Skip to content

Home > Publications > Historic New England Magazine > Summer 2000 > Making Japanese Butterflies

Making Japanese Butterflies



Paint, brush, and paper are the only materials needed for making Japanese butterflies! This activity is as fun today as it was in the1880s, when japonisme—a craze for everything Japanese—was fashionable in the U.S., France, and England. We have adapted the instructions from an issue of The American Agriculturist, a magazine for farm families, in SPNEA’s Library and Archives.

How to do it: Using plenty of paint, write your name (or initials, monogram, or anything else) in the middle of a piece of heavy paper. Quickly, before any of the paint dries, fold your paper in half and press down hard all around. Open the paper and you’ll find something completely unexpected! Add a few arrows, curves, snake lines or any other thing you can think of. Quickly fold the paper again and see how your Japanese Butterfly has changed.

A few hints:

  • Use poster paint or another heavy paint—watercolors may be too thin.
  • Be sure that your fold goes through the painted letters. Otherwise your butterfly will have no middle.
  • Add lines and shapes to your butterfly as many times as you like. Every time you open it, your butterfly will be different.
  • Experiment! Use one color, then try many colors. Change the order of the letters in your name or try someone else’s name. Change the direction of your fold. Make the letters very thin and then very thick. Try painting your name at a crazy angle or in a circle or backwards. Every butterfly is unique!

—Peter Gittleman, Director of Interpretation & Education


Making Japanese Butterflies