Zhen Xian Bao · Zoom Workshop

Notes from Beyond

Getting loose with folds, using notebook paper

Susan Share and I are entering week 9 of our 12 weeks of the Zhen Xian Bao and Beyond classes that we are teaching through the Center for Book Arts. It’s pretty extraordinary to watch people develop over the weeks.

Playing around with patterns, parts and attachments

Susan and I have begun most classes by spending a bit of time showing a selection of historical Zhen Xian Baos. The people in our classes seem to have fully embraced the idea that Cathryn Miller expressed so well in the comment section of her first post about the Zhen Xian Bao, which is “there are almost as many variations as there are books!” After our students learn the basics parts of the structure during instructional time, they learn how to size the components to work together, then they experiment with their own creations. What people make retains the conceptual armature of the traditional thread books but are still decidedly unique . We specifically teach how to be flexible and innovate with the elements of the Zhen Xian Bao, which is why the word “beyond” is part of the title for this class.

Zhen Xian Bao with Beads

I have to say that co-teaching this class with Susan Share has been just brilliant. Some days I learn as much as any other person in the class. Even though we worked together many times before, we have our own styles of doing things, and noticing things. Susan sees and works out details that raise the bar in everything we do. She is also like royalty when it comes to thinking about closures. For instance, in the Zhen Xian Bao variation above, she just naturally suggested using the cord from the sewn pamphlet to extend around the folder to hold it closed (see below, left). She is also giving us some insights into Nag Hammadi closures, magnetic closures, crocheted closures, and there’s more to come.

There are so many avenues of inspiration to follow as I take cues from people in the class. For instance, a woman who I will refer to as Sarah B pointed Susan and me to a video of an historical structure, from Yunnan, SW China, which Susan and I went absolutely gaga over. We call it the Sarah B ZXB. After watching the video about 30 times, both Susan and I made our own copies of the structure, and now some of people in our classes are making their own models too.

I have taken to making most of my new pieces in miniature.

Here’s an unadorned model of Sarah B’s ZXB which is only about 4 inches high. What I love so much about it, besides everything, is how accordions are paired with standard Zhen Xian Bao boxes, and how the accordion fold-ins can open up to make a new box.

Here’s another structure I made that shows the influence of Susan, who has gotten me to print designs on my papers from various sources. Also, Jo, a person in the class, has gotten me to think about embellishments in a different way, and another student, Rosemary, who considered using a pocketed side of some folds to add little pamphlets, inspired me to use those hidden pockets for my own little pamphlets.

Zhen Xian Bao with hidden pamphlets

One of the challenges of doing zoom classes is creating a space where people can inspire each other. When we are learning, there is no reason to have all the learning be top down, from instructor to participants, which is especially true when the rest of the people in the zoom are interesting and talented people. Even though class time is for teaching, we inspire and influence each other by posting examples of work on the class page for all to see. Susan and I have also facilitated a “playdate” page where people can post zoom links for times outside of class to gather, fold and talk. It’s simply outrageously wonderful to see people gather outside of class to further develop their work.

Only a few more weeks left to this class. Can’t believe the time is going so fast.

Here are a couple of Instagram treasures, posted by a couple of people in the class. Enjoy!

Zhen Xian Bao · Zoom Workshop

Why teach 12-weeks of Zhen Xian Bao?

Zhen Xian Bao by Paula Krieg
Zhen Xian Bao by me, Paula Krieg

Two hearty zoom sections of Zhen Xian Bao and Beyond classes begin in mid-February, hosted by the Center for Book Arts. The class is taught, not by one, but two instructors, Susan Joy Share and me, This is no weekend workshop. It goes on for 12 weeks. Why only twelve weeks is the question that is really the appropriate one.

A chatty, curious, fearless woman from Alaska, Sue Cole, who followed my blog set me out on the exploration of Zhen Xian Bao back in 2014, when there was nearly nothing on the internet about the form. The little bits I could discover about it were deeply captivating. It’s elegance and versatility were both compelling and mysterious.

