Paper has long been the basis of some pretty interesting folk art. The most commonly known of paper folk art is Japanese origami - ori (to fold) and kami (paper). Historic records suggest that origami originated in China in the first or second century and by the 6th century had been brought to Japan by Buddhist monks who used the paper, which was very expensive, for ceremonial purposes.
By the 17th century, origami butterflies appeared during Buddhist Shinto weddings as representatives of the bride and groom and versions of the folded paper art were attached to gifts exchanged by Samurai warriors.
In time, papermaking techniques improved and the cost of paper decreased. As a result, origami became a more popular art for the common people. Folding directions were passed down from generation to generation as is the case with most folk art forms. Over the centuries origami became part of the Japanese cultural heritage.
Besides the Japanese folding paper, were the Moors, who brought paper folding with them to Spain when they invaded that country in the eighth century. The Moors used paperfolding to create geometric figures because their religion prohibited them from creating animal forms. From Spain the folk art form spread to South America.
According to Think Quest the first written set of instructions appeared in 1797.
How to Fold 1000 Cranes contained steps for how to fold a crane. The crane was considered a sacred bird in Japan. It was a Japanese custom that if a person folded 1000 cranes, they would be granted one wish. Origami became a very popular form of art as shown by the well-known Japanese woodblock print that was made in 1819 entitled "A Magician Turns Sheets of Birds". This print shows birds being created from pieces of paper.
As is the case with all living folk art forms, origami continues to be an adaptive paper art. It is found all over the world and continues to represent specific elements of folk life, like birth and marriage and also has come to symbolize valued societal ideals, like world peace.
For fun, here are some free origami resources: