Book Art · Box · Paper Toy

Four Squares, Each Folded like an 8-cut Pizza

Here’s something that can only be described as playful.

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It’s four squares, which have been folded into eights, like an 8-cut pizza. I made this as a sample book when I was teaching the Book Arts at Bancroft series of classes at the Bancroft Library here in Salem.  I would teach eight classes in the fall and eight more classes in the spring, to groups of 3rd and 4th graders. I did this for ten years. It was a really great program, funded by New York State Council on the Art Decentralization Program.  No one was in charge of me so I did whatever projects I felt like doing with these kids. This was when my own children were as young as they come, so this book arts program kept me thinking about the arts at time when I would have otherwise been thinking only about laundry, meals and bedtime.
img_20161205_161718.jpgThis way of folding squares and then just connecting them together is an idea I came across during a day that I passed at the Patents Office in NYC long ago, before the internet. I’d go up there now and then,  into this great cavernous room on the west side of Manhattan and just looked through cool stuff. I’m pretty sure that this way of folding was in a folding toy section, patented by a woman from Israel. There were some great drawings with the patent (which I copied and probably still have).

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When I did this with kids during my book arts workshop I was aware of one big obstacle: There are 64 distinct areas to decorate. Since the charm of this structure is finding all sorts of different configurations to display it in, it seemed to me that the patterns should be varied on each facet. But, 64? That’s a lot of designs. I had the kids for 90 minutes. Could they fill the papers? How could I facilitate this?

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We spent the first 25 minutes making the structure. 65 minutes left. 64 areas to fill.

img_20161205_161655.jpgWhat I did was prepare 64 notecards, each with a different design. The children sat in a big circle, each with a  marking tool. Each note card had a different design suggestion on it. Kids were not bound by my suggestions, but they would have only about a minute to decorate one of the triangular areas, then they would pass their marker and note card to the person to their left and receive a new suggestion and marker.img_20161205_161641.jpg

I’m usually not so regimented with my classes, timing things in short intervals and making commands, but this time it was great fun.

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So, got that? Four squares folded pizza-style and linked together and decorated. Then filled with designs.

Addendum April 1, 2020:

Here’s a link to the patent for this structure, invented by Iris Sarid from Jerusalem. http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-bool.html&r=13&f=G&l=50&co1=AND&d=PTXT&s1=3,962,816&OS=3,962,816&RS=3,962,816

Be sure to click on the image tab at the bottom of the patent link if you are still unclear about how this structure is constructed.

I’m happy to say I still have my paper copy of this patent, which I printed up at the NYC patent office about 30 years ago.

Box

Inside a Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao post #7

Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins
Detail of a painted Twist Box from a Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins

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.

Front of Zhen Xian Bao, from the Collection of Ed Hutchins
Front of Zhen Xian Bao, from the Collection of Ed Hutchins

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!”

Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins
First Opening, Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins

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.

Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins
Two kinds of origami on the top layer of the Zhen Xian Bao (grey strip of paper has been placed in the open box on the right, to hold it open for the photo)

Here’s a variation of boxes on the top layer that I hadn’t seen in all of my perusing: this Zhen Xian Bao features both twist box, and a masu-type box on the top layer, in an alternating pattern.

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Looking under the flap of the square boxes with the star on top readily reveals that this box is an embellished masu box.

Edge of Masu-type box
Edge of Masu-type 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.

Second Layer, rectangular domino proportions, under each set of twist box and masu box Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins
Second Layer, which are boxes (or trays?) that have rectangular domino proportions; Gray paper strips placed in the boxes to hold them open for photo-op

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.

not origami
not origami

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, from Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins
Next layer down, from Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins

Next layer down! Here, each set of four top boxes pull away from each other. Now the count is up to 28 boxes.

Next layer, tray under eight boxesChinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins
Next layer, tray under eight boxes Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins

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.

The Big Box of the Zhen Xian Bao
The Big Box of the Zhen Xian Bao

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.

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Look, at the head of the box there’s an indigo pattern on material that is underneath the red cover paper.

img_0535There 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?

Decoration on a twist box of the Zhen Xian Bao,
Decoration on a twist box of the Zhen Xian Bao,

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.

Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins
Back cover

That’s it. Now I better get this book of boxes back to Ed before I get too used to having it here.

Addendum:

Here’s a map of China from Ruth Smith‘s book  Zhen Xian Bao: a Little Known Chinese Folk Art. I am impressed by how few places these zhen xian bao have been found.

Box · how to construct Zhen Xian Bao · origami · Zhen Xian Bao

Zhen Xian Bao, Post #6, the Big Box

Chinese Thread Book
Chinese Thread Book

This post is the continuation of examining the parts of the Chinese Thread Book, the Zhen Xian Bao.  Each level of expandable parts has its own characteristics. I’m going to be writing about what I call the Big Box, which is the most interior layer of the book.

On my Zhen Xian Bao Pinterest board you can see other ways people have chosen to make this layer box. Mostly what I’ve seen has not set right with me because the big box layer seems too deep. There’s no reason for this interior box to have so much volume, as it can only store a limited amount of flattish items.

