Twist Box tutorial Zhen Xian Bao

Twist Box tutorial Zhen Xian Bao Here’s a link to a large file colorful PDF

Zhen Xian Bao, Chinese Thread Book, Post #1 intro

Zhen Xian Bao, Chines Thread Book, Post #2, starting with the finished size

Of all the posts that I plan to write about the Zhen Xian Bao, this will likely be my favorite post. Figuring out both how to make this twist box and explain it have kept me happiliy distracted. I’ve looked closely at photos of people making them, watched clips of the twist box being opened and closed, examined templates, and studied videos (all available for you to see on my Zhen Xian Bao Pinterest board). Then I just kept making these boxes until I was happy with the results.

Twist Box, opened and closed

Twist Box, opened and closed

These boxes are the top layer of the Chinese Thread Book, a structure that is made up of layers of collapsible boxes. Not all of the Zhen Xian Bao have twist boxes on the top, but it’s the style of box that I like the best, as it’s so very different from any of the other boxes in the rest of the structure.

There are numerous versions of the twist box.

The version of the twist box that I originally fell in love with was designed and demonstrated by Chrissy Paperkawaii. While I still like much about her no-cut, no-glue version of the twist box, it’s just a bit too bulky for my liking; also, it was really difficult to twist, and if I could barely make it her way I knew I wouldn’t be able to teach it.

A twist box that I thought I liked the least, but which I now appreciate, appears to be made from a template created by Lori Sauer, which Rachel Marsden wrote about. Rachel’s post is one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve seen on the Zhen Xian Bao. You really must take a look at it. Here’ s the photo of the not-yet-folded twist box that Rachel Marsden made from the template.

You might notice that this shape is almost exactly like the nineteenth drawing on my tutorial page, meaning Rachel probably got her twist box done in few less steps than me. The only reason that it’s not my favorite is that it’s made from a template. So what do I have against templates?

The first answer that comes to mind is that it can be tricky to scale a template. As part of a collection of different styles of origami boxes, I want a reasonable way to scale all the different elements so that I can make whatever size thread book that I want.

The other reason that I prefer not to rely on a template is that being able to figure out the system of folds from a rectangle gives me the chance to fully understand and appreciate the foundational symmetry of the structure that I am folding.

Not long ago I wrote about a fairly tricky folding structure. I included in my post the hard-to-read-and-decipher tutorial page that I had followed as well as a video. I then aimed to entice my highly accomplish weblog friend Candy Wooding to make the piece (she did!) and then asked her if she preferred the video or the written directions. She said that the video was good to start with, but then the written directions provided her with reminders. With this feedback in mind, here’s a video of making the twist box.

Disclaimer? I know I’m not that good at making these videos. Sometimes things fall off the edge of the frame, and my hands get in the way, but I’m hoping that the more I make these the better I will get at it. Still, I think this imperfect video is plenty helpful.

One last note:

Twist Box for Zhen Xian Bao Black and White tutorial

Twist Box for Zhen Xian Bao
Black and White tutorial Small PDF File for Twist Box

Here’s the black and white version of the Zhen Xian Bao tutorial page. You can color in this one in yourself. It’s a small PDF file, unlike the huge color file at the top of the page. I haven’t figured out how to make a small, colored downloadable file to post on my blog.If someone wants to offer me some pointers, I’m interested!

My next Zhen Xian Bao post will either be about the box that is the next level down, or about ways to decorate this box. Haven’t decided yet. Though I know I won’t be able to get to it right away, still, I’m looking forward to post #4! Make boxes! Thank you.

Finger Tracing

June 16, 2016

Hand of a four year old

Hand tracing by a four-year-old

This post is for people who have the good fortune to be working with four- and five-year olds.

For quite some time I’ve been exploring ways of drawing the attention of young students to their fingers. In my post Counting to Ten, March 2015  I wrote”My thinking here is that I want these students to create a visual that connects the numbers that they are learning to the fingers that they count on.” I see the fingers as the original number line.

Recently I watched a TedX  Stanford video of Jo Boaler, an educator who is involved in research in how to support learning and growth. I’m already of fan of Jo Boaler, but particularly liked this talk of hers and particular like what she says about counting on fingers. Starting at about the point 7:22 on the video, she tells the audience that when we calculate, the brain area that sees fingers lights up. She then goes on to tell us that the amount of finger perception grade 1 students have is a better predictor of math achievement in grade 2 than test scores.

Hand tracing with a cut-out tunnel to fit over the student's wrist.

Hand tracing with a cut-out tunnel to fit over the student’s wrist.

After hearing Jo Boaler’s talk, I couldn’t help but wonder if it is possible to modify my finger tracing project in a way that could possibly help children strengthen their finger perception? This isn’t something that I’ve ever thought about before, but I guess that some people are more challenged than others in connecting the sensation of having a finger touched to the finger that is being touched. More simply said, when I touch your finger, do you know, without peeking, which finger I am touching?

First we did some counting together, up to five. Then the children traced their hands. The adults wrote down the numbers on the drawn fingers. We cut out a tunnel so the child’s hand could rest under the drawing. Then a partner would touch a finger, and the child would reference the drawing and say which finger had been touched.

Here’s a few short video clips of how it went:

Mostly it was children doing this with each other, but it was easier for me to use these clips that show the adults working with the students. When the students were working with each other I put little stickers on the student’s hands, labeling the fingers 1-5 so that the student who was doing the finger touching would know what number was matched to the finger that he or she was touching.

It was interesting to see that there was a huge range between how hard and how easy it was for children to identify which finger was touched. One child simply could not make the connection at all. It finally occurred to me to let her see her hand and the map of her hand at the same time, to see if she could develop the connection. This seemed to work out for her. Here’s what it looked like towards the end:

This was my first attempt at this kind of…um….hands-on drawing project/ finger game with young students. It was a really quick, let’s-see-what-happens-if-we-do- this kind of thing, but there seems to be something interesting going on here. and I hope to do more of this, and hope other people will try it out too! Thanks Jo Boaler!

Addendum July 21, 2016

I’m seeing a trend… my addendums are getting more frequent and could become posts in themselves. Seems like once I post something I stumble across something that’s totally relevant, or someone tags me with content that applies. This addendum has both.

Part 1

First, here’s an absolutely accessible, research based activity to do with young children, to help their brains develop its mathematical regions. It’s based on the idea that there’s a correlation between preschooler’s sense of approximation and their general ability to do mathematics. It looks like this:

from a report on the work of Jinjing Wang of John Hopkins Universitys

from a report on the work of Jinjing Wang of John Hopkins University

Looks to me that there’s lots of possibilities for here for books that I could make with kids for them to  bring home. Even though the task here is to estimate which side of the page has more dots, I can see all sort of other kinds of vocabulary that can be come up with 4 year olds that this kind of graphic can facilitate. Here’s a link the the article about this, that Dave Radcliffe @daveinstpaul pointed out to the twitter community:


Part 2

Ted Lewis saw my post and alerted me to his, which, discussed the  longer and more satisfying exploration and examination of ” number sense and how we create it.” This is the graphic that accompanied Ted’s post:


 Okay, this is a perfect reminder that I don’t need a computer screen and Big Bird and Elmo to do this kind of work with students. Ted is using the inequality signs for this exercise. (Silly Ted, inequality signs are the downfall of many, but let’s talk about that some other time….)  The point though, is, if you are interested in visuals and the brain and the want some insights and food for thought, read this post for yourself http://mathinautumn.blogspot.ca/2016/06/its-not-all-snake-oil.html .

I’ll be working, weekly, with four-year-olds starting the first week of July. Can’t wait to see if I can corral them into doing any of the activities that are inspired by these dots and other ways of thinking.


prep 1

Tomorrow 6 am I head up into the Adirondacks for a day with Pre-K through fifth graders. This kinds of residency can be a bear to get ready for, but they can be great fun. My contact at the school said the words that, at this time of year, I like to hear the most: “We love everything you do. Just do what you want.” I have been having so much fun getting ready for tomorrow. I will be trying out some new things in every class, including  teaching students how to make some parts of the Chinese Thread Books that I have been writing about (no one class will make a thread book, but I’m going to use elements with a couple of different classes.)

Starting to gather materials for a day with pre-K through Fifth grade

Starting to gather materials for a day with pre-K through Fifth grade

I’ve got pack up, but I wanted to post of photo of a piece of my process in getting ready for a big day. First I clear my the couch in my office.

Ready, set, ...now pack!

Ready, set, …now pack!

Then I fill it. I want to see every bit of everything. Now I pack and try to sleep.  Very excited about tomorrow.

by Ruth Smith & Gina Corrigan

This is a continuation of Part 1

The most valuable information I have found on the Zhen Xian Bao resides in this book, A Little Known Chinese Folk Art, Zhen Xian Bao by Ruth Smith & Gina Corrigan. This book, hands down, gave me the most insight into the nature of the structure, however, it does NOT contain step-by-step instructions on how to construct the Zhen Xian Bao. For Ruth’s how-to manuals, click on the link to her email embedded in my first post about this structure. I don’t have Ruth’s how-books, but, judging from what’s been written by people she has taught, from the photos in the book, and what I already know about paper-folding, with an overlay of my way of understanding things, I offer here a way of beginning.

