Making a Zhen Xian Bao/Chinese Thread Book: Part Five or A Personal Conclusion

When I began all this —the trip down an internet wormhole chasing a particular origami folding pattern— I had no idea where it would all lead.

The hunt for that set of instructions led me to an enormous trove of resources on the history of the Zhen Xian Bao (Chinese Thread Book), Chinese textile traditions, and origami folding.

I would just like to make a few final observations about the top box. The twist box seemed to be the most common form in traditional Zhen Xian Bao I found on-line. The ‘flowered candy box’ was the other usual form. Since the latter is an origami structure, it seems quite reasonable when designing one’s personal Zhen Xian Bao, to use origami for the top box, if not for the whole structure.

The twist box can be made by folding, so I played a bit with various versions. The one on the left below is a fairly common traditional version, the one on the right was made using instructions for the Giuseppi Baggi storage box and adding the twist.

I find the traditional box unsatisfactory, as it leaves triangular points sticking out inside the box (though you could glue them down). The Baggi box leaves a clean interior, but is difficult to twist and has more layers of paper on one side than the other which is undesirable.

You can find instructions for the twist box here and the Baggi Box here. Paper Kawaii’s origami version of the Chinese Thread Book includes instructions for folding a twist box that does not have the annoying little points on the inside. One of the steps is fairly tricky, especially if you are working at a small scale, so you might consider some alternatives.

Both of these box/envelopes have turned up on Zhen Xian Bao variations during my research. They both open like the ‘flowered candy box’ and are much simpler to fold. Instructions for the left hand one can be found here, for the right hand one here.

The Hedi Kyle origami version of the the Chinese Thread Book uses an origami envelope fold some of you may recognise as a ‘Victorian puzzle purse’. (Photo by Sarah Marshall.)

In the past I have used this structure for a DIY valentine. (You can find my instructions here.) Like the Giuseppi Baggi box option, I find this unnecessarily bulky. Here is one of the alternatives I found:

While it is not a true box, the corners would prevent small items from accidentally sliding out when the tato is opened.

You can find the instructions here.

If you wish to make a Chinese Thread Book for yourself, and want an origami container for your top layer, take a few minutes to do a little research. There are lots options available if you do an image search for “origami square tato”.

Finally, to the completion of my Chinese Thread book:

The last layer of a Zhen Xian Bao is the big bottom box. The structure I used is shown in this pdf. The drawing is to scale but not full size. Since I was combining the big box with the cover, I cut the centre panel out of fabric I had backed with the blue paper, then glued on side panels of paper before proceeding with the final assembly.

The fabric I used for the cover is an Indonesian batik cotton salvaged from the front of a tunic I made long ago. I saved it because parts of the garment showed hardly any wear, and the material was too beautiful to throw in the rag bag. (You can find my instructions for backing cloth (or paper) here.)

The big box is made just like the fourth layer box. You need to remember that the height of the box is the same as the height of the fourth layer box and the width is 2x the width of the fourth layer box plus twice the thickness of all your layers plus allowance for expansion. In my case that meant a box six inches by seven inches.

Scored, cut, folded, and corners glued:

Side boxes attached: (Remember that your layer four boxes should open from the middle!)

Many of the Zhen Xian Bao pictured on the web have cloth covers that form a flap that wraps over the front opening. These are added after the big box layer as can be seen in this image from Rachel Marsden;

Since I had chosen to incorporate the cover with the bottom box, I still needed some way to keep my thread book closed and it had to be adjustable to allow for increased thickness when objects are added. I decided to use a button and string fastening.

The buttons are made from six layers of the blue paper. I punched the holes, then cut the circles, then glued the layers together. Edge sanding was done with an emery board. (The little button is only one layer and goes on the inside as a re-enforcement.)

Here’s the finished product at last!

I had a lot of fun both with the research and with making my personal Chinese Thread Book. It seems likely that I will be making other things related to all this in the future.

In knitting news:

I finally got around to washing and blocking the brown cotton shawl.

I engaged in the exciting process of knitting test swatches in a silk singles yarn. The swatches need to be washed and blocked.

Mostly I have been finding ways to put off dealing with this:

I had become overly confidant in my lace knitting abilities and was no longer bothering with putting in regular ‘life lines’ as I went. This cotton is fairly stiff until washed (extra sizing since it is a weaving yarn) and I guess I missed a stitch in a Knit 2 together without realizing it. I successfully picked up a couple of rows, but I am not sure I can make it all the way back to the working edge. This means ripping out, which means I should sew in a lifeline. Sigh!

In other news:

David’s major activity for the past week has been trail clearing. The caragana encroaches constantly, and some of the trails have not been cleared for a long time.

The big excitement for the week was, of course, the eclipse. David and I lived in Nova Scotia and saw an almost total eclipse from Halifax in July, 1972.

Neither of us had realised before then that the little round dapples of light seen under trees on a sunny day are actually miniature images of the sun. The spaces between the leaves act as pinhole cameras. Even though we were a long way from the path of totality on Monday, we went out to see the partial eclipse when it was as full as it would get where we are.

The eclipse through David’s straw hat,

and on the driveway,

and then totality from Idaho on my computer.

Pretty amazing.





About Byopia Press

I have been working in the book arts field for more than thirty years, and operating Byopia Press with my husband David since the late 1990s. I began producing artist's books and altered books in 2004. I also create prints and drawings that are frequently text-inspired or text-based.
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4 Responses to Making a Zhen Xian Bao/Chinese Thread Book: Part Five or A Personal Conclusion

  1. Hilke says:

    Your adventure of making a Zhen Xian Bao is most impressive. – And you finally made it, congratulations! I just finished reading up on all of your posts I missed over the summer, but I’ll have to mark them for a more concentrated read some time down the line.
    Thanks for sharing all those links to different instructions. I looked through my collected tutorials in the meantime, as I mentioned I remembered seeing something like this. – But I couldn’t find anything. And you by now are probably THE expert on the topic anyway.

    Are you going to use yours?

    I love the brown shawl, the pattern looks most intricate! I don’t know where you get all this time from to do all these things. (Do I have to fear you have a safe in your basement with our time lillies in them? 😉

    I didn’t know the flecks of light were images of the sun. How very interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Byopia Press says:

      I think Ruth Smith is probably the expert, and that her books are a great source of information on Zhen Xian Bao. I may use mine to keep some bookbinding things in. ; ]

      I do not have any time lilies in a safe in the basement. I also do not have small children or a tidy house!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello to the talented bookmaker at Byopia Press. I’m so delighted to discover your blog & the details for making a Chines Thread Book. I’m at home with oodles of time – self isolating from the virus – and a yen to make one these books to use as a structure to record the females in my family tree. I’l decided this was a perfect way for me to do it when I first came across the book form and learned the history. And now with your instructions, I have the way forward as well as lots of references & other leads to follow up.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to put all this together & the generosity to share it. I’m excited.

    Watch this space!

    Take care and stay safe,

    From Brittany Blue


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