‘Zhen Xian Bao/Chinese Thread Book’ Workshop with Lori Sauer

One of my many professional hats is a being a practicing book artist, and facilitating paper and book arts workshops across the UK (and if I’m lucky internationally) including papercutting to bookbinding, zine-making to self-publishing. Even though I teach these art practices, I always feel it important to refresh, (re)learn and develop my skills, so throughout the next couple of years I am going to enrol and complete some one-day and short courses. Apparently, this July marks ten years since I graduate from my BA (Hons) Fine Art course at Loughborough University, so it’s definitely time to brush up my skills and knowledge…

Last month, I drove a rather long way (about 3 hours but worth every second) to the Wiltshire Barn Project (set up to rehabilitate disabled soldiers, an incredible initiative) located at Woodborough Garden Centre in Woodborough, Wiltshire to take part in a ‘Zhen Xian Bao/Chinese Thread Book’ workshop by bookbinder Lori Sauer. I’d wanted to attend this workshop for a while due to its Chinese roots…a method of bookbinding I had not come across and perfect for my mutual research backgrounds in Chinese arts and book arts practice. Perfect! As you can see from the pictures below…I was not disappointed in any way, shape, or (paper) form. In fact, I think I’m more in love with my art. Wordgirl standard.

Lori Sauer Zhen Xian Bao Chinese Thread BookBookbinding 0

Lori Sauer Zhen Xian Bao Chinese Thread BookBookbinding 00

‘Zhen Xian Bao/Chinese Thread Books’ are made by minority ethnic groups in China’s Guizhou Provence. These books are utilitarian and often home-made, beautifully decorated inside and designed to hold embroidery threads, needles, scraps of paper, textile pieces and fabrics, photos, household receipts and other bits of ephemera and personal memorabilia. It is an ingenious domestic filing system that holds an astonishing number of things in its folding compartments, its many three-dimensional pockets which open out rather than pages. The topmost pockets are decorated with painted patterns and the outside is often covered in fabric with a simple string tie.

In some places in China, the craft was practised by men and in others by women. It is not known when the tradition started or how widespread it was in China. The oldest examples seen date to the late Qing Dynasty where they are about 100 years old and are made by the Han, coming from the north. The oldest minority examples found in Guizhou are from the 1950’s although their embroidery traditions are known to go back at least 200 years. There is a great book looking more in-depth at this that Lori showed us on the day – ‘A Little Known Chinese Folk Art: Zhen Xian Bao’ (2012) by Ruth Smith and Gina Corrigan. Lori also brought along real historical examples that are part of her personal book arts collection as you can see below…the drawings in the compartments, and the materials used, are something special. 

I was completely silenced and in awe of how simple the book-making process was in comparison to the complexity of what was created (given there are a few tricky cuts and folds to remember in there). As usual, I was working at wordgirl non-stop fast-pace, which gave me time to decorate the surface of the book compartments with beautiful hand screen printed Japanese paper called ‘Chiyogami’. Lori very kindly went and asked Shepherds, the bookbinders next door, to see whether they had any scraps I could use…I was so grateful!

‘Chiyogami’ designs were originally based on the bright kimono textiles from Edo period (1603-1868) which the papermakers from the countryside saw on the fashionable wealthier ladies in the larger cities. To create a single completed sheet of Chiyogami, each base sheet is silkscreened with as many colours as there are in that particular pattern – in most cases, four or five colours. The most common uses for these papers are bookbinding, origami,boxmaking,collage and card making, covering furniture and walls – the creative possibilities are endless. BEAUTIFUL!

You can see more from Lori and her workshops BOOKBINDING re: DEFINED on her website and through her Facebook Page. I hope to do more of her workshops later in the year or next year. In the meantime, I have a couple of papercutting workshops coming up later this year…join me if you can!

Lori Sauer Zhen Xian Bao Chinese Thread BookBookbinding 1

Lori Sauer Zhen Xian Bao Chinese Thread BookBookbinding 2

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Lori Sauer Zhen Xian Bao Chinese Thread BookBookbinding 34

Lori Sauer Zhen Xian Bao Chinese Thread BookBookbinding 35

Lori Sauer Zhen Xian Bao Chinese Thread BookBookbinding 36

Lori Sauer Zhen Xian Bao Chinese Thread BookBookbinding 37

4 responses to “‘Zhen Xian Bao/Chinese Thread Book’ Workshop with Lori Sauer

  1. Really interested in your references to paper cutting – I was just thinking I would like to know more about this. I came across paper cut artworks by Bovey Lee this week and they were amazing. Is there an online resource or book you would recommend? Thanks.

  2. Pingback: Wordgirl’s Top 10 Art Shows of 2015 | Rachel Marsden's Words·

  3. Pingback: Zhen Xian Bao, Post #3 Twist Box for top layer | Playful Bookbinding and Paper Works·

  4. Pingback: Making a Zhen Xian Bao/Chinese Thread Book: Part Four | Byopia Press·

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