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.

Closures · pleating · Zoom Workshop

Pleated Closure, Variation

A pleated closure which is a variation of Hedi Kyle’s School Book Wrapper with Pleat

Hedi Kyle shows an elegant wrapper with an exquisite pleated closure (Art of the Fold, project 34). I love the pleat and the way the book block slips into the wrapper. Some beautiful papers that have are too small (8 1/2″ x 11″ and 11″ x 15″) to use for Hedi’s structure. This set me thinking about how to create a cover with a pleated closure which uses less paper.

What I came up with doesn’t to retain the perfect way Hedi’s book slides into the cover. Instead, I did a little pamphlet stitch to attach the pages into the folder. This method allows me to use my papers to make a larger book. Oh, and there’s a perk to doing the sewing: I can add on some beads.

This is what I showed to the group who have been showing up to fold with me on Saturdays.

What’s fun is that I come up with a variation of what I learn from Hedi Kyle, then the people I teach my variation to make variations of their own.

Pleated Closures, variations by Ruth Nuesch

Two details that I want your to know in Ruth Nuesch’s books, above, are one, that in the lower folder she went ahead and made the folder with a relatively narrow piece of paper -she just made it work- and two, notice how she figured out how to include the pencil on to the strap.

Below, here’s one by Sarah Bailey Knight.

Sarah Bailey Knight

What especially delights me about this one by Sarah Bailey Knight is here selection of papers for the book block.

I generally am not making special videos of my Saturday open zoom workshops, but this is a structure that I’m afraid I’d forget if I didn’t record it. Here’s the video:


For anyone who is still interested, I’ll be continuing doing the zoom videos up until February 5, 2022. That’s four more sessions. All details at https://bookzoompa.wordpress.com/2021/11/16/accordion-101/

Accordion Books · cut paper · Zoom Workshop

Darling & Jazzy Dancing Paper Dolls

Cut Paper by Sue Reynolds

Just three hours until the next 4pm EST zoom workshop, wanting to write about the last one before it slips into the abyss of last week. I was even more nervous about this presentation than usual, not sure what the reception would be from this talented and brilliant group to the prospect of making paper dolls.

Was delighted that the project was met with open hearts, and ,ooo-la-la, people got into the playful spirit of the the day.

Cut Paper, Lisa Hart

These dolls were inspired by my wonderful memories of working with a truly gifted art teacher, Geraldine Merrill, who worked in a inner city school district that had many challenges. Geraldine broke all the rules, lived outside of the box, and created incredibly rich imagery with kids, including paper dolls, which were embellished in all sorts of unexpected ways.

Susan Joy Share’s cut paper with Crayon rubbings above

The idea here was to let the figures have a sense of movement and allow room for each of the figures to have their own personalities.  Susan Joy Share made these stylish women, strong and wild, with the best hair. Susan has been doing explorations of surface design using rubbings on various materials. Glad she included one of her cover designs in the photo above. Am hoping she uses it with these cut figures.

Developing the wardrobes, Emma Reid

Even though we had just a half-hour together, it was long enough to see different ways people chose to explore their own direction. The wardrobe and accessories of Emma’s girls are enchanting. Notice the pom-pom on the hat, and the knot of the scarf.

Cut paper, Nancy Haarmeyer 

The way that I asked people to design the figures was to first draw a stick figure, then flesh it out by just imagining the lines to be thicker. When the cutting is done, I expect the paper to be flipped over so that the lines don’t show. Above, I’m happy that Nancy Haarmeyer provided me a photo that shows the lines, thus showing the process.

Jazzy figures, Gerry Mcgaunn

Most of the cut-outs seemed to lean toward being girls, which I wonder if that’s because we think of paper dolls as girls, or because it’s generally a female activity. I loved  that Gerry made his paper dolls look decidedly male. It was seeing  his cut-outs that even made me aware of the female leaning of the other pieces.

Girls having fun, Beth DellaRocco

Now here’s a set of playful girls, one that surprised me: I was over at my friend’s Beth house and saw it on her work table. I didn’t know she had been at our paper doll session. I asked her for this photo. I have unilaterally decided that this is an image of her and I at play.

I have mine own to show that I may add in to this post later, but now I need to be thinking about today’s session, where we will be doing something with one well placed pleat.

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