What is Sonobe?

Tara Barnett
Tara Barnett
Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Sonobe is a type of modular origami that is named for its inventor, Mitsunobe Sonobe. The term is usually used to refer to a sonobe module, which is a basic unit used to construct all larger items. Like many other forms of origami, the basic unit is made using a square piece of paper. These units can be linked together to form a variety of shapes, and there are also variations on the basic unit that can be used to make even more shapes.

A sonobe module is fairly easy to make, but it can take many modules to make more complex designs. The basic unit is made using a square piece of paper, which is first creased in half with the plain side facing inward. Both edges of the paper parallel to the center crease are then folded in to meet the center crease.

Next, the top left corner must be brought across so that the top, or short side, of the resulting rectangle is aligned with the long right side of the rectangle, resulting in a diagonal crease. This crease is then unfolded, and the triangular creased portion of the right facing panel is folded under into the interior of the structure. The triangular portion created by the first crease is then folded under the right panel.

Turning the entire module around 180 degrees, the process is then repeated on the other half of the module. The resulting unit should have two pockets and two flaps and should be shaped like a parallelogram with 135- and 45-degree angles. While this process sounds complicated when explained verbally, it is actually quite simple when looking at a diagram. As such, the best way to learn is to look at a diagram and follow the directions carefully.

The way in which the sonobe modules are combined depends on the design being made. Pockets and flaps are utilized to hold the design together, and the resulting modular origami is often quite sturdy. For beginners, a cube made of six units can be fairly easily constructed. Using common sense and noting that all units meet at right angles, it is often possible to figure out how to build a cube without detailed directions.

More complex designs require more sonobe modules but similar skills. Commonly, intermediate enthusiasts choose to build a design called a stellated icosahedron, which requires 30 units. Using logic and one's imagination, it is possible to build quite complex and beautiful sonobe designs.

Discussion Comments


@BoniJ - I think that sonobe origami would be a good style to begin with. To get precise folds and creases, you need to have good quality origami paper. When working with kids on origami, you just have to keep reminding them to take it slow and make an even fold with edge meeting edge.

A lot of practice helps. After they have creased each fold, go over it yourself. As they become more successful with the end product, their patience and confidence will increase.


My granddaughter has been asking me to help her learn to do some origami folding. I don't know much about it myself. We've tried to do a few from a diagram. She's just eight years old and her folding and creases are not precise enough and she isn't happy with the outcome.

I think the sonobe origami might be a good one to try. It sounds fairly straight forward. Are there any suggestions about how to get folds and creases more exact?


I have always been fascinated with origami, and attended a beginners workshop once to learn how to make some basic patterns.

The instructor had been practicing origami for years and had some of her finished projects there for us to look at.

She had a sonobe cube she had made that was very colorful and look quite complex. When I commented on it, she said it looked much harder than it was.

Basically it was the same pattern being made over and over again. The use of many different colors and how they were put together is what made it look so complex.

Because I learn best by doing something instead of watching someone else do it, she sat down with me and showed me how to make the basic sonobe cube.

Once I got that process down, it was just a matter of repeating it many times over and knowing how to construct the cube.

One thing I like about origami is that there is no end to the number of creative projects you can make.

For someone who is not familiar with origami, it can look very complex. Once you learn a few basic steps, you can create a wide variety of projects.

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