Forest of Flexagons

April 28, 2011

Flexagons

I don’t often have the chance to make flexagons with a class. But recently, Mrs. Schroeder, who works with an artistic group of fifth graders, asked me to plan a project with these students that could showcase their creative energies while still requiring that they use research skills.

Mrs. Schroeder chose Adirondack trees as the object of research. Each student was assigned their own individual tree. They were then asked to research such things as the tree’s  habitat, uses of its wood, characteristics  (the look of the bark, shapes of the leaves, etc) and its latin name .

Making flexagons to house these research facts was my idea. Here’s my instructional  PDF for Flexagon Squared.

Flexagon about Easter White Pine

For the uninitiated, a Flexagon is a paper structure whose surfaces rotate in unexpected ways when the folds in the paper are flexed.

Flexagon flexing

There are many shapes and styles of flexagons. The ones pictured here are based on a square.

Flexagon about Shagbark hickory1

Ok, I know it doesn’t look  like a square, but imagine unfolding the lime green paper….Flexagon about Shagbark Hickory, flexing

…now, here it is, half-way unfolded….

Flexagon about Shagbark hickory, Flexed

…and all the way unfolded.  There are still surfaces on this one flexagon that remain unseen.

Flexagon showing White Ash Tree

The French teacher at this school saw this project and was tres impressed by the work of these energetic and talented students. In addition to the fine work done by the fifth graders,  I told her that the secret to the success of this project was Mrs. Schroeder. She kept the class on task, and raised the bar high for research, spelling, and presentation.  Mrs. S.  remained consistently positive with and respectful to the students while staying clear in her intentions that they produce. It was really great observing how responsive these young people were to meeting Mrs. Schroeder’s standards.

My part in this project mostly consisted of providing instruction on how to construct the flexagon, and providing colorful papers and compelling materials to support motivation and inspiration.

dotted Flexagon

I hope to put together a set of directions on how to make this structure.

Flexagon showing uses of wood

But for now, please enjoy just looking.

Flexagon about Red Maple Tree

Addendum: here’s my instructional  PDF for Flexagon Squared.

Working as a visiting artist in Upstate New York requires good snow tires. Since where I live is centrally located int he middle of nowhere, I generally drive about an hour no matter where I am heading. If we’re expecting sleet and ice I stay home. With snow, I drive slowly and pray.  Yesterday, the temperature was generously below freezing so I was confident that the snow would not turn to ice, and I headed out for a day in with students.

It was worth the trip. I helped about 60 fifth graders in three different classes make journals.

One of the students, James, said that this was an awesome project. He felt that the hardest part of the project was folding the papers . This didn’t surprise me. I’ve noticed that by the fifth grade most students have accepted the fact that papers don’t fold in half evenly. High on my agenda is to take the time to offer explicit instructions on how to successfully outwit the uncooperative nature of paper. To really get students on board with this I bring in bone folders for them to use. Students seem to genuinely appreciate learning how to fold paper well.

The teacher that invited me to come to these classes had this to say: “Paula’s workshops with all of the 5th grade classes were fantastic today. All of the students were very excited about the journals they created, and I’m sure it will motivate even our most reluctant writers.”

We made the covers of the books according to the directions below. The wallpaper covers were made from samples that were cut down to 17″ x 11 1/2″.   I’ve also have B&W directions for the Pocketed Book Cover.

Directions for Pocketed Book Cover by Paula Krieg

One of the students, Emily, seemed concerned that there might not be enough pages for the content. My impression is that she had big plans for this book. To accommodate the most prolific writers I left behind materials to create a few more books, as well as the suggestion to considering just attaching in a second set of folded pages into the cover, next to (not into) the original set of pages.

Close up of journals made by fifth grades

We attached the pages, five sheets of folded paper, with the modified pamphlet stitch (using 2mm satin rattail cord), hence the notches at the head and tail of the spine. The pages are the size of regular copy paper. The  school’s (absolutely amazing and fabulous) reading specialist ran these papers through the copy machine so that lines are printed on the papers.  After the pages were attached to the covers I gave students 2 sheets of cover weight paper which were cut to fit into the pockets of the book cover. The students slipped these heavy papers into the pockets then glued the upper corners to the book cover: this gives the book a bit more of a sturdy, weighty feel and keeps the wallpaper covers from looking dog-eared.

snow on my car

I didn’t take many photos. I wanted to leave before much more snow fell. In the picture above, the white mound on the left, that’s my car.

Pamphlet covers  made from salvaged wallpaper sample books have captured my attention.

Beads if Wallpaper-Boiund books

Up until recently I have not been a fan of using wallpaper sample books as part of anything that I do with bookmaking. The fact is that no matter what you do with wallpaper it still always looks like wallpaper, a quality which I found unappealing.

Book made using Wallpaper sample

An elementary schoolt teacher named Kelly changed my point of view. This is an excerpt of a letter she sent, last year, to Kassandra, Kelly’s arts-in-ed liason.

“When Paula was here at our school last year, I asked her if she knew how to make books with wallpaper covers. I was interested in learning how to do this because I wanted the 5th graders to use what they learn about immigration to write a journal from the viewpoint of an immigrant coming to America in the late 1880’s – early 1990’s. I thought the wallpaper journals would be great for this project because you can make them look old-fashioned.

Paula figured out how to make them and then showed me. This year, I did this project students, and the journals came out great. The kids choose the paper they wanted for their covers from old wallpaper sample books. The kids have been very inspired by these to do some of the best writing I have ever seen from some of them.’

Pocketed Wallpaper-bound book

I was humbled by Kelly’s successful experience of making books using wallpaper samples. The students loved browsing through the samples and picking out the patterns for themselves. The books looked great, too: sturdy and varied. It seems that most wallpapers are made out of a material that does not tear easily, and is thick enough to hold its shape well.

Books made using Wallpaper Samples

Since using outdated wallpaper samples is form of recycyling, this is certainly a politically correct activity.

Blue book with Rowan's Chain stitch variation

The variations are endless….

Wallpaper-bound book

…and there always seem to be little bits of extra scraps around to place in unexpected places.

In two weeks I will get to work with several fifth grade classes, making books with wallpaper covers. Since I will be working with dozens of students in a limited time, the binding method will be different than the books pictures here (ie more friendly for elementary students). I will post pictures and directions when we’re finished.

In the meantime, if you have something against wallpaper as a book arts material, my suggestion is: get over it.

Grama's-Wallpaper Book

This one reminds me of the walls in my Grandmother’s bathroom.

Addendum, 2016: This page has gotten about 35,000 views so I’ve decided to update this post with a slightly better set of directions on how-to-make-a-snowflake than the tutorial page further down in the this post. I’d be grateful to know if you’ve found these directions helpful.

This evening I tried, through two thousand miles of phone wire, to explain to my friend Cynthia how to make a six-sided (six-pointed?) snowflake using dinner napkins. I failed. So here are the directions, with visual aids.

Begin wiith regular dinner napkins. These are just about always square, folded into fourths. Perfect. Also, get a pair of scissors, and have at the ready a triangle that has at least one 60 degree angle on it. An equilateral triangle has three angles that measure 60 degrees, so this is the best one to use. And where can you get this triangle? Well, right here.

Print this out then cut it out.

Next, open up a napkin so that it is folded in half instead of fourths, From the middle of the folded edge, fold the bottom up 60 degrees. To get just the right angle, use the 60 degree triangle, placing the point of the triangle on the bottom of the middle fold on the napkin. See the picture below.

I drew out the rest of these directions. Here they are. These directions start from the beginning. .

Now here’s how my snowflakes looked after I made cuts.

And here they are hanging on my front door.

If you want to attach snowflakes to a window in such a way that the tape doesn’t have to be scraped off, use Scotch Magic Tape. This is the only tape that I have found that comes off of glass when you want it to come off.

Addendum! If you want your snowflake cutting to make more sense, take a look at https://bookzoompa.wordpress.com/2014/12/02/paper-snowflake-cutting-tips/

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