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:

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!

Book Art

Teaching Weekend

It was great to be back teaching at The Center For Book Arts this weekend. As far as I can recall, the last time I taught there was nine years ago. Things have changed at CBA, in such good ways. It’s wonderful to see this evolution.

The class, making Zhen Xian Bao, Chinese Thread Books. enrolled just three people, which was such a pleasure.  Even though the group was small I still was mostly on the move, either teaching to the group or helping people individually, so I, sadly, didn’t think to take more than just a few photos.

tutorial video for flower top box:

Since we were such a small group I decided to show them all how to make the flower-top origami box. In the last workshop I taught, I made this optional, and only two of the eight people in that workshop opted in. There is so much to learn on the whole, that showing this particular variation of the top level of these layered boxes, which requires takes lots of time and focus, seems to be more like bonus material rather than basic knowledge. Also, since it takes a whole hour to teach the flower top box, and is impossible to remember after seeing it just once,I was worried that the class participants might feel overwhelmed. Instead, it seemed the class was delighted with these folds. I’m glad there’s a video they can watch to remind them of what we did.

An extra treat, for me, was that I was able to show my models of the Zhen Xian Baos to other artists who were milling around The Center for Book Arts. No one that I showed it to was at all familiar with this book form. I have been so totally focused on it for so long that I forget that it’s still not a well know form.

Looks like teaching the Zhen Xian Bao will be on CBA’s course schedule for the fall. Already looking forward to teaching this again.

Book Art · Zhen Xian Bao

Workshop at the Met

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

The bookbindery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art takes care of many hidden floors of books. It’s like a secret place, mostly below ground level, under the Watson Library, which is entered through a discreetly placed door not far from the great hall. Many years ago, once a week for three years, I volunteered in the bookbindery. A few days ago I visited the Met to do a full day of PD with the staff of the bindery. They wanted to learn about the Zhen Xian Bao

Jenny's Zhen Xian Bao
Jenny’s Zhen Xian Bao

This was my first time teaching the Zhen Xian Bao, aka Chinese Needle Thread Pack, or Chinese Thread Book to a group. We started at 9:30 sharp, broke for an hour of lunch at noon, and worked straight through 4:30. At the end of the day we were completely saturated, and everyone had made exquisite models. This was dream-team group of artists and binders, in a fully equipped bindery. I can’t imagine another group in any other place who would have accomplished so much in one day.

There was so much that I did not have to do to get ready for this workshop. Most significantly, I did not have to do any paper cutting.

In the Bindery at the MET
In the Bindery at the MET

Everyone either brought in their own papers, or they used papers already in the bindery. After explaining how to determine the paper sizes to create the size book that each person wanted, people cut their own papers to size.


Yukari's paper
Yukari’s paper

Oh the papers that people brought! From orizomegami papers, to paper-backed fabric, to indigo papers with gold flecks, to Dick Blick assorted papers and more. The gorgeous papers kept coming out!

Mindell making a twist box
Mindell making twist boxes

Here’s a five things I learned from this day of teaching: 1) teaching, then making, four twist boxes takes a good bit of time. After making a gazillion of these, it takes me about 5 minutes to make one of these boxes, but it takes making about 1/2 a gazillion for these to get fast at making them. I assured everyone that the other style boxes we’d be making wouldn’t take as long, and in fact they didn’t take as long. The twist box is a tough one to begin with, but it’s the way to begin.

2) We started the day with people working at their own desks, and much had to be done at these solitary work areas, but not everything.

In the bindery
In the bindery

Crowding around a single work table and working together was incredibly efficient and enjoyable, especially as the day wore on.

Working together
Working together

Folding the second and third layers books while jostling for space around the demonstration desk went surprisingly well.

The four twist box version of the Zhen Xian Bao
Doris’s Zhen Xhen Xian Bao

3) I showed in a variety of different constructions of Chinese Thread Books. I’ve noticed that the most common structure that people teach is this one with four twist boxes on top. I thought I’d encourage people to make all sorts of other different decisions with their structures. It became clear very quickly that  it was incredibly satisfying for everyone to make the exact same structure.

Sophia's Gold Flecked Thread book
Sophia’s Gold Flecked Thread book

Trying to get everyone to do different things would have been too confusing for everyone. Everyone was able to help everyone because we were all doing the same things.

Written directions
Written directions

4) People liked having written directions. I’ve only written out directions for the twist box with a pinwheel top, which is in the current issue of Bound & Lettered, and which everyone had, compliments of the journal’s editor John Neal. I think every single desk had the magazine opened to this page all day, even after we were completely finished with the twist box.

Zhen Xian Bao
Mindell’s Bao, with Green with Gold Pinwheel Twist Boxes and Andrijana’s mostly Indigo Zhen Xian Bao

5) I had thought that if we had the time and energy I would show people how to make the boxes with a flower top. All I can say now is ha ha. There was no way we could have done one thing more. As it was, we ended the day before some people put covers on their creations. I didn’t worry too much about this though, after all, these people are bookbinders. They cover things.

Some with covers, some without
Some with covers, some without

Besides absolutely everything and everyone that made this an incredible workshop day, people who teach (like my friend Susan Share) will appreciate this: I didn’t have to cut any paper for prep, I didn’t have to teach this group anything about cutting, gluing, putting things under weight, and – this was a surprise – when I had to ask people to fold a piece of paper into thirds they could that flawlessly, immediately.. Turns out bookbinders at the Met make hollow spine pieces all the time, which are made by folding paper into thirds. No problem!


Miriam's book
Miriam’s book

What a great day. As we walked back out into the world after working all day in the underground, wending our way through the places that remain mostly unseen, we past this most unusual sign:

Underground at the Met
Underground at the Met

Big thanks to Mindell Dubansky for wanting her staff to become familiar with the historical structure called the Zhen Xian Bao, and especially thank you for letting me be the one to show them.