Book Art · Zhen Xian Bao

Covering the Zhen Xian Bao, Chinese Thread Book

Zhen Xian Bao, derivative
Zhen Xian Bao, derivative

A few days ago I saw a message asking me about putting covers on Chinese Thread Books.  I’ve written lots about assembling this structure, but haven’t much mentioned its covering.  I’m scheduled to teach a 2-day class in the Zhen Xian Bao at The Center for Book Arts in NYC in about 10 days. so this was a good time to get a question about the covers.

There’s many ways of treating the outer layer of Chinese Thread Book, as many ways as you can think of. That’s what I love about this structure: there are no set rules, just variation after variation. Here are some of the ways I have dealt with covers.

In the photo above I’ve used Asahi bookcloth, which I purchased at talasonline.com.  I’ve glued two wrong sides together with straight PVA (white glue), and glue the boxes on to the cloth with straight PVA. If I had a bit of wheatpaste made I might of added small bit it to the PVA just to the adhesive easier to work with, but that didn’t happen this time.

Upcycled Leather Cover

An easy cover material to use to leather. Occasionally I will come across some leather scraps which I just cut to size and glue to the bottom layer of the Zhen Xian Bao. I nearly always use either double sided tape or PVA, or combination of the two.

Handmade Paper Cover
Handmade Paper Cover

Here’s one that, technically, can be said to have no cover. What’s going on here is that I made the bottom big box layer out of a really sturdy handmade paper, then called it a day. No extra piece needed.

More Handmade Paper Covers
More Handmade Paper Covers

Here are some decorative handmade papers that I’ve had around for years, I wish I could tell you something more about them. They made great boxes, and they are beautiful enough to double as covers tood, like with the former photo.

Bookcloth and Endsheet covers
Bookcloth and Endsheet covers

The covers of these two thread books are made from bookcloth, but, I’ve lined the inside of the cover with decorative paper, sort of like a case binding with endpapers. It’s great having some bookbinding skills as it lets me think about all sorts of possibilities.

Old Levi's upcycled
Old Levi’s upcycled

One of my favorite materials to use for covering thread books is my husband’s old dungarees. I can generally find a decent enough piece to use. Looks like I re enforced the edges of this one with a running stitch, and used the seam of the pants to use as a tie around the book.

Wallpaper Cover
Wallpaper Cover

I have many wallpaper sample books around here. When I want to make a thread book to carry around to  use as a workhorse for storing supplies while I am travelling, I will use paper from my wallpaper sample books for both the inside and outside of the zhen xian bao.  The samples that I have have a vinyl-like feel to them, which make them really sturdy.

Wallpaper inside
Wallpaper inside

Here’s the inside of that book above. What I love about the wallpaper books is that there are so many wild designs to play around with. I probably used white glue to keep this all together. Maybe some double-sided tape too.

Paper and Wallpaper
Paper and Wallpaper

Sometimes I want a really simple cover. The one one the left is a prototype for short class in which I will be taking every possible short cut. The insides are made with paper, and I will likely use glue sticks to hold things together. The thread book that is laying down is another wallpaper book.

Here’s a video, shows a few more books, and the inside of most.

 

 

Zhen Xian Bao

Wondering about the Zhen Xian Bao

This is how I wonder.

After learning the folds of the stacking boxes of the Zhen Xian Bao, then making them out of precious papers, making careful, deliberate decisions slowly, I’m ready to become more familiar with this structure. The way I do this is to just hang out with it.

To me, hanging out with structure means folding everything I can get my hands on using all the folds that I know, and learning some new ones too. This way I get to explore how each paper works out for me, I get to ask different questions of the structure, and see what happens when I release control of the many decisions.

Wondering about Chinese Thread Book 2

 

Along the way new question occur to me, I develop preferences, and interesting materials seem to find their way to me.  The more I do the more questions I have. I have a long way to go here, but wanted to share this part of the journey.

 

 

Box

Inside a Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao post #7

Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins
Detail of a painted Twist Box from a Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins

I can’t believe my good luck.

I’ve been reading about the Chinese Thread Book, devouring anything in print that I could find about it, scouring the internet then just thinking about and trying to make sense of this structure. It didn’t even occur to me that I might actually get my hands on an authentic Zhen Xian Bao.

