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What are the Best Tips for Towel Origami?

By S. McNesby
Updated Feb 16, 2024
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If you've ever taken a cruise or stayed in a family-friendly resort, you've likely encountered towel animals, also known as towel origami. The housekeeping staff of a hotel or ship may put in some extra effort, and create a towel animal or two for your bed or bathroom. These pretty accents can be duplicated at home and displayed in a bedroom or bathroom. The best tips for towel origami include ideas for choosing the best towels and washcloths, ways to prepare these textiles for folding, and creative accent ideas for finished pieces.

Top materials to use for towel origami are square washcloths and rectangular hand towels. Having both a square and a rectangle to work with increases the number of designs and styles you can create. Full-sized bath towels are likely too large to fold well; bathmats and other towel-like textiles may be too thick or textured to use.

Books on paper origami or on oshibori art (folding washcloths) are useful for finding new techniques and ideas for towel origami. Many of the techniques used for napkin folding can be adapted to towels as well. Most paper techniques can be modified to use for towel origami; shapes that require a strong crease may be problematic to reproduce using towels.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the best textiles to use for towel origami are low-quality, thin towels and washcloths. Good-quality items are designed to be fluffy and dense, so they do not fold well. Choosing inexpensive and thin towels will make it easier to complete complex folds and projects. The white washcloths sold as bar cloths are particularly good for towel folding projects, since they are square and very thin.

Bath textiles to be used for towel origami should be washed without fabric softener. Line drying towels and washcloths will make them slightly stiff, which is helpful for setting folds and creases. Spray starch and an iron can be used to create crisp folds and edges when preparing a piece.

Inexpensive additions like ribbon, google eyes — the white and black wiggly eyes sold in kids' craft sections of stores — stickers, and pipe cleaners can be used to add character and accents to completed towel origami pieces. Ribbons can be tied in bows to accent any piece, while towel animals can get a lot of extra appeal by adding stick-on eyes and features. Pipe cleaners can be used to add legs and details to finished pieces, or to support and shape different towel animal parts.

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Discussion Comments
By andee — On Mar 03, 2012

Some of the origami towel designs are much easier to make than others. I made a towel origami monkey once and even used embellishments for the eyes.

This was really cute, and took more towels and washcloths, and took a little bit longer than something like a swan would. Some of the towel origami flowers can also be a little bit more complicated.

It really does make a lot of sense to use towels that have not been softened. Even though I love soft towels when I get out of the shower, for something like this, the stiff ones work much better.

You could probably do this with about any kind of towel you have at a hotel. They are always so stiff and scratchy, that I am glad to get home and use my own towels. They work great for something like towel origami though!

By SarahSon — On Mar 02, 2012

@honeybees - We also had origami towels in our room on the cruise we took. On the last night, they had some information on a souvenir book you could buy showing you how to make these towel origami shapes.

This was an origami step by step book that would have been a nice gift for kids. The only problem was they wanted close to $80 for this book, and I thought that seemed like an awful lot of money for something like that.

I think you would be able to find very simple, basic towel origami directions on the internet. I was able to remember how to do a couple of them, and had fun showing my kids how to do it when we got back home.

By honeybees — On Mar 01, 2012

We recently got back from a cruise, and this was our first cruise so we didn't really know what to expect.

Every night when we got back to our room they had origami towels in different shapes sitting on our bed. Two mints were also placed by these towels along with any important papers for the next day.

It was fun to see what different shape of towels they would have each night. Some of the animal shapes included a towel origami swan, money, and elephant.

On the last night, they had a big heart shaped origami towel. I looked closely at each one of them to try and remember how to do them myself. It doesn't look like they would be very hard to do.

Once you knew what you were doing, it wouldn't take too long. There were a lot of staterooms on that ship, so it would be interesting to know how long that whole process took every night.

By irontoenail — On Mar 01, 2012

@indigomoth - If someone is going to learn towel origami I wouldn't recommend starting out with the average instructions for paper origami.

There are plenty of step by step towel origami instructions on video on the internet, or in pictures or written instructions if you follow those better.

Starting out with paper instructions can be confusing and it might be difficult to pick out which designs would be easiest with fabric rather than paper. Some techniques which are a breeze with paper are hard with fabric so the indicated level of difficulty can't be relied on.

I believe there is also a book on how to fold towel animals, but I haven't actually looked at it myself.

By indigomoth — On Mar 01, 2012

@pastanaga - Oh but think of how thrilled your mother will be if you surprise her with some of the cute animals you both saw on your trip.

I mean the towel animals rather than the koalas, of course!

It's really not very difficult to do some towel origami. I agree with the article that it's best to start out using towels that have been sun dried, preferably without any folds in them. They tend to be quite stiff and much better to fold, particularly if you are folding them with traditional origami techniques.

Kids especially will appreciate it. I do this sometimes for my nephew who is about five years old and he is always so astonished by the transformation of the towel into an animal.

In some ways it's a better skill to know for kids than even balloon animals, as there is almost always going to be some fabric around that you can skillfully turn into a penguin as the situation demands.

By pastanaga — On Feb 29, 2012

I took a cruise with my mother a few years ago and we went to some lovely places throughout New Zealand and Australia. We saw some really cool and interesting things, but one of the things we always mention when talking about the cruise is the towel origami that was left in our room every morning!

I know, I know we should mention the koalas and whales we saw and the delicious food, and the museums and even the people of those countries, but the towel origami was just so cute.

We had a different animal every day, although I have to say that my favorite was the little swinging monkey that was hanging from the bunk bed.

It was one of those little touches that just makes the entire trip, you know? It did make me want to learn how to do it myself, but I never got around to it. Maybe it should remain a skill I can appreciate in others but not perform myself. I wouldn't want to spoil the magic after all.

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