geometry and paperfolding · Zhen Xian Bao

Zhen Xian Bao, Post #five-and-a-half

Zhen Xian Bzo in progress
Zhen Xian Bzo in progress

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.

img_0513Before 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.

img_0537My 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.

Click on this picture to see the pattern on the paper up close. It’s worth the look

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.

img_0528At each step, shapes and patterns emerged. I would have to just pause and look at everything over and over again. This is no way to work if you want to get something finished.

img_0547Even the pieces that I was cutting away to discard caught my attention. It was a bit ridiculous.

img_0555I also got to use this nearly sheer blue, fiber filled Japanese paper that I had stored in my flat files for many year. I love flat files.

img_0554It felt painful to attach the boxes together in the proper way. I wanted to be able to look at all pieces of the thread book at once.

img_0541I took way too many pictures.


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.

img_0602As 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.

img_0605My 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.

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