Li’l Jacob

How to make a Li'l Jacob
Li’l Jacob

 In a previous post I had written about a structure that I am planning to teach to a group of fourth graders next month.  There’s a fun folding trick to it that feels like magic: its two panels flex in such a way that allows the front and back covers to reverse positions, and it offers two different configurations of the inside spread.  I’ve put together the instruction sheet above for anyone who feels up for something completely different. I think that the instruction page above will print just fine, but, just in case, here’s the Li’l Jacob PDF 

Now for my dire warnings.

If you attempt to make this or teach this you will be unsuccessful unless you release any attachment to thinking for yourself. Follow the directions precisely. Chances are you will not heed this warning until you have botched up the first few tries of making this. Oh well. I tried to warn you.little-3-6

Any students you work with should also be encouraged to work along with you lest their attempts fail. Precocious student will anticipate the next step, thinking that they see a pattern in the steps. These students will likely find themselves with a structure that is glued shut. I have a special name for this kind of mistake. I call it a bad Christmas present: it looks interesting from the outside, but it just won’t open. Can be funny, but ultimately it’s not something you want.


I did not invent this structure. I don’t know the history of it, or what it’s called. I have seen it used a novelty gag, something that will hide or reveal a dollar bill. If someone knows its official name, I would be grateful to hear it. Only recently, when I had been exploring the folk toy known as the Jacob’s Ladder, did I realize that this structure is a shortened version of the Jacob’s Ladder. It seems fitting, therefore, for me to call it Li’l Jacob. I really like this name.


Let me mention too that there is nothing special about the dimensions that I present in my instructions.  The squares can be rectangles. The strips of paper can be all the same width, or all different widths. The dimensions that I illustrated will be the ones that I will be using when teaching, so that’s what I based the tutorial on.

I’m looking forward to seeing how students react to this odd folding activity.  If you try it out please please please let me know how it goes.

Art and Math · Math and Book Arts

Jacob’s Ladder Details

Mixed-up number line, Paula Beardell Krieg
Jacob’s Ladder in transition

Time to finish up this Jacob’s Ladder. I had it in mind to develop this way of working with the Jacob’s Ladder so that it could be replicated by others, but it’s just way too specific and involved for me to actually encourage someone it do what I’ve done here. Rather than being a project to share, this has been more like designing a product to produce. But, still, there’s a few things here that I want to write about.

(If you’re not sure what a Jacob’s Ladder is take a look at or

 Jacob's ladder
Jacob’s Ladder, in the early stages

I’ve been working with the Jacob’s Ladder in the same way that I would work with a flexagon: in other words, I’ve been interested in making complete transformations happen when the Ladder is flexed. This resulted is having four completely separate sides to discover. Here they are:

Side # 1
Side # 1
Side #2, (Flip side of Side #1)
Side #2, (Flip side of Side #1)
Side #3
Side #3
Side #4 (flip side of Side #3)
Side #4 (flip side of Side #3)

I had such a good time watching this come together!

The first thing I want to point out is the first and last panels of Side#1 and Side #4: they are both zero’s and both title pages. These two pages are the only two sides that don’t really change. I had to work these panels into the sequence, and I had to keep in mind that, in fact, they do change, but that change is only that they flip upside down. So not only did I have to make them work as part of sharing a sequence, but I had to figure out a way to have them make sense upside-down and right-side up in each of the sequences. And if that sentence just made your head hurt you can empathize with me. (Thank you.)

At first I thought I would begin with a one, since that can go upside-down, but finally decided that a zero was better. It took me awhile to realize that I couldn’t make the other end a number, I just couldn’t make it work. Making a cover page, though, seemed like a good solution.

Cover/ Title Page
Cover/ Title Page

I think that this turned out to be equally legible from any vantage point.

If you decide to try to make one of these I do have one major tip for you to consider. I think that most of the sets of directions that are out there have this one fatal flaw in common: they direct you to assemble the different sections in a line, growing it so that it resembles the completely unfolded Ladder. I have followed different renditions of this same theme, and, although the directions have been flawless in terms of accuracy they are confusing to follow. Following directions for sewing book sections together have can also have this same maddeningly confusing accuracy about them, too, so I’ve learned to look for patterns in the sequences, so I can just discard the directions. It’s a great way of working.