Also, from what I’ve seen, the larger boxes are generally made from templates that aren’t particularly elegant. This does seem to be echoing the traditional way of making this structure, but I think something’s been lost in translation. In any case, what intrigues me most about the Zhen Xian Bao is that, at its basic level, the structure seems to ask the maker to modify each decision about the making, according to the whims of the maker and the materials that are being used.

Using thin papers to make the Zhen Xian Bao
Using thin papers to make the Zhen Xian Bao

I like using thin, strong papers to make the Chinese Thread book, but there are reasons to use a heavier paper,and heavier papers seem to beg a different way of working.  Most of the images in this post show heavier paper, which are paste papers done by my friend Julie. Julie gifted me many wonderful studio supplies when she moved out of state, so I wanted to make a Zhen Xian Bao for her, using some papers decorated by her own hand. However, the tutorial video below shows the big box layer using more lightweight papers, like the ones I used in my previous post.

What I will be doing here in the written part of this post is highlighting the generalized measurements for starting the big box, then I’ll show how I’ve made some workflow modifications, which are not in the video,  but which will accommodate  heavier paper.

length measurement for big box
length measurement for big box

Okay, I just have to say that I absolutely loved figuring out how to determine the dimensions for the size of paper that for the big box. It took many sessions of trial and error, and I knew that I was searching for an elegant, self-referencing set of measurements, but it kept eluding me. When I discovered the secret it seemed so obvious, like why didn’t I see that immediately. So satisfying. What’s going on here is that I will be making the big box layer in the same was as the hidden box layer, with one major difference: instead of starting with a square, I start with a rectangle.

The width of the rectangle is measured by marking four widths of the hidden layer box, PLUS enough to create a middle space so that the book closes, plus a little more.  You can see that space in the top photo. For the thinner papers I’m finding that 1 1/4″ extra works fine. For the thicker papers, I tacked on 1 1/2″ but the idea is to figure out how thick your book is going to be, then use this measurement plus about another 1/4″. The measurement you come up with  depends entirely on what you’ve determined the depth of your finished book will be.

Height of the paper for the big box
Height of the paper for the big box

The height of the paper for the big box is more straight forward. Take your hidden layer box and expand  it from the top and bottom. This height, plus an extra 1/4″, will be the height of the rectangle. Now construct the box according steps in the above video, then unfold everything because we need to cut away some bulk from the folded corners.

Big box, in progress, unfolded
Big box, in progress, unfolded

Here’s where I can’t help myself. Time to stop and admire all the beautiful geometry going on here. Snap out of it. Start snipping, but, just in case you missed this inference, this snipping only has to be done with heavier papers. The lightweight papers can stay intact.

Snipping the corners
Snipping the corners

I’ve snipped away the corner triangle, then check out the logic of the rectangle-plus-triangle snip. The fact is, the reason I’m doing it this way doesn’t become clear until it’s time to assemble the box. And it’s one of those things that is totally cumbersome to explain but obvious when you are actually doing it.

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Prepping the Big Box paper

Here’s all four corners cut. I will be refolding this so it looks like I’ve cut nothing away.

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Folding the box together

Again, this part is easier to see while are doing it. Trying to explain in words would be frightening. Note the glue. It won’t go together without glue.

Big Box, done
Big Box, done

Here it is, reassembled. Looks just like the hidden layer box, only wider.  It’s depth echoes the depth of the hidden layer box, which is also the depth the masu box, and the twist box.  A perfect math for a perfect match.

The PiecesI’m going to show the finishing of this book, just because I can. I chose to make the cover from a single piece of Julie’s paper. I cut the size bigger than I wanted the finished cover to be so as to leave room to turn in the edges.

img_0652After tuning in the edges I glue paper over the part of the paper that will show when the book is open.

Finished
Finished

Ta-dah!

 

Box · how to construct Zhen Xian Bao · Zhen Xian Bao

Zhen Xian Bao, Post #5: the hidden tray

Starting with a square that's 3 x 3 masu box widths wide
Starting with a square that’s 3 x 3 masu box widths wide

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.

perfectly-sized-thrid-layer-box-for-zhen-xian-bao
Two masu boxes hiding the rectangular tray underneath

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.

Paper Making Workshop in Shiqiao Village
Paper Making Workshop in Shiqiao Village http://www.chinatourguide.com/guizhou/traditional_paper_making_preserved_in_shiqiao_village.html

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.

Marking a paper strip, 2 masu boxes wide
Marking a paper strip, 2 masu boxes wide

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.

The Square
The Square

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.

Thirds
Folding one-third

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.

Thirds
Thirds

Then fold the other edge to the fold you just made and the paper is folded into three equal sections. Yah!

Sixths
Sixths

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.

img_0430Here’s the finished box.

Hidden
Hidden

Here’s that box, with another next to it, hidden under two masu boxes.

The Reveal
The Reveal

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: