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Folded Seed Packet

Updated: Feb 3

This is an old traditional fold, possibly of German origin, which is usually referred to as a Seed Packet. As with a lot of traditional folds it's a very simple and elegant design.

The earliest publication of folding instructions for the Seed Packet seems to be in the German book Illustrirtes Spielbuch für Knaben (1864) by Hermann Wagner, under the title of Papiertüte or "paper bag", and it appears again in the Illustrirtes Spielbuch für Mädchen (1865) by Marie Leske (real name Marina Krebs). Happily, though also unsurprisingly, the version for girls (Mädchen) is exactly the same as the version for boys (Knaben). Both books went through many editions and are still available as facsimile reprints, as well as in digitised form.

Illustrirtes Spielbuch für Knaben (1864)

by Hermann Wagner

Illustrirtes Spielbuch für Mädchen (1865)

by Marie Leske

In 1992 some actual folded seed packets looking just like these and inscribed with dates that go back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries were discovered in the attic of the Woodlands Mansion in Philadelphia, USA, once owned by the botanist William Hamilton (1735–1840). An article in an issue of The Penn Museum's magazine Expedition from 2020 has a nice description with photos:

"The packets are of varying sizes, but most are small and hexagonal (rectangular with pointed ends), made of a single piece of folded, white, hand-made paper measuring approximately 4 x 8 cm when folded. (...) Interestingly, more than 100 seed packets collected and packaged in a very similar way by Hamilton’s friend André Michaux between 1785 and 1787 reside in the Academy’s herbarium. Michaux sent them to the APS and they were later deposited at the Academy. A similar set of seed packets from the early 19th century is in the collection at The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew."

Although this was in the United States there's a definite German connection, because the article notes that a German botanist by the name of Frederick Pursh was employed at the estate as a gardener. And another article on the Woodlands Estate's own website states:

"Packets inscribed by “the X writer” (so-named by Fry because of the way the writer’s r’s resembled the letter x) may have originated somewhere in Europe, or were at least inscribed by a writer trained there."

A few years ago I came across another set of diagrams on a German website, reproduced from a different book, which unfortunately was not named. On the website it was merely stated that most of the instructions presented were from over 100 years ago. What's interesting here is the way the folding sequence is explained.

More detailed diagrams for the Seed Packet can be found in various places online (a quick search for "folded seed packet" will bring up several other types too) and in a number of origami books and magazines. David Mitchell also has it on his website under title of the Hexagonal Packet, with a couple of interesting Spanish references from 1903 and 1904.

The folding sequence in the unnamed German book "from over 100 years ago" inspired me to do a more complete set of diagrams for myself, and in the process I came up with a minor variation. The main difference is that in my version the packet is open at the top, which is perhaps not really an improvement if you want to keep seeds in it, although it does mean you can use it as a sort of wallet for other things that are less likely to fall out. In the PDF below you may notice (somehow it didn't occur to me till after I'd finished the diagrams) that steps 5 and 6 of my version on page 2, while quite satisfying to do, are actually completely redundant. But the main point of the diagrams is not so much my fairly obvious variant but rather the folding sequence for the original version, which I felt deserved to be recorded. Hopefully one day the book where the original diagrams appeared will be discovered.

Seed Packet_011219
Download PDF • 5.41MB


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