The Two Mouth Masu

The Two Mouth Masu

As Susan Share and I are nearing the end of the 12-week CBA Zhen Xian Bao and Beyond class that we are teaching together, the people in our class have acquired so many skills that we now want them to get the hang of playing around with what they know.

This week’s class was such fun for us. Susan and I prepared projects to teach that required that people already know specific folding methods which we then morphed into something else. What was so much fun for Susan and me was that we could just say, “ok, now fold this kind of structure to this point and then we’ll do something unexpected.” In any other setting we’d probably spend 40 minutes or so just getting through the first part of the instruction, but, no, instead, we could just sit back for a couple of minutes while the people in the class simply did what they know how to do.

A Selection of Models of the Two Mouth Masu. Hopefully you can imagine that these close down flat. If not, watch the video below.

The point of this week’s session wasn’t really to make what we were showing. In fact, Susan and I showed things that we’d never shown to groups before because we basically came up with the projects just this week. What we were trying to convey was that, with all these skills that people in our class acquired (along with ones they already have) that they can ask new questions of the folds that they already know how to do.

Aerial View of the Two Mouth Masu

My favorite moments this week were when we would show something that we know could be challenging, and everyone would just get it.

A number of questions were asked about the last structure that was taught this week, specifically, did it have a name and where could they find directions for it? The only directions for it in existence are the ones given in class, and there was no name for the structure. I am changing both of the facts today.

My Two Mouth Masu thank you note to Susan

From today forward this structure is the Two Mouth Masu. All of the photos in this post are this one structure. It begins like a masu box, which is a square origami box, but closes and opens in an entirely different way. It’s like it has two pop-up mouths. I’ve decided to make a video of how to make it because I’m afraid I will forget how to do it, or how to best teach it. So go grap a lightweight foldable piece of paper and enjoy a peek into one of the things we did during Session 10 of Zhen Xian Bao and Beyond.

The video:

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.

origami · Rubber Band Books · Uncategorized

Origami Lantern

I came across a video tutorial for this lantern, made it, then posted it on my Twitter account, @PaulaKrieg. Folks there showed such interest in it that I thought it would be good to post here as well.

Also, I am writing this post as an experiment, as I am attempting to write this using just my phone.

Here’s one of the tricky parts of doing post by mobile: trying to add this link to the SonobeCubeLamp tutorial. When I get back to my home computer in a couple of days I will fix that link if it doesn’t work.

If you try making this lamp, here’s a tip for assembling the modular origami units:think of the pieces joining together by creating tension, in other words, notice how when one corner slips under a joining unit then the other corner goes over an opposing joining unit.

Have fun folding!

Box · how to construct Zhen Xian Bao · Zhen Xian Bao

Zhen Xian Bao, Post #5: the hidden tray

Starting with a square that's 3 x 3 masu box widths wide
Starting with a square that’s 3 x 3 masu box widths wide

There’s a hidden box layer in the Zhen Xian Bao.

It can be thought of as the third layer of this structure, but that can be a bit misleading, as there can be numerous layers of the masu-type box above it.

Two masu boxes hiding the rectangular tray underneath

Many of the directions I’ve seen for this layer include templates so that you can make simple cuts and folds then do some gluing to create the box. I have nothing against templates (well maybe I do…) but the fact is that the template makes  a box that is not nearly as elegant as this origami folded box.

Paper Making Workshop in Shiqiao Village
Paper Making Workshop in Shiqiao Village

However, if the maker is using paper which is like those made in workshops in the Shiqiao Village, then using a template might make more sense, as it appears to me that  using a hardy paper with the origami method would make an overly bulky box.  In any case, whatever method you use is your decision. That’s what’s so awesome about the Zhen Xian Bao: there are lots of personal decisions to make.

Marking a paper strip, 2 masu boxes wide
Marking a paper strip, 2 masu boxes wide

At the end of the post there’s a video on how to make this box. There’s some key points that I want to emphasize here. The first is that this box is made from a square. If you want the rectangular tray to fit exactly under the boxes above it, which is what seems to be typical, then you must  start by first making  the boxes of second layer .  The width of three of these boxes will be the side measurement for the square. Measuring by using the actual boxes is the only way to go, as different weight papers used for the masu boxes will yield different slightly different measurements. There is no purely numeric way to do this. You need to measure using the actual boxes.

The Square
The Square

Once you have the correctly sized square, the next step is to fold the square into thirds. Not halves, which is easy, but thirds, which is tricky.

Folding one-third

Maybe not so tricky, though. After all, your masu box should be right there with you, and the width of the box is a third of the square, so just line up these boxes on the edge of the paper and fold the far edge to them.


Then fold the other edge to the fold you just made and the paper is folded into three equal sections. Yah!


The two outer thirds will be folded in half again…and this is the last of the pictures of the process. The video at the end of this post to show how to make this, from beginning to end. If I make a one-page tutorial on this, it will eventually show up in my blog.

img_0430Here’s the finished box.


Here’s that box, with another next to it, hidden under two masu boxes.

The Reveal
The Reveal

Lifting up the masu boxes reveals the rectangular tray below. You can stack many rectangular boxes for more surprises.

The video of the making of this box: