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.








Book Art · Zhen Xian Bao

Workshop at the Met

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

The bookbindery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art takes care of many hidden floors of books. It’s like a secret place, mostly below ground level, under the Watson Library, which is entered through a discreetly placed door not far from the great hall. Many years ago, once a week for three years, I volunteered in the bookbindery. A few days ago I visited the Met to do a full day of PD with the staff of the bindery. They wanted to learn about the Zhen Xian Bao

Jenny's Zhen Xian Bao
Jenny’s Zhen Xian Bao

This was my first time teaching the Zhen Xian Bao, aka Chinese Needle Thread Pack, or Chinese Thread Book to a group. We started at 9:30 sharp, broke for an hour of lunch at noon, and worked straight through 4:30. At the end of the day we were completely saturated, and everyone had made exquisite models. This was dream-team group of artists and binders, in a fully equipped bindery. I can’t imagine another group in any other place who would have accomplished so much in one day.

There was so much that I did not have to do to get ready for this workshop. Most significantly, I did not have to do any paper cutting.

In the Bindery at the MET
In the Bindery at the MET

Everyone either brought in their own papers, or they used papers already in the bindery. After explaining how to determine the paper sizes to create the size book that each person wanted, people cut their own papers to size.


Yukari's paper
Yukari’s paper

Oh the papers that people brought! From orizomegami papers, to paper-backed fabric, to indigo papers with gold flecks, to Dick Blick assorted papers and more. The gorgeous papers kept coming out!

Mindell making a twist box
Mindell making twist boxes

Here’s a five things I learned from this day of teaching: 1) teaching, then making, four twist boxes takes a good bit of time. After making a gazillion of these, it takes me about 5 minutes to make one of these boxes, but it takes making about 1/2 a gazillion for these to get fast at making them. I assured everyone that the other style boxes we’d be making wouldn’t take as long, and in fact they didn’t take as long. The twist box is a tough one to begin with, but it’s the way to begin.

2) We started the day with people working at their own desks, and much had to be done at these solitary work areas, but not everything.

In the bindery
In the bindery

Crowding around a single work table and working together was incredibly efficient and enjoyable, especially as the day wore on.

Working together
Working together

Folding the second and third layers books while jostling for space around the demonstration desk went surprisingly well.

The four twist box version of the Zhen Xian Bao
Doris’s Zhen Xhen Xian Bao

3) I showed in a variety of different constructions of Chinese Thread Books. I’ve noticed that the most common structure that people teach is this one with four twist boxes on top. I thought I’d encourage people to make all sorts of other different decisions with their structures. It became clear very quickly that  it was incredibly satisfying for everyone to make the exact same structure.

Sophia's Gold Flecked Thread book
Sophia’s Gold Flecked Thread book

Trying to get everyone to do different things would have been too confusing for everyone. Everyone was able to help everyone because we were all doing the same things.

Written directions
Written directions

4) People liked having written directions. I’ve only written out directions for the twist box with a pinwheel top, which is in the current issue of Bound & Lettered, and which everyone had, compliments of the journal’s editor John Neal. I think every single desk had the magazine opened to this page all day, even after we were completely finished with the twist box.

Zhen Xian Bao
Mindell’s Bao, with Green with Gold Pinwheel Twist Boxes and Andrijana’s mostly Indigo Zhen Xian Bao

5) I had thought that if we had the time and energy I would show people how to make the boxes with a flower top. All I can say now is ha ha. There was no way we could have done one thing more. As it was, we ended the day before some people put covers on their creations. I didn’t worry too much about this though, after all, these people are bookbinders. They cover things.

Some with covers, some without
Some with covers, some without

Besides absolutely everything and everyone that made this an incredible workshop day, people who teach (like my friend Susan Share) will appreciate this: I didn’t have to cut any paper for prep, I didn’t have to teach this group anything about cutting, gluing, putting things under weight, and – this was a surprise – when I had to ask people to fold a piece of paper into thirds they could that flawlessly, immediately.. Turns out bookbinders at the Met make hollow spine pieces all the time, which are made by folding paper into thirds. No problem!


Miriam's book
Miriam’s book

What a great day. As we walked back out into the world after working all day in the underground, wending our way through the places that remain mostly unseen, we past this most unusual sign:

Underground at the Met
Underground at the Met

Big thanks to Mindell Dubansky for wanting her staff to become familiar with the historical structure called the Zhen Xian Bao, and especially thank you for letting me be the one to show them.














Zhen Xian Bao

Between the lines of the Byline

Bound & Lettered, Volume 15, Number 2, March 2018
Bound & Lettered, Volume 15, Number 2, March 2018

Bound & Lettered, the magnificent journal showcasing calligraphy, artists books, and papercrafts, arrived in my mailbox this week, containing an article that I wrote, spanning six pages long, plus photos on both inside covers. Though it’s my name on the byline, when I look at this article that I am so proud of I also what to shout out loud thanks to the village that helped me out.

I had written to John Neal, the Editor of Bound & Lettered, last spring, with the idea that I wanted to write a short, like maybe a one page article, introducing people to the Zhen Xian Bao, a structure I had become enchanted with during the past year. I had already pretty much finished writing the article by the time I first contacted John. My friend book artist Ed Hutchins had encouraged me, had looked over my first draft, and made excellent suggestions to improve the flow of the article.

Tabellae Ansata, Volume 1, No 4,. Summer 2000
Tabellae Ansata, Volume 1, No 4,. Summer 2000

John Neal wrote back to me about the guidelines of submission, and he also generously provided me with an article about this structure that was written 18 years ago in Tabellae Ansata, the publication that Bound & Lettered has evolved from. Some of what was written in Tabellae Ansata was so surprising that I felt I needed to rewrite my article. It was such a great gift to have received this article, which was written by Gail Rossi.

As I was rewriting the article I also got to work creating new pieces to photograph. I’ve long admired the work that mathematician/teacher/artist Dan Anderson shows on his Open Processing page. I printed some of his images and made them into my version of Chinese thread books, aka Zhen Xian Bao.

Although I sent in many photos, the Zhen Xian Bao made with Dan’s papers was the one that was chosen to fill the whole first page of the article. Yay!

pages 36 and 37 of Bound  Lettered, Volume 15, number 2, March 2018
pages 36 and 37 of Bound Lettered, Volume 15, number 2, March 2018

Other pages had images that featured papers that came to me by way of my friends, Jane Duda and Laurie Cohen, both of whom know how much I like and use beautiful papers. My own stash had begun to run low, so it was a huge boon to me when these two friends separately thought of me when some piles of papers needed a new home.

How to pages for the Chinese Thread Book
How to pages for the Chinese Thread Book

Writing out directions can be tricky, especially if I am super familiar with what I am writing about. It’s so hard to know what is difficult for someone else to understand. I thought my tutorial for this article was perfect. I asked a few people to look at it. Mark Kaercher and John Golden stepped up. John actually asked his group of pre-service teachers to go over my write up. I got some excellent feedback, and made some much-needed improvements. Turns out my first iteration was not so perfect after all.

Before sending in the final article Ed Hutchins looked things over again, and my friend Julie Moline looked it over, too, and made edits using genius skills that fill me with awe and wonder.

Finally, in October, everything was submitted.

Next Dano Keeney, the graphic designer for Bound & Lettered, and John Neal , Editor, worked their magic on the layout and made some final improvements.

Two weeks later, it was in my hands.

Boxes made with Paper printed from Dan Anderson's Open Processing page
Boxes made with Paper printed from Dan Anderson’s Open Processing page

Article by Paula Beardell Krieg, with help from John Neal, Ed Hutchins, Dan Anderson, John Golden, Mark Kaercher, Laurie Cohn, Jane Duda, Jule Moline, and Dano Keeney. Now that’s a great byline.