Chinese Sewing Box workshop with Erin Sweeney
This past weekend I had the distinct pleasure of attending a Chinese Sewing Box workshop with the talented (and adorable) Erin Sweeney. I met Erin at the Paper and Book Intensive several years ago and liked her instantly. She’s got great energy and a wonderful creative mind. Taking a workshop with her was an easy sell.
So about that Chinese Sewing Box – if you’ve never seen one before, here’s one for your viewing pleasure:
I was recently directed to the structure’s origin by Rhonda Miller. Although the design of the book we made in the workshop was created by Hedi Kyle, it was inspired by the Zhen Xian Bao, also known as the Chinese Thread Book. The structure was developed by minority groups in southwestern China out of need – these three-dimensional, folded containers held needlework supplies such as thread, needles, patterns, and other paper ephemera (anything flat).
Ruth Smith did quite a bit of research on the structure and included her findings in the book A Little Known Chinese Folk Art: Zhen Xian Bao (WANT). If the book is a out of your budget, you can opt to read her article that was published by the British Origami Society. There’s good stuff in there.
If you’ve never met (or seen) Erin, here she is in all of her pink scarf glory:
I love making kits for workshops, but I love getting them even more. Our kit included all materials for the project, along with extras to make templates for future reference.
Erin recommended using a machine-made Momigami paper for the book. If you look at the first image in this post, you’ll see the paper in use. It’s a nice soft crinkled paper, which likely makes it very forgiving while folding.
The papers we used included Mohawk and Kraft-Tone. Erin told us that we could crumple up the paper if we wished to add some texture to our books. I did it for some of the components – I didn’t have time to do it for everything, which I would have preferred. I had to remind myself that this was my learning book and that the next one could be just as I wanted.
We started by learning how to make the core unit of the structure – the Masu box (you can find a tutorial here). The first one we made was a small square. These fold down flat when you push in the sides.
Then we moved on to making the thread container, which was essentially a Victorian Puzzle Purse. Erin had us write the directions on our template, which was a great idea. Yes, step one says crazy measuring trick.
So this piece of folded paper…
…somehow folds down into this:
I’m not entirely sure how that happens. We did it five times and I still don’t get it. My workshop neighbor walked me through it (thanks Becky!). I remember nothing. I’m going to have to repeat this – a lot.
So that paper pinwheel folds down into a square after you tuck in all of the points (thankfully, I understood this step).
After that, we made more Masu boxes, this time they were rectangular and in assorted sizes.
It wasn’t long before my workspace became a pile of crazy. I tried really hard to keep it together and not creep into Becky’s space. I have a tendency to expand into nearby spaces – I’m like an amorphous gas.
The next step was to create a closure for the book – we made a nifty folded belt that Hedi designed. The “buckle” opened up and you could slide the end of the belt through it. This enabled you to tighten or loosen the belt around the book as needed – it was so cool.
The belt was not easy to make. Erin had belts in various states of completion so we could see each step as we worked. Everyone was crowded around the table, folding and cursing under their breath (okay, that was just me).
If you’re interested in making one yourself, you can find a pictorial tutorial (page 14) on the Guild of Book Workers website – unfortunately, there are no accompanying written directions. And I couldn’t write up the directions if I tried. Sorry.
Once all of the components were completed, it was time for assembly. I didn’t take pictures during the gluing process, mostly because I am a very focused gluer – I just shut the world out and glue.
After gluing, all of this…
…turns into this. Check out that belt!
Here’s what happens when you open it up:
The first layer you encounter is the thread container.
The thread container is attached the side of a square Masu box.
The square Masu box is attached to the side of a rectangular Masu box.
And the thing just keeps on going like the Energizer Bunny of books – the rectangular Masu box is attached to another similarly-sized, rectangular Masu box. Then that rectangular Masu box is attached to the side of a larger rectangular Masu box which acts as the cover.
I love this thing. I want to make more. Lots more. I’m thinking of trying it with reversible Unryu – the combination of colors and texture would be interesting.
In my tradition of saving quotes of awesomeness from workshops, here’s a gem from Erin:
There’s no trick to this. That’s a lie.