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Folding a Letter-size Sheet into 3 x 5 Inch Shape – Single Pocket January 31, 2008

Posted by caveblogem in DIY, filing, H-PDA, Hipster PDA, history, how to, index cards, information management, lifehack, Moleskine, Origami, Other, Wordpress.

I was chatting earlier this week with prairieflounder, and I mentioned that WordPress had upped the capacity for individual blogger accounts to three gigabytes. I noted that I had purchased some extra capacity from WordPress last year, because I was moving quickly up towards the limit. Pf pointed out that he hadn’t noticed a lot of pictures here. That’s because there are a couple of different types of people who visit this site. Most of the visitors I get are still people looking at folding diagrams, believe it or not. About 90 percent, on average. And the people who don’t visit for those pics, tend not to even notice them.

And that’s O.K., but here’s another post for the 90 percent.

My first funded year in graduate school I ended up grading papers for a brilliant-if-cranky professor who, despite being only 35ish, still took notes on 3 x 5 cards. I’ve noticed that a lot of the history professors who attended top-ten schools (which he did) do this, and I even know one attending a top-ten school right now, who uses 3 x 5 cards. The guy I worked for would often photocopy articles, however, and cut out the relevant sections, parts of a work that he might later cite or quote in his own work, for example, and tape them to a 3 x 5 card, folding them several times, if need be, so that they would fit in his 3 x 5 file.

Yeah, it didn’t look all that elegant. It was pretty messy, actually. But the guy wasn’t all that elegant himself; he was well-published and highly regarded, however.

It has troubled me for some time that there is no elegant way of folding a normal (in the US) 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper so that it stays nice and flat and can be filed away with the rest of your 3 x 5 cards.

Until now, that is. This method is so simple that I hesitated to post it. It is based on the simplest and most common letterfold. But I can’t seem to find any posts of it anywhere else, so here you go:

Start with an 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper (all of the pix below expand into their own, larger, window when you click upon them with a mouse or similar rodent). This is especially nice paper made by Gold Fiber, which is not only a pleasing and frightfully absorbent texture, but has lines on one side and a grid on the other. Notebook paper doesn’t get much nicer than this, I’m afraid.


Put a 3 x 5 inch index card in the middle of it, roughly, and fold the top down so that it looks like this:


Then fold the top down, like this:


You want all of these folds to hug the index card as closely as you can. Next, fold the bottom up like this:


Then fold one side in over the card like this:


And then the other, like this:


Then take the card out and unfold the whole thing so that it looks like this:


Fold the top and bottom towards the center so that it forms a flattened tube eight and a half inches wide, and then tuck whichever side is smaller into the inside of the tube on the opposite side, which will, presumably, be larger and more accommodating. In this case, the right side was slightly larger. One side always is, for some reason.


Then, keep sliding it in until the whole thing is flat. If done perfectly, it will be only slightly larger than a 3 x 5 index card, so that not only will it hold index cards itself, it will still fit into files that hold index cards of that size, or even the cool little pocket in a moleskine notebook, like this one.


Not that this history professor could have been bothered to make things tidy like this. But you like to keep things neat.



1. writinggb - February 1, 2008

Ah, I always wondered how you did that! In’t it true, though, that if you are going to use the Noguchi filing method, you’d be better off not folding paper a lot ahead of time because of the creases making it harder to lay flat again — thus harder to stick in an envelope later, right?

So we must choose between files or folds? Or do you use Noguchi for the folded ones, too???

2. caveblogem - February 1, 2008

Generally, I use Noguchi for storing documents that I am not currently working on, but may currently be working with. In other words, I put things into manila envelopes when I feel that I may need to find them later, but not when I am actively using them.

That history professor I mentioned mixed methods–he needed something small to move around with his hands and look at while he was thinking about his articles or book. But he was too lazy to paraphrase it on a card. Index cards are easy to manipulate. Larger pieces of paper are a bit unwieldy. If he had folded the copied quote in the method I describe above, and written a paraphrase or summary on it after he folded it, it would probably have worked much better. That’s how you are supposed to use this form of note-taking. The effort of paraphrasing solidifies one’s understanding and helps to properly categorize the knowledge. But he, like all of us, was trying to save time.

And I don’t file these things after I am done with them, except possibly in a 3×5 file, because they are generally handwritten notes I am using to work towards a more polished thing, which I will eventually type up and file.

3. caveblogem - February 1, 2008

writinggb-Oh, and thank you for your thoughtful question, and for slogging through that confusing post.

4. mark travis - June 17, 2008

I’m lookig for 3 X 5 refill paper for a 2 ring notebook.
i bought it last time at office depot, but just felt like giving you a try.

5. name - September 1, 2008


6. Anonymous - July 4, 2011

This was an excellent little pocket to store index cards in pertaining to one topic. This is a great way to sort and takes cards on the go in a hurry!

7. Tracy - December 8, 2012

Thank you for the tutorial. This design is quite minimalistic–perfect! Neither of my sides seemed bigger than the other, so I just chose one and stuffed the other into it.

I used a card stock paper, but it doesn’t have much give and was hard to fold. Do you recommend any particular weight for the optimal pocket–strong but roomy?

Tracy - April 3, 2013

Hello again,

I recently discovered that if you fold and stuff the tube inside out, you create a portrait card holder with a regular pocket on one side and a side-opening (slip) pocket on the other.

I’m currently using it in this new configuration since the slip pocket allows me easy access to my to-do cards. And they don’t fall out!

Take care, and thanks again for the tutorials.


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