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.














Book Art · Box · Zhen Xian Bao

Indigo and Suede, with a Pinwheel Twist Box


This continues my posts about assembling different structures based on the Chinese Thread Book, using different papers. I had thought I was going to be doing the same thing over and over again, with no variations other than using papers with different colors and patterns, but it hasn’t worked out that way.wp-1484682930002.jpg

Here’s where I started using the Stardream Metallic for the cover of the pamphlet on the left. More and more I’m liking how the Stardream paper matches the Chiyogami printed papers.  Notice the style of the little box inside of the pamphlet. After trying out many variations I absolutely loved this little twist box with the pinwheel top.

Pinwheel-top Twist box for Chinese Thread Book, PaulaKrieg
Pinwheel-top Twist box

I think it’s something about the pattern of the Chiyogami paper that made other style box I’ve been making look, well, not so good. Am so pleased to have stumbled upon this way of making the twist box.


Here’s the pinwheel-top box, twisted open.


The second layer rectangular tray is made from a soft handmade paper from India. Underneath the tray is a sleeve made of Stardream paper, which matches the pamphlet.


Big box layer is another handmade paper, but not sure where it was made. I have a stash of this from a place that Elisa Campbell wrote about, Creative Papers, which, sadly, is no longer is business.


The biggest surprise for me was the choice I ended making for the cover of this Thread Book. I tried matching the book with other Chirogami papers, with handmade papers from Dieu Donne and elsewhere. I tried my (faux!) elephant hide paper, and tried matching it with all sorts of cloth.  Then I tried it out with this piece of suede, and it just snapped together. I never thought I use this suede for anything, but it seemed perfect for this project.

I just love how I get to use all these odds and ends of materials!

What’s different, besides the suede, about this particular piece is that it doesn’t suggest a use to me. The first one of this group that I wrote about seems like a valentine waiting to happen, the one after that feels like a gardener’s journal, and the next one I will be writing about feels like a holiday journal. But this one isn’t telling me what it needs to be. Hope someone else can figure it out.

Book Art · Box · origami

Terra Cotta and Green

Variations on Chinese Thread Book
two more Variations on Chinese Thread Book

My thought was that I would make a model based on the Chinese Thread Book, then make variations of said model using different papers. Turns out that using different papers resulted in creating many more questions than I anticipated. My next few posts will be showing how these questions got answered, one Zhen Xian Bao at a time.

Zhen Xian Bzo variation in Terra Cotta and Green
Zhen Xian Bao variation in Terra Cotta and Green

Whereas my previous thread-book-variation has a romantic feel to in, this one feels earthy to me, like it’s meant for keeping track of seeds, gardens, and planting/harvesting info. The green print is Chiyogami paper from The Paper Place, and the solid green on the left is Neeneh Classic Linen Cover, Augusta Green.

Variation of Chinese Thread Book in Green and Terra Cotta, Paula Beardell Krieg
Variation of Chinese Thread Book in Green and Terra Cotta

The pamphlet on the left is constructed with a five-station pamphlet stitch using waxed linen thread. The book block is Mohawk Superfine. The second tier box on the right is machine-made paper infused with flower petals.


Both the pamphlet and the rectangular trays fold away to reveal a big rectangular tray as the bottom layer, made with handmade paper from India. You can also see in this photo a sleeve made from Metallic Stardream paper. underneath the second tier try.


Inside the pamphlet is a small envelope that expands into….


…a little box.


Unlike my Indigo, Gold and Red version, I didn’t use the Chiyogami paper for the outside wrapper. I tried out lots of options, but this handmade terra cotta paper purchased long ago from Dieu Donne Papermill was the best choice. I still have just a bit of this paper left, so I can continue using this for a few more wraps, but just a few. It’s hard for me to use up a paper that I may never see again, but I remind myself that I have it so that I can use it.

It takes awhile to assemble these thread books, but what has taken me the longest is to mix and match my papers until I am happy –and I demand to be really happy– with my paper choices. I try to let the papers I start with suggest the rest of the paper choices.  Since this part takes so long, I am trying to make at least two of each paper/color combination, in an attempt to do at least a bit of streamlining.

One surprising discovering is realizing how well Stardream Metallics match the Chirogami. I’ll be showing more of this match in the next post, which, by the way, will feature a thread book that has a suede wrapper.  I didn’t see that coming, but it’s what worked. I feel like I’m just the messenger…

Book Art · Box · origami

Indigo, Gold and Red

Zhen Xian Bao with Red, Gold and Indigo
Based on Zhen Xian Bao with Red, Gold and Indigo, barely opened

I’ve been cutting up my stashes of beautiful papers to design/make structures that borrow liberally from what I’ve learned about the Chinese Thread Book structure that I’ve been posting about over the last few months.

based on Zhen Xian Bao,, with Ried, Gold, and Indigo

Rather than strictly mimicking traditional Chinese structures, of which there are countless variations, I’ve been making variations of my own. Basically, I’ve been repeating one design with different combinations of paper, but mostly featuring Chiyogami papers. So far I’ve made five distinct compositions of papers. This one, with the indigo cover, and the red/gold paper inside, is the most romantic looking of them all.

based on Zhen Xian Bao,, with Ried, Gold, and Indigo
pamphlet and rectangular tray, opened

Inside, instead of going the traditional route and placing collapsible boxes on the verso and recto sides, I’ve chosen to place pamphlet on the left, and rectangular trays on the right.


Still, inside the pamphlet there is a traditionally made, collapsed origami box.


Here it is, that little box (a 2″ square), opened.

based on Zhen Xian Bao,, with Ried, Gold, and Indigo7

Next layer down is a machine-made paper, which contains real flower petals, a paper that is one of just a few pieces of paper I have left from the now extinct Kate’s Paperie.

Big Box layer
Big Box layer

Finally, here’s the big interior box, made from handmade paper from India, containing leave skeletons. Also, you can see there’s a copper Stardream Metallic on the right, which is a slim pocket.


Chinese Thread Book
Closed, with Gold

All closed up.