary. My marriage to Shawn is now legally allowed to drink in the U.S. In honour of the occasion, I dug up this recording of a men’s quartet singing our wedding text. Shawn is the ground in which the bunker is buried; he is a solid constant.

A love-red butterfly for my one and only.

Reading is my equivalent of noise-cancelling headphones. I have put together a background reading list to inform my current fiction project, and it is both comforting and inspiring at the same time. These are books of utopian fiction, first- and second-wave feminism, middle-class domestic fiction, metafiction, feminist economics. This list would seem pretentious to me except that it’s all so damn inspiring and relevant to what I’m writing, I’m gobbling it up.

I started with the books I had already read, books I had close to hand. Old books bubbled up in my memory, new books surfaced in the Recommendations feed on Goodreads. I’m up to 75 books and I’m aiming for 100. I decided to read the books in order of publication, because I like to eat my vegetables before dessert, but I’m finding that it’s all dessert. I feel like a student again, reading short story cycles for my thesis project.

I’m making butterflies for #the100dayproject and posting them to Instagram. This is turning out to be an ode to my home decorating as well as an origami project.

It’s a real book! With pages!

I don’t watch as much TV since my children started staying up until 9 pm or later. I climb under the covers with one earbud in, listening to Audible, which is the best for reading long, dense books. I’m almost halfway through 27 hours of The Golden Notebook narrated by Juliet Stevenson. I tried to read The Golden Notebook fifteen years ago and couldn’t make it through five pages for boredom. Now I’m riveted. Fascism, socialism, communism, free women, repudiated novels and unfinished novels and diary excerpts—it’s all up-to-the-minute even though it’s the 1950s.

Michelle and I have been inching along with a print version of Pilgrimage of Desire. The designs are all done, we’re reviewing physical proofs, and you’ll be able to order it from Amazon and your local bookstore very soon.

Is it summer yet? I need a breather. I want to do more writing. I think I’ll spread a little sand and a beach towel on the floor of my bunker, hang some rainbow butterflies from the ceiling.

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I do love a good Word of the Year. Some of mine in the past have been Strategy, Chillax, Stardust, Reunion, and Fly. Last year’s was just a sound, a wordless moan. Words of the Year are not always transformative, but they’re always evocative and comforting, like a smooth stone carried in a pocket.

This year I was feeling more energized, and I started paying attention in December for a Word of the Year to cross my path.

The word I met was mise-en-place, a French phrase from the world of professional cooking that literally means “to put in place.” But mise-en-place is so much more, as I am discovering.

In my systems work with Cairene MacDonald, we have talked about mise-en-place in its strictest sense, which involves assembling all of one’s tools and ingredients before beginning to work. We’ve also talked about it in a larger sense, of doing whatever planning and preparation is required to make the work go smoothly. These were useful ideas that I aspired to but could never consistently apply.

The revelation of working clean

Then, in the last days of December, a book title flitted across my computer screen, I don’t even remember how. Work Clean: The life-changing power of mise-en-place to organize your life, work, and mind by Dan Charnas (affiliate link). Hmm. Sounds interesting. Is it one of those fluffy productivity books that recycles random tired ideas at a shallow level? Well, it’s only $1.50 on Kindle, let’s check it out.

To my surprise and pleasure, I found it to be a solidly researched, well-structured, and useful book. Through interviews with top chefs in New York and beyond, Charnas absorbs and transforms old productivity saws into a comprehensive paradigm that struck me as fresh and original.

There are stories to hold my interest and demonstrate principles, helpful exercises, and examples that translate kitchen practices to home and office life. I read quickly through the opening chapters and have slowed down now as Charnas is going through the ten “ingredients” of working clean.

My thought is to make each “ingredient” a focus for one month and do the exercises. But the concepts have already flooded me with new ways of seeing some of my problematic work habits.

I’m just naturally messy. Is that true?

For example: In recent years, I have not been good at tidying up as I go or cleaning as I cook. I make a mess, throw things all over the place. I leave all the pieces of a project out, intending to pick it up again, using the physical stuff as a reminder of what I have left undone. “I’ll come back to that later,” I think to myself. “If I stop to put things away, I won’t be able to keep myself going.” I live with the mess until I can’t stand it any longer, and then I do a marathon cleaning session.

This aversion to cleaning up as I go drives my husband nuts. It strikes him as disrespectful when I leave a mess, especially in a space that he has just cleaned. “Who are you expecting to deal with this?” he asks when I ignore a spill or leave a can to rust in the sink. “We live in a small space, we need to keep it tidy.” I try to explain myself, “It’s just how my brain works. I get distracted. I’m thinking about something else. I’m just trying to get the important stuff done. The rest can wait.”

I revisit advice to writers that says, “The dishes can wait,” and “No one on her deathbed ever wished she’d done more housework,” and “Cleaning is just a form of procrastination,” and I feel justified in my messy ways.

Then along comes Work Clean. It’s right there in the title. Dan Charnas and his chef-experts are very compelling at explaining WHY cleaning as you go is so important, and how it impacts your work from beginning to end.

“Even the most refined systems become useless unless maintained. It is not enough to find a ‘right place’ for everything. Cooks can’t use a static system; the system must move. So the real work of mise-en-place isn’t being clean, but working clean: keeping that system of organization no matter how fast and furious the work is.”

This rings true with me, because I know from Cairene that time management is change management, that no ritual or solution stays put for long, but they must all be tweaked and adapted and pruned continuously.

“What many chefs seem to be aiming for, then, is not cleaning for the sake of cleanliness, but rather cleaning as a spiritual practice. Chefs see a direct correlation not only between the condition of one’s station and one’s mind, but also between the tolerance of dirt and the tolerance of distractions, and between the disposition of oneself to cleaning and to responsibility in general. Thus the idea of ‘working clean’ is not only personal but collective. Our roommate’s mess becomes our mess. Our mess becomes our co-worker’s mess. … This holistic view of cleaning — that it should be integrated into every moment of a chef’s work, and that cooks clean not just for one but for all — creates the foundation for excellence in the professional kitchen.”

I couldn’t clean while I worked just because I knew I ought to, or because my husband wanted me to. But I’m finding that I can do it when I’m doing it for the order of my mind and for the excellence of my work. Just a few days of applying mise-en-place to my daily habits and chores has felt SO different, so meaningful and yes, empowering.

A year of mise-en-place

Mise-en-place. Charnas calls it a philosophy and a system, a setup but also the practice of preparing that setup and the mind state of someone who knows exactly how to think, plan, and move. I am looking forward to a year of learning how to embody all of these aspects of mise-en-place, in service to my life and health and writing.

How about you? What’s been your experience of mise-en-place? And do you have a Word of the Year? I’d love to know.

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