The Zhen Xian Bao with Dan Anderson’s mathematical designs adorning my papers

As the Zhen Xian Bao, aka Chinese Thread Book ( a confusing nickname, as the structure is generally made without the use of thread) started showing up on-line as people began to teach it. I noticed that something began to get lost. The elegance of the structure continued to shine through, but the versatility of the construction seemed to be falling by the wayside.

Little boxes of the Zhen Xian Bao

Here’s what I want to spread about this structure: it’s not one thing. Ruth Smith’s book, which documents her travels through China, searching out Zhen Xian Bao, shows one variation after another of the form. Although it’s not obvious how to scale and rearrange elements of the Zhen Xian Bao, it’s been done over and over again in different Chinese provinces. This is what Susan Share and I are all about, the creativity in the form’s construction.

Three Hidden Boxes version of Zhen Xian Bao
Three Hidden Boxes version of Zhen Xian Bao, Paula Krieg

There is more than one way, more than three ways, more than a hundred ways, to make a Chinese Thread Book. What Susan and I do in this class is teach the basic elements of the the traditional form, teach the traditional methods that are suited to the handmade papers that were originally used, and teach methods that are more suited to the papers that are available to us through manufacturing. Then we teach how to generalize the measurement of the different elements of the Zhen Xian Bao, so that the maker can work out how to make their own piece in any way they want. We see the Zhen Xian Bao as an organic form, that, with thoughtfulness, and skill, becomes a reflection of the intention of the maker.

Hidden boxes for the math artist
Hidden boxes for the math artist, Paula Krieg

This is no small order, to shepherd a group through technical prowess as well as creative thinking, which is why co-instructing this class makes so much sense. I’m not going to try to explain this exactly, hoping that expressing that two priorities happen at once is explanation enough.

Now here’s a lovely nugget: My dear friend and co-instructor, Susan Share, and I have a long history together, starting when be both lived in New York City. Susan has lived in Alaska for many years now, and I am in rural Upstate NY, worlds away. The fact that we can now teach together via zoom is extraordinary enough, but it gets better. Turns out that people who made books with Sue Cole, the woman who started me on this journey, have come to know Susan Share, and some of these people will be in our class. I imagine Sue Cole will be with us in spirit. What a strange wonderful world.

Small Hands at Work
This is my daughter many years ago. Seems to fit tone of this post, of working both intentionally and creatively, even though the workshop I’m currently teaching is for adults.

If you feel inclined to join Susan and I on this adventure, there are still a few spots left in the 1pm EST Zhen Xian Bao and Beyond class. Am particularly hoping that this time might be good for some more European admirers of this form.

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,

Zhen Xian Bao

Giving Big Thanks with a Little Zhen Xian Bao

OMG, just received this surprise gift in the mail. How did Mollie MacRae know that I was just now looking around for a new book to get into.

I know a little something about this book, something Molly contacted me about a few month ago. Part of the plot line includes a Zhen Xian Bao, aka Chinese thread book. I look forward to getting to that part, but in the meantime I’ve figured out how to thank Molly. She’ll be getting a wee thread book, which is just the right size.

If you are wondering what is “just the right size” well, just the right size to carry around these miniature cards of book covers of her previously published books. I used these cards to determine that I needed a 6″ x 6″ square to make the rectangular tray. Notice the names of her books: they all reference fiber, so OF COURSE I had to make Molly a thread book.

I used a wash of pink ink then splashes of other ink for the pink paper. The blue/purple paper is one of my paste paper.
I used a wash of pink ink then splashes of other ink for the pink paper. The blue/purple paper is one of my paste paper.

My plan is to make a folder that includes one tray and also one pocket. The pocket and wrapper will be one in the same piece.

I cut a piece of my paste paper to be long enough so that there is an overhanging flap that helps make a nice closure.

Here it is, finished, with one of her little cards tucked into the pocket. You can be sure that I will be taking that card out and keeping it for myself before the I head to the mailbox.

Here it is, ready to go,

Ok, now I get to sit down and read….:)