Zhen Xian Bao, belonging to Jane Paterson, source https://barleybooks.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/abcd-mapping/

Zhen Xian Bao, belonging to Jane Paterson, source https://barleybooks.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/abcd-mapping/

The one consistent feature I’ve seen, which I’d say is a defining feature of the Zhen Xian Bao, is that it is based on a double square, which is a 2 x 1 rectangle.Here in silhouette, is how its top three kinds of enclosures fit together:


The shapes above represent larger sheets of papers which have been folded down to become smaller shapes. Unfolding the shapes reveal layered inner compartments.

Being able to determine the size of the final folded structure while still making the various pieces fit together just right is what I will be writing about.

It’s important to note that there is no one way to make this: it’s a tradition of folding that has evolved differently in many different locations in China. However, with a basic understanding of the underlying origami folds, variations have a consistency that differ only in details.

Page 44 of A Little Known Chinese Folk Art: Zhen Xian Bao

Page 44 of A Little Known Chinese Folk Art: Zhen Xian Bao

page 46 of Page 44 of A Little Known Chinese Folk Art: Zhen Xian Bao

page 46 of Page 44 of A Little Known Chinese Folk Art: Zhen Xian Bao

These are my two favorite pages of Ruth Smith & Gina Corrigan’s book. On page 44 Ruth Smith writes that the woman making the zhen xian bao doesn’t use measuring equipment, rather she makes judgements by eye, referencing her old zhen xian bao “to check the size of each new section and make adjustments as necessary.” The man shown on page 46 measures “the length he needed with the span from his thumb to his index finger plus the length of his index finger to the second knuckle.”

We will be using neither of these methods.

What was interesting to me about figuring out measurements is that using the traditional measuring tool, the ruler, is really truly not preferable. It is much easier to make a template of a square, which is then folded in half on the diagonal. It’s the measurement of this diagonal that is key to making properly sized pieces. Here’s how to make a square that can be any size that you choose. Even if you never make the zhen xian bao, this paper-folding method of making a square is way cool.

The template square that I make will be the width that I want the side panel to be.

 Start with a random rectangle, but, rather using standard weight copy paper, it’s helpful to use something a bit thicker.


Fold the short edge of the rectangle down to meet the adjacent edge, as shown. The reason to do this is to create a diagonal line the divides the lower left-hand corner in half.


Open up the paper. Use a pencil to make a mark on the paper that defines how wide you want the width of a panel of your zhen xian bao to be.


Now here’s the part that is wonderful, surprising and magical: to make a perfect square fold up the lower corner of the paper, lining up the point of the corner on to the diagonal line, creating a triangle whose lower point meets the mark that you made with your pencil.


Use your pencil again to define the edges of that folded-over triangle.


Unfold the paper, cut on the pencil line. This resulting square is a measuring template. TWICE the length of the diagonal of the square will be used to determine the size of the six squares needed to make the first eight boxes of the zhen xian bao. Yes, I said 6 squares to make 8 boxes. This is how that goes…

Spoiler alert: I am not going to include the instructions to make the boxes in this post. I recommend, however, that you learn how to make a masu box so well that you can do it easily. This is a well documented structure. Here, I’ve got a Pinterest board that can link you to tutorials and videos of the masu box. Go, get really good at making this.


My next step is find a piece of paper to that will become my paper measuring template. I mark twice the length of square’s diagonal on to this paper.


Using this measurement of twice the length of the diagonal, I make four squares, shown here on the left. Sorry, they don’t look like squares because of the distortion created by the camera, but, really, they are squares. On the right, though, there are two pieces of paper that are the same width as the squares on the left, but a bit, I’d say about a 1/2 inch taller than the squares. I will be folding away this extra height in the next step.


What I am looking for here is to have two squares that have an extending folded edge. I’ve put the two squares perpendicular to each other to determine exactly where the fold should be, then I fold the paper, flip the papers over and fold the other piece. This might sound complicated but doing it just feels like common sense.


 Next, these two square with the extended tab arare divided in half so that I have 4 rectangles that are twice as tall as they are wide.


Here’s the paper for the first eight boxes. The big squares will make the masu box, the rectangles will create a twist box. It may be a while before I make the next post, so if you are following this in real-time, I recommend that you become an expert at making a masu box. I will eventually be posting a variation of this box for the Zhen Xian Bao, but if you already know the basic structure you’ll breeze right through learning the variation that I will show.

Twist Box Disasters

Twist Box Disasters

On the other hand, the twist box is a bit trickier. I haven’t found any great directions that I can point you to make a twist box. My early attempts at learning this box ended in disaster. After days of frustration, I finally figured out what I think is the best, easiest, and most satisfying way to make a twist box. It will likely be at least a couple of weeks before I can get to making the tutorial for the twist box, but it will be worth waiting for.



In the meantime SAVE ALL YOUR PIECES, including the original square template and the larger template. You will need them repeatedly.

See you later.

Addendum: directions for making the top layer box are now posted at https://bookzoompa.wordpress.com/2016/06/27/zhen-xian-bao-post-3-twist-box-for-top-layer/

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