Front of  Zhen Xian Bao, from the Collection of Ed Hutchins
Front of Zhen Xian Bao, from the Collection of Ed Hutchins

This is how it happened. I wanted to share what I’ve been studying with book artist Ed Hutchins. When he told me that he wasn’t familiar with what I was talking about I drove to his house and dropped off Ruth Smith’s book on the subject. then received this mysterious message a few days later. Ed wrote: ” LOVED THE BOOK. I devoured it cover to cover. I’m going to try to find my zhen xian bao before you get back. keep your fingers crossed…” then a day or two later “You won’t believe this: I found the sewing kit book–AND you are going to love it!”

Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins
First Opening, Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins

Turns out that even though Ed had no idea of what I was talking about, once he saw the Ruth Smith book those memory gears kicked in, and he suspected that something he had in storage, might be of interest to me. Turns out he had, many years ago, bought this item on Ebay, without knowing what it was. When he asked the seller about it, well, the seller didn’t know anything much about it either. Ed suspects that this thread book was part of an estate that was being sold off.

Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins
Two kinds of origami on the top layer of the Zhen Xian Bao (grey strip of paper has been placed in the open box on the right, to hold it open for the photo)

Here’s a variation of boxes on the top layer that I hadn’t seen in all of my perusing: this Zhen Xian Bao features both twist box, and a masu-type box on the top layer, in an alternating pattern.

img_0544

Looking under the flap of the square boxes with the star on top readily reveals that this box is an embellished masu box.

Edge of Masu-type box
Edge of Masu-type box

There are a few things about this masu box that I’ve deemed particularly noteworthy. The first is that the green and red backgrounds of the star shapes are not hand colored, rather, these are colored papers that are adhered to the masu-box paper. The star motif is also decorated with collaged bits of colored papers. The other detail that I thought was interesting is that the masu boxes were made from a lighter weight paper than all the rest of the boxes in this thread book.

Second Layer, rectangular domino proportions, under each set of twist box and masu box Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins
Second Layer, which are boxes (or trays?) that have rectangular domino proportions; Gray paper strips placed in the boxes to hold them open for photo-op

Okay, so there’s 16 square boxes, each two of which reveal a box underneath, so, between just the first and second layers there’s 24 boxes.

not origami
not origami

There’s some precise folding going on with these rectangular trays, but it’s also clear that it’s not what we think of as origami. Its been my impression that the rectangular trays traditionally are more like simple folded templates, but I will continue to make mine with origami methods for the reasons I’ve discussed in earlier posts. The decision mostly has to do with the paper. Oh, and it’s the paper in this book that makes it most convincing to me that this Zhen Xian Bao was made in China. The paper is thin, strong, and has an uneven texture. It’s certainly handmade paper, and it’s not like paper I’ve seen. Actually, this paper’s closest counterpart in my paper stash is the common grocery bag (though I am sure that this similarity is purely cosmetic!).

Next layer down, from Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins
Next layer down, from Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins

Next layer down! Here, each set of four top boxes pull away from each other. Now the count is up to 28 boxes.

Next layer, tray under eight boxesChinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins
Next layer, tray under eight boxes Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins

Please excuse the purple straw holding the next layer open. Now we’re up to 30 boxes. If you are confused by the count, remember that each set of boxes has a symmetrically placed counterpart, so this open box on the right side is mirrored, but currently hidden, on the left.

The Big Box of the Zhen Xian Bao
The Big Box of the Zhen Xian Bao

Finally, here’s the Big Box layer. There are some major tears in the part of this box that articulate the spine. With the big box, there;s a total of 31 individual compartments in this book.

A secret is revealed on the big box layer that I loved seeing…. one thing that bothered me about this structure was the cover. Although there are no rock-solid rules for the cover of the Chinese Thread Book, I found the cover of this one to be somewhat out of place. But at the edges of the material that covers the big box there’s a hint of something different.

img_0533

Look, at the head of the box there’s an indigo pattern on material that is underneath the red cover paper.

img_0535There it is again, at the tail edge of the box. The red cover was somehow added on, over the original indigo cover, which is a color that makes more sense for this book. Maybe the original cover was damaged and a seller thought to recover the book to make it more sale-able?

Decoration on a twist box of  the Zhen Xian Bao,
Decoration on a twist box of the Zhen Xian Bao,

I kind of plan on kind of replicating this book using my own methods. Using the measurement methods I’ve been writing about, the only measurement I will need to replicate this book is the diagonal measurement of the square that is made with the 2 x 2 square of the top-tier of boxes.

Chinese Thread Book, Zhen Xian Bao, from the collection of Ed Hutchins
Back cover

That’s it. Now I better get this book of boxes back to Ed before I get too used to having it here.