Zhen Xian Bao

Chinese Thread Book To Go

This past winter I submitted a proposal to the National Museum of Mathematics to present a family workshop at their paper folding MOVES conference this summer. Much to my surprise (and non conveyable delight) they accepted my proposal for hands-on workshop in which people would make a Zhen Xian Bao -Chinese Thread Book- made of three expandable origami boxes, housed in a cover with a ribbon closure.

Much more to my surprise I realized that my workshop time was strictly only 25 minutes.

Finally even much much more to my surprise, the workshop worked out great. Here’s why:

  • I created a highly simplified variation of the thread book
  • I made packets so no time was lost handing out materials
  • I included written instructions so people could work independently
  • I made designs on the paper that would help guide the folding
  • I made a video of how to finish at home
  • I relaxed and had fun

Now here’s the shocking part. Everyone finished their project.

Full disclosure, since this was the very last workshop of the day, we were able to run a little over time. But just a little.

Making a video of how to make this structure was key for me to create an good event. When I realized that I could give people a link that they could reference at home everything seemed doable, and we had a great time with no pressure!

This was a family workshop, though most people were solo. I did have three kids in the room, and they were all very good about helping their parents.

So, yes a good time was had by all. As usual, I completely overprepared (something I do when I am nervous) (which, actually, is always) and the good new is I actually HAVE LEFTOVER PACKETS! that already has a video that goes along with them. I AM SELLING THESE ON ETSY.

The packets includes the paper for the boxes, directions, a cover piece that is prepared with slits for the ribbon and double-sided adhesive tape already applies, ribbon, and a link to the video (which will also appear on my Etsy site). Also I’ll be giving you a few paper strips which you can use to decorate the cover.

The finished, closed thread book is about the size of a large cell phone: 6″x 3″.

Here’s the video that shows you how to make this structure:

Here’s the link to buy the kit on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/listing/727815499/packet-to-make-a-three-section-chinese

It’s $15, which includes shipping in USA.

Addendum: The kits sold like hot cakes…they are now no longer available. Grateful to all who bought them!

Book Art · Zhen Xian Bao

Covering the Zhen Xian Bao, Chinese Thread Book

Zhen Xian Bao, derivative
Zhen Xian Bao, derivative

A few days ago I saw a message asking me about putting covers on Chinese Thread Books.  I’ve written lots about assembling this structure, but haven’t much mentioned its covering.  I’m scheduled to teach a 2-day class in the Zhen Xian Bao at The Center for Book Arts in NYC in about 10 days. so this was a good time to get a question about the covers.

There’s many ways of treating the outer layer of Chinese Thread Book, as many ways as you can think of. That’s what I love about this structure: there are no set rules, just variation after variation. Here are some of the ways I have dealt with covers.

In the photo above I’ve used Asahi bookcloth, which I purchased at talasonline.com.  I’ve glued two wrong sides together with straight PVA (white glue), and glue the boxes on to the cloth with straight PVA. If I had a bit of wheatpaste made I might of added small bit it to the PVA just to the adhesive easier to work with, but that didn’t happen this time.

Upcycled Leather Cover

An easy cover material to use to leather. Occasionally I will come across some leather scraps which I just cut to size and glue to the bottom layer of the Zhen Xian Bao. I nearly always use either double sided tape or PVA, or combination of the two.

Handmade Paper Cover
Handmade Paper Cover

Here’s one that, technically, can be said to have no cover. What’s going on here is that I made the bottom big box layer out of a really sturdy handmade paper, then called it a day. No extra piece needed.

More Handmade Paper Covers
More Handmade Paper Covers

Here are some decorative handmade papers that I’ve had around for years, I wish I could tell you something more about them. They made great boxes, and they are beautiful enough to double as covers tood, like with the former photo.

Bookcloth and Endsheet covers
Bookcloth and Endsheet covers

The covers of these two thread books are made from bookcloth, but, I’ve lined the inside of the cover with decorative paper, sort of like a case binding with endpapers. It’s great having some bookbinding skills as it lets me think about all sorts of possibilities.

Old Levi's upcycled
Old Levi’s upcycled

One of my favorite materials to use for covering thread books is my husband’s old dungarees. I can generally find a decent enough piece to use. Looks like I re enforced the edges of this one with a running stitch, and used the seam of the pants to use as a tie around the book.

Wallpaper Cover
Wallpaper Cover

I have many wallpaper sample books around here. When I want to make a thread book to carry around to  use as a workhorse for storing supplies while I am travelling, I will use paper from my wallpaper sample books for both the inside and outside of the zhen xian bao.  The samples that I have have a vinyl-like feel to them, which make them really sturdy.

Wallpaper inside
Wallpaper inside

Here’s the inside of that book above. What I love about the wallpaper books is that there are so many wild designs to play around with. I probably used white glue to keep this all together. Maybe some double-sided tape too.

Paper and Wallpaper
Paper and Wallpaper

Sometimes I want a really simple cover. The one one the left is a prototype for short class in which I will be taking every possible short cut. The insides are made with paper, and I will likely use glue sticks to hold things together. The thread book that is laying down is another wallpaper book.

Here’s a video, shows a few more books, and the inside of most.



Zhen Xian Bao

Chinese Thread Book Workshop, so how did it go?


Running workshops is absolutely one of my favorite things, And this workshop was a good as it gets.

Two 6 hour days worked out well.

My own big takeaways:

Group folding
Group folding

Although people had their own desk area to work at, I began the day with all of us at a group table, without much personal workspace. We did most of our paper folding in these close quarters, as I think we all enjoyed the close proximity of each other. This made it easier for everyone to help each other, and for me to keep an eye on everyone. We’d spread out at different times, and people would go back to their more spacious desk area now and then for various reasons. I really liked how this worked out.

variation of the twist top box
Alan’s variations of the twist top box


Only two of the eight participants wanted to do learn the flower top box, and I wasn’t entirely surprised by this. What did surprise me is that, after showing one person a variation on the design  for twist-top box, numerous people got excited about these variations and tried them out. I’ve played around with these variations (which includes making folds and cuts and the upper edge of the box so that, when the sides rotate down, a surprising patterned is revealed) but I hadn’t tried out these variations using my patterned papers. I was outrageous pleased with how these turned out.

mix and match
mix and match

People seemed to love the patterns on the papers, which were designed specifically to work with the paperfolding that we were doing. The great things about these papers, for me, was that to make the patterns line up just right the paper folding had to be precise. If alignment was off, it was easy to see and easy to fix. It was like the designs were a sentient helper.

Pam's choices
Pam’s choices

People mixed and matched the papers in all sorts of surprising ways that wouldn’t have occured to me. This was so much fun to see. Makes me want to design more papers.

Glue with squeeze bottles, Pat's boxes
Glue with squeeze bottles, Pat’s boxes

I felt like I was making a radical decision in deciding not to use brushes for glueing. Most of the gluing was done with plastic squeeze bottles filled with Jade/PVA. People usef glue sticks just a bit to just secure down a tab here and there. We used double sided tape to attach the covers. All of this worked out really well. Was happy not to have brushes and bowls of glue around.

Mary Anne's pieces
Mary Anne’s pieces

One regret: I didn’t take enough photos. Also, I wish there had been enough time for us to stop and look at what each other did, as a group. I think two of the participants didn’t finish 100% with putting on their covers, though I know that they can do it on their own. I just like to be there when it all comes together just right at the end.

Yeah, I think I need to do some more paper designs. Really love these, but want something new to look at.

Related Posts:

This link https://bookzoompa.wordpress.com/category/how-to-construct-zhen-xian-bao/ will take you to four different posts, each of which have a video tutorial near the end of each post, which shows how to make the various parts of the Zhen Xian Bao

Addendum 9/29/2018: Nancy Akerlyi recently taught a Chinese Thread Book.  Take a look at the gorgeous work done by her and by her students at http://www.libertygrovepaperarts.com/chinese-thread-books.html




Zhen Xian Bao

Zhen Xian Bao Workshop Prep

Assembling and Weighting pieces for a Chinese Thread Book
Assembling and Weighting pieces for a Chinese Thread Book, or Ironing out the Details

Here’s a look at my prep for a two-day workshop teaching the construction of the Chinese Thread Book.

The last time I taught this workshop, in the bindery at the Met, the participants brought in papers from their own collection (many of which they had decorated themselves) or used pieces from the bindery’s ample collection of decorative papers. This time around I am bringing papers to supplement what people might bring. What I’ve done is created designs for papers that fit the boxes that we’ll be making. What this means is the design on the papers will actually guide many of the folds.

Papers for Zhen Xian Bao, Chinese Thread book
Papers for Zhen Xian Bao, Chinese Thread book

I’m also printing the designs on to the paper in such a way that they can be cut out without doing any measuring.

Pieces for the Chinese Thread book, Designed, folded, and fitting together together
Pieces for the Chinese Thread book, Designed, folded, and fitting together

There are too many variations of the Chinese Thread Book that can be readily consumed in two days of teaching, but I want to be able to offer more to the people who may want more. I know that there will be at least one person in the class who has already been folding this structure, so I want to be able to teach, as an extra, the flower top box to anyone who want to learn it.

Flower top origami box for Chinese Thread Book
Flower top origami box for Chinese Thread Book

This flower top box is extraordinarily lovely.  I could write a whole post about it, but that would be silly because Cathryn Miller has already written the most wonderful post I can imagine about it. She provides links, her own set of hand drawn instructions, and lots of photos: Cathryn Millers post on Flower Top Box. 

Since Cathryn wrote the post, what I can add to the conversation is the video:


Through a stroke of great luck, I had a having the perfect visitor this past weekend who was able to test drive this video tutorial for me.

Whose hands are these? To be revealed...
Whose hands are these? To be revealed…

For my own future reference, here’s the list that I sent for the participants:

bone folder
Cutting tools:
     large scissors
     small scissors
     cutting blade, such as utility knife or exacto
     personal cutting mat (this is totally optional!!!)
Weight (about 5 lbs, can be a heavy book)
Glue stick (totally optional…we may not even use these, but they can be nice to have around)
Double sided tape (but only if you have some, as, again,  we may not use it)
IF people have papers they want to use, bring them, but I will have enough paper for people to use,
Now, here’s the paper I’m bringing with me, fresh off the press, printed on Strathmore 25% cotton writing paper,
Papers for Chines Thread Book
Papers for Chines Thread Book

My own list of what to bring:

PVA in squeeze bottles, double sided tape, papers, scissors, rotary trimmers, cutting mats, wax paper, weights, measurement paper for marking thirds, pencil, pamphlet making supplies, bone folder,velcro, utility knife, rulers, Ruth Smith’s books, and Zhen Xian Bao models.

Sampler for Chinese Thread book
Sampler for Chinese Thread book

That’s about it.

Many thanks to my helper this weekend: The marvelous Susan Joy Share!

Paula Beardell Krieg and Susan Joy Share, at play
Paula Beardell Krieg and Susan Joy Share, at play

The lovely flowers here came along with Ed Hutchins and Steve Warren, but the fellows left before we thought of taking a photo, so the flowers are their stand in.

Now, time to finish packing.