How-to · Workshops · Zhen Xian Bao

Different Ways of Teaching Zhen Xian Bao

Trying out arrangements of boxes and patterns

Recently finished up teaching a 12 session 12-week zoom class called Zhen Xian Bao and Beyond, which I co-taught with Susan Joy Share for Center for Book Arts. Had the best time ever. Not only did the class go really well, but I had the opportunity to continue to evolve my teaching in this new zoom world.

Here are some thoughts.

Doing a series of two-hour classes weekly can be pretty intense, but the pay off is that people have time between classes to sift through what we covered and work on it at their own pace, which is exactly what happened. Everyone in the class, and I do mean everyone, evolved creatively and made incredibly interesting work. I won’t be showcasing the work from this class in my blog, as I am hoping that there will be some kind of on-line exhibition of this work, and I don’t want to jump in front of that possibility,

Instead, I will share with you part of what inspired the trajectory of the class, some of what I taught, and some of what I learned.

A page from Ruth Smith’s book, A Little Know Chinese Folk Art Zhen Xian Bao

Ruth Smith’s book on the Zhen Xian Bao inspired the class. The most commonly taught construction from this book shows four twist boxes on top of four masu boxes, hiding two rectangular trays, with a large tray underlying everything. We began the class learning how to make the parts of this lovely, elegant form, but right from the start we let students know that there are many more ways of making these Chinese thread books. As soon as we had become familiar with this foundational way of working, we got creative. It took about half the sessions to get through the basics, but after that, the sky was the limit.

A page from Ruth Smith’s book, A Little Know Chinese Folk Art Zhen Xian Bao

We explored all sorts of arrangement of boxes, sewed books into the covers, created different kinds of enclosures, explored a wide range of closures, scaled our creations to be all sorts of sizes, and more. First we drew inspiration from the myriad constructions in Ruth Smith’s book, then we drew inspiration from each other.

Another page from Ruth Smith’s book, A Little Know Chinese Folk Art Zhen Xian Bao

Due to the fact that the class happened over a three month period, I was able to respond to people’s particular interests. For instance, people wanted to learn a very beautiful closure that was designed by Hedi Kyle. I knew we didn’t really have time to learn this in one of our sessions, so I made a video, which people watched on their own.

Here’s a video of that closure

Co-teaching was full of surprises. First, I had no idea it would be so fun to co-teach. Since it was Susan Share that I was teaching with, I knew I would learn a great deal. What I didn’t realize was how working with her would deepen my understanding of things I already knew. Experiencing how Susan approached the material we both understood gave me a world of new insights. Also, since there was another instructor who was thinking about the next class, it gave me the freedom to create new content between classes that supported what was taught in the last class.

For instance, even though I taught an enclosure that we called a clutch, referencing chic small handbags, I refined my design after teaching it. Eventually I made an instructional video of this too, which you can view here:

Last thing I want to write about right are some thoughts about one-line teaching.

First, I broke with protocol concerning muting students. I asked everyone to keep the microphones on, unless they had a reason to turn it off. I found this way of working on zoom to be extremely valuable, as it allowed instant feedback. If I was drifting off camera, going too fast, hiding my work with my hands, people felt free to say something right away. If someone had a question at a critical point, they knew they could ask. I could hear people’s reactions when they saw something they really liked.

Now here’s something else that on-line teaching facilitated: by setting up a google slides page people were able to share their work, and see what others were doing. I believe this expanded their learning exponentially. It’s one thing to see me showing my models, but when they see the range of work that comes from each other, so so so many more possibilities open up. At this early stage of learning, having students see each other’s work was like giving plants copious amounts of sunlight, water, and rich soil just as they are beginning to grow. Susan and I had much to offer, but what students offered each other was really quite extraordinary.

That’s it for now. I hope that the next time I write about this particular class it will be about telling you where you can view the work of the fabulous artists who took the time to work with Susan and I through Zhen Xian Bao and Beyond,


Folding, Teaching, Zooming

Fascinated by Folding: maybe that’s what I should called the next set of classes I’ll be teaching at Center for Book Arts, via zoom, over 4 weeks starting afternoons at the end of April or for 4 weeks in the evenings starting in the beginning of May.

Alas, these classes are called Flat Foldable Pleats, and Edge Release Explorations. I don’t think anyone will even know what that means. I’m hoping that the picture will sell the class,

I’ve been taking this deep dive into pleating and edge-release folds, which is a whole different thing than symmetrical pop-ups, which I also love. After playing with unusual foldings, like miura folds, and examining Paul Jackson’s books for years, I started playing around with the idea of teaching these lesser known structures.

My last couple of submissions to the Bridges Organizations Math Art shows, like the piece above, have reflected my interest these pleated folds.

They are fun, challenging, and always surprising. Some of the folds, like the hexagon bellows there with the compass leaning against it, are a bear to fold.

Duck and Fold

Other folds, like simple one above, in which an edges of the paper are released by cuts from the folds they might have been bound to, create gorgeous architectural effects, which become even more delightful with some thoughtful photography.

In fact, many mornings this past winter I would get up to do early morning folding just so that I could photograph the constructions in the early morning sunlight. It was a satisfying way to start the day, especially during those stressful days from early November until mid January.

Another thing I’d like to mention is that it appears that I’m getting the hang of teaching on zoom. I feel like I’m figuring out how to create the feeling of connection that I like so much about in person teaching. One big discovery for me is that it’s great to ask people to unmute themselves for our whole class. Don’t know why more people don’t do this. This leaves the way open for people to interject comments, ask questions at critical moments, and lets me know if my pace needs to be adjusted.

I’m finding, too, that some people who take workshops have figured out how to adjust their cameras so that I can see them AND their workspace. Seeing people’s work and as well as their expressions as they work is such a pleasure.

A year ago I had no idea that I’d be able to do this kind of teaching from a little production studio in my home that I could not have even imagined being there. The twists and turns of life never cease to surprise me.

exposed sewing

Soft Coptic with Closure

When my children were little, sewing exposed link stitch books, which some people call Coptic binding and some people call exposed link stitch. was one of my go-tos to keep my hands in the creating mode: I made them for my children’s drawing books and scrapbooks; my friends and sisters’ children received them as presents; they were made for pressing flowers, to keep next to the phone for writing notes, and for small photo albums. I made big ones, tiny ones, used bookbinder’s thread, shoelaces, cord. Right here where I sit, I could easily grap about a dozen of books stitched this way. What made this sort of bookmaking so attractive to me during that time was that, being able to work only in random moments, it was something I could pick up and put down easily.

So why did I sign up for a class, taught by Ali Manning, who runs the facebook group called Crafting Handmade Books with Vintage Page Designs to make a journal bound with a “Coptic stitch”? Well, not only did it appeal to me to make a journal along with hundreds of Ali’s followers, but I was curious about how she would teach this form.

I was delighted to follow along.

Ali showed the multiple needle version of this sewing pattern, which happens to be the version I like. I chose to go with 8 needles, because it’s the sewing of this book that I enjoy the most: the more sewing stations I have, the more I get to sew.

I was especially delighted by two things: one which was a variation in Ali’s instruction, the other was what this variation suggested to me.

First, Ali’s variation.

I have always made my books from bookboard, or a stiff paper., both of which I would attach by stabbing through a hole about 3/8″ away from the edge of the board. For each cover, Ali had us cover a thick piece of paper -the size of the signature papers -with decorative paper, fold it in half, then sew through the fold just like it was a signature. I enjoyed this method.

I poked around a bit, wondering if this way of attaching covers has been around. Artist Susan Joy Share provided me with this stunning article, noting that “this form has a history – over 1000 years old and was adapted and made popular by Gary Frost.” Sometimes I feel like I have lived under a rock for so many years….at least 1000, I guess.

I sewed my book, but there was more.

Ali suggested a closure, and showed some fine examples. I generally haven’t put closures on my book, but since the foredge of my book was flush with the edge of the cover, seemed like a closure would be a good idea. Besides, I wanted to follow through on staying within the steps of the book hive. Ali made a few suggestions, but it took me awhile to image what I would like best.

The solution I came up with for the closure is the real reason I am writing this post. To further stiffen the cover, Ali recommended gluing in a piece of paper that is sandwiched between the folded sides of each cover. What I did was to extend this piece beyond the foredge, long enough so that it would extend beyond the width of the book block, and what’s more,….

….would extend further still so that it could slip into a pocket that I could create between the folds of the front cover pieces.

I glued down paper to fill in around the area that I left for the pocket.

When I glued the folded sides of the front cover together, I left a space for the enveloping closure to slide into. When the closure was activated, my book felt like a complete little package

I felt quite clever, but not for long.

What happened next is that I lost the book.

Can you guess why my book seemed to disappear?

My lovely black closure made my book turn into a black hole. Back to the drawing board.

Hilke Kurzke to the rescue. I had bought her book, Six Ways to Make Coptic Headbands, which she now has available as a digital download quite a few years ago. I looked through this book and decided to give my closure a simple coptic headband. First I practiced quite a bit, then punched some holes on the “spine” of my black closure flap, and did some sewing.

Not only did I like the look of the sewing, but I like how it created a relationship between the spine and the foredge of the book.

Here it is, up close.

Am feeling quite sure it will not be lost again.

All in all, quite a satisfying book making adventure.

cut paper

Cutting Curves by Cutting Straight

One of my favorite lesson with kids is talking to them about how to cut curvy lines.

One of the main reasons I teach this is so that first graders can cut a tracing of their hands to put into books that we make. Ever notice how much a child’s hand grows between first grade and second grade? This offers a student a record of this growth.

Not having a child handy at the moment, I’m making these random shapes.

The secret to cutting beautiful, sinuous curves is to cut in a straight line, moving the paper, not the scissors.

In the video demonstration below, I liken this to driving a car or riding a bicycle: all those curves and turns, but you stay looking straight ahead, turning the wheel, not your body.

This is a short post, to get myself back to posting, which I have missed. Hard to believe, that, now, during pandemic isolation, I am busier than ever, but I am! Still, I don’t want to stray too long from this space, which I love.

Short and sweet video below