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.

Book Art · geometry and paperfolding · origami · Zhen Xian Bao


Threads, a Zhen Xian Bao, Paula B Krieg
Threads, a Zhen Xian Bao, Paula B Krieg

I just sent this piece out to be in a show in Massachusetts. Included with the piece is an invitation for the book to be handled and for the viewers to take a piece of it with them.  As you might suspect, there’s a bit of a condition.

I’ve been making models of this folder of expandable boxes, known as Zhen Xian Bao, for quite some time. I’ve been so busy deciphering the structure and creating designs for the papers that I make them out of that I haven’t thought too much about what to put into these boxes, which. traditionally, were used to store thread.

Here’s the chronology of thought then. First structure, then embellishment, now content. Finally I’m ready to think about content, now that I am satisfied with some of the solutions to my first and second considerations.

Here’s what I’ve put in the boxes:

There’s about 64 paper tiles stored in the various boxes of this structure. Each tile is threaded with a loop. The back of each tile has words or phrases that I repeat to myself, the threads of thought that help me get through my days.

I had wondered if I would be able to come up with 64 things that I tell myself, so I asked my a couple of friends for some of their thought threads. I included some from Jocelyn, especially liked “Bring a book,” and Susan’s “Mend a thing.”

Funny thing, though, after I got started, it was easy to come up with scores of things I tell myself.  So many thoughts woven into a day.

Now, here’s a box of blank tiles that I’ve sent along with my work. There’s three of these boxes. They are meant to sit alongside my Zhen Xian Bao. There is also a pencil in each box. I’ve sent word that I am inviting viewers to add one of their thoughts to one of my boxes. Then, after they’ve made their contribution, they are invited to take one of my thoughts with them.


I don’t know how this will work out. As there are tiles in each one of these 13 expandable boxes, I am hoping/anticipating that my Threads book will return with wear and tear showing. I will consider evidence of handling as the finishing touches.


Now it’s out of in the world, out of my hands!

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!