For the Jacob’s Ladder, assembling it is much easier if you stack the sections, weaving the ribbon around the blocks in the only logical way to wrap them. The trick is to start out right. Here’s how to start out right:

Step 1
Step 1

Make sure your three long strips of ribbon are a bit longer than  your finished Jacob’s Ladder will be (some set of directions have you cut lots of small pieces and attach them in certain patterns, but I find this, at best, cumbersome).  In the photo above I’ve been overly generous in the overhanging piece, but you should get the idea that the upper and lower long ends extend to the left and the middle long end extends to the right.

Step 2,

For the second step, lay the second board on top of the first, and wrap the ribbons around the board in the only way that makes sense.( If this makes no sense to you now, you’ll see what I mean if you try it.)

Step 3
Step 3

Next, lay down the third board, and, again wrap it. Continue doing this until you’ve run out of ribbon or boards. You’ll have a neat little stack that you should hold together well until you are able to attach (with nails or staples) the ribbons to the edges of the board.

Jacob's Ladder, stacked
Jacob’s Ladder, stacked

The ribbons make this checkerboard-like pattern. Quite distinctive.

I had meant to take some time in this post to write more about why I keep doing these number lines, but I think I will save that for a different day. It’s time for me to sign off for the night. I’ll be counting sheep soon…

Numbers · Paper Toy

A Jacob’s Ladder Number Line, in Progress

Numbers by Paula Krieg

I’m working on another number line. What I liked most about the last one that I worked on was how it was able to change, showing different parts of the number line, showing different scaling options. It occurred  to me that making number line that is also a Jacob’s Ladder, which shows changing faces, might be fun. Uh, well, now I’m thinking that having a Jacob’s Ladder number line might be fun, but it turns out that making it is challenging.

For anyone who is not familiar with the thoroughly delightful nature of Jacob’s Ladders, here’s a good page to take a look at  This page includes some background history, a great tutorial, and a video of the toy in action.

Jacobs Ladder in Progress

I’ve made many misjudgments in putting my version of this together, and it’s not yet finished, but I thought I’d write about it because I think that there might be something to glean from posting about this process. First, I struggled to figure out what I would use for the body of this structure.  I considered using candy bars, old video cases, boxes of Crayola markers: what is needed is about 6 somethings that have depth and weight. Thin blocks of wood are ideal, but I could not find a pre-cut source that was suitable. At our local thrift store I chanced upon some wooden coasters. PERFECT. From now on I will buy up every set of coasters that show up there. I’m happy with how they work. Good size, good weight.

The ribbon that I used to link the block was Buckram book cloth. It’s okay, but not great. Next time I will try out Tyvek, that mesh that the US Postal service uses to make its priority envelopes.

Staples on the edges of the Jacobs Ladder

The method of attachments on the side were challenging. These coasters either split when I nailed into them with one type of nail, or, with another type of nail, refused to be penetrated at all. My husband ended up lending a hand with his power staple gun. Worked like a charm.

Jacob's Ladder in progress

The final part of this construction, the applying of the numbers, is taking hours to finish. Each of the numbers on each of the faces have to be cut into three parts before they are glued down. It doesn’t help that I thought I’d be fancy and make the top and bottom panels thinner than the middle. In fact, there is no visual enhancement in making the middle panel wider, it just takes a longer to measure and cut. Next time each panel will be the same width.

Jacob's Ladder in Progress, Paula KriegI created the images for the numbers in Adobe Illustrator (I feel lucky that I bought CS6 while it was still available. With my limited rural internet access, Adobe’s Cloud-only option would not have been an option).

Number LIne Numbers , Paula Krieg

The number were printed at Staples Office Supply store, on Hammermill’s Color Copy Digital Cover 60lb paper. It’s a lovely paper it use. Accepts ink well, glues well, looks great.

Jacob's Ladder in progress


This ladder is 6 sections long, which translates into 22 faces (not 24). 20 of those surfaces are divided in to three sections, so I am measuring, cutting and gluing down 60 pieces. It’s taking awhile. But I am enjoying it. At the time of this writing I have just about half of the faces completed. Even in it’s unfinished state it’s already playfully addictive. I am looking forward to posting the finished product, along with some of my own tips on how to create one of these. Just in time to make for the holidays?