October 22, 2016
I can’t believe my good luck.
I’ve been reading about the Chinese Thread Book, devouring anything in print that I could find about it, scouring the internet then just thinking about and trying to make sense of this structure. It didn’t even occur to me that I might actually get my hands on an authentic Zhen Xian Bao.
This is how it happened. I wanted to share what I’ve been studying with book artist Ed Hutchins. When he told me that he wasn’t familiar with what I was talking about I drove to his house and dropped off Ruth Smith’s book on the subject. then received this mysterious message a few days later. Ed wrote: ” LOVED THE BOOK. I devoured it cover to cover. I’m going to try to find my zhen xian bao before you get back. keep your fingers crossed…” then a day or two later “You won’t believe this: I found the sewing kit book–AND you are going to love it!”
Turns out that even though Ed had no idea of what I was talking about, once he saw the Ruth Smith book those memory gears kicked in, and he suspected that something he had in storage, might be of interest to me. Turns out he had, many years ago, bought this item on Ebay, without knowing what it was. When he asked the seller about it, well, the seller didn’t know anything much about it either. Ed suspects that this thread book was part of an estate that was being sold off.
Looking under the flap of the square boxes with the star on top readily reveals that this box is an embellished masu box.
There are a few things about this masu box that I’ve deemed particularly noteworthy. The first is that the green and red backgrounds of the star shapes are not hand colored, rather, these are colored papers that are adhered to the masu-box paper. The star motif is also decorated with collaged bits of colored papers. The other detail that I thought was interesting is that the masu boxes were made from a lighter weight paper than all the rest of the boxes in this thread book.
Okay, so there’s 16 square boxes, each two of which reveal a box underneath, so, between just the first and second layers there’s 24 boxes.
There’s some precise folding going on with these rectangular trays, but it’s also clear that it’s not what we think of as origami. Its been my impression that the rectangular trays traditionally are more like simple folded templates, but I will continue to make mine with origami methods for the reasons I’ve discussed in earlier posts. The decision mostly has to do with the paper. Oh, and it’s the paper in this book that makes it most convincing to me that this Zhen Xian Bao was made in China. The paper is thin, strong, and has an uneven texture. It’s certainly handmade paper, and it’s not like paper I’ve seen. Actually, this paper’s closest counterpart in my paper stash is the common grocery bag (though I am sure that this similarity is purely cosmetic!).
Next layer down! Here, each set of four top boxes pull away from each other. Now the count is up to 28 boxes.
Please excuse the purple straw holding the next layer open. Now we’re up to 30 boxes. If you are confused by the count, remember that each set of boxes has a symmetrically placed counterpart, so this open box on the right side is mirrored, but currently hidden, on the left.
Finally, here’s the Big Box layer. There are some major tears in the part of this box that articulate the spine. With the big box, there;s a total of 31 individual compartments in this book.
A secret is revealed on the big box layer that I loved seeing…. one thing that bothered me about this structure was the cover. Although there are no rock-solid rules for the cover of the Chinese Thread Book, I found the cover of this one to be somewhat out of place. But at the edges of the material that covers the big box there’s a hint of something different.
Look, at the head of the box there’s an indigo pattern on material that is underneath the red cover paper.
There it is again, at the tail edge of the box. The red cover was somehow added on, over the original indigo cover, which is a color that makes more sense for this book. Maybe the original cover was damaged and a seller thought to recover the book to make it more sale-able?
I kind of plan on kind of replicating this book using my own methods. Using the measurement methods I’ve been writing about, the only measurement I will need to replicate this book is the diagonal measurement of the square that is made with the 2 x 2 square of the top-tier of boxes.
That’s it. Now I better get this book of boxes back to Ed before I get too used to having it here.
October 4, 2016
Last spring, when I saw Elissa Campbell’s posts about the Chinese Thread Books that she was making, they reminded me that this was structure that I had been intending to explore. Elissa expressed, in her posts, that she just couldn’t stop making them. I didn’t understand what she meant by that at the time, but, wow, I get it now.
Before finishing my posts on how to make this structure I thought I’d take a step away from making the models and put together some of these thread books, experimenting with different papers. It was much harder to make a completed Zhen Xian Bao than I could have ever imagined, but not for the reasons that are obvious.
My problem was that at each and every step of the constructions I had to stop and admire the way everything looked. The geometry of the each piece, as well as how they looked together, just blew me away.
Not only that, but, also, I got to use papers that I have never been able to find uses for, like this delicate paper embossed with a spiderweb motif. It’s like I was holding on to it for all these years just so I could use it now. Not only did I like the way it looked, but the spider web pattern seemed to be completely appropriate for a thread book.
One of the hardest decisions I had to make was what to use for the covering material. Traditionally the Zhen Xian Bao is covered with indigo cloth. I happened to have, tucked away in my flat files, a large sheet of sturdy,handmade indigo paper. It wrapped nicely around my boxes. Have I mentioned that I love flat files?
When I was finished I decided I needed to make another thread book immediately. This one was smaller because I had some beautiful orange paper that was 21 inches wide, so I started with 7 inch squares so as not to waste paper.
In fact, I just kept raiding stashes of gorgeous papers that I have collected over the years but could never find suitable projects to use them in. Part of the adventure of making these books is seeing how all these lovely papers work together.
My favorite papers to use were thin, strong, textured papers. All my models that I’ve made in my previous posts were made from smooth, machine-made, standard weight (about 24 lb) papers. I liked using them for demonstrations and practice, but enjoy that more unusual papers for finished pieces.
As soon as I finished the second Thread Book I wanted to make another. I was thinking of using paper bags from the grocery store, to see how they worked. Actually, I want to try out so many different papers and combinations of papers. This feels like such an adventure. But I stopped here, as I actually have to do other things in my life.
My final decision about these books is still not made…what to use to keep them closed? I have many ribbons, but they all seem to slick. For now, I have them secured with this pale lavender ribbon that is water stained in a way that seems to go with the wrappers, but I’m not convinced it’s perfect. In any case, enough of this for now. I’ll be turning my attention back to the final bits of construction soon. The big tray part of the Zhen Xian Bao is what’s up next. And it’s awesome.
September 16, 2016
There’s a hidden box layer in the Zhen Xian Bao.
It can be thought of as the third layer of this structure, but that can be a bit misleading, as there can be numerous layers of the masu-type box above it.
Many of the directions I’ve seen for this layer include templates so that you can make simple cuts and folds then do some gluing to create the box. I have nothing against templates (well maybe I do…) but the fact is that the template makes a box that is not nearly as elegant as this origami folded box.
However, if the maker is using paper which is like those made in workshops in the Shiqiao Village, then using a template might make more sense, as it appears to me that using a hardy paper with the origami method would make an overly bulky box. In any case, whatever method you use is your decision. That’s what’s so awesome about the Zhen Xian Bao: there are lots of personal decisions to make.
At the end of the post there’s a video on how to make this box. There’s some key points that I want to emphasize here. The first is that this box is made from a square. If you want the rectangular tray to fit exactly under the boxes above it, which is what seems to be typical, then you must start by first making the boxes of second layer . The width of three of these boxes will be the side measurement for the square. Measuring by using the actual boxes is the only way to go, as different weight papers used for the masu boxes will yield different slightly different measurements. There is no purely numeric way to do this. You need to measure using the actual boxes.
Once you have the correctly sized square, the next step is to fold the square into thirds. Not halves, which is easy, but thirds, which is tricky.
Maybe not so tricky, though. After all, your masu box should be right there with you, and the width of the box is a third of the square, so just line up these boxes on the edge of the paper and fold the far edge to them.
Then fold the other edge to the fold you just made and the paper is folded into three equal sections. Yah!
The two outer thirds will be folded in half again…and this is the last of the pictures of the process. The video at the end of this post to show how to make this, from beginning to end. If I make a one-page tutorial on this, it will eventually show up in my blog.
Here’s that box, with another next to it, hidden under two masu boxes.
Lifting up the masu boxes reveals the rectangular tray below. You can stack many rectangular boxes for more surprises.
The video of the making of this box: