Paper: 2D to 3D

Leave a comment

One of the things I spend a lot of time thinking about is the sort of principles one should adopt in a MakerSpace.  And one of those critical principles is this one:

Principle #2: 2D makes 3D

What does that mean? It means that a student or an adult should take a 2-dimensional material, such as paper or fabric or plywood or sheet metal, and turn it into a 3-dimensional object. (I watched a video of Adam Savage making a box using a metal brake recently, and it was inspiring to see a box made so easily. [see about 6:33 and following]).

It’s better if that object has a fold or a bend or a twist in in, or has some sort of functional purpose — but just folding or bending or shaping a piece of paper in a deliberate or conscious way can turn a flat thing into a product. Sometimes it’s a box, sometimes it’s a house-shape, sometimes it’s a bag, sometimes it’s a yarn-winder. Sometimes it’s a question of folding or stacking pieces, sometimes it’s bending them.

What does that look like?

How do we know when a student’s efforts at working Principle #2 have succeeded? How do we know when our own efforts have succeeded?

How do we succeed if we don’t have a metal brake in the workshop (or a hundred bucks of leather for each and every student to make their own Chewbacca bandolier??).

It’s worth remembering the cheapness and versatility of that key material:


Paper is enormously versatile.  I think I got a sense of that with the Paper Roller Coasters people, and the work of Rob Ives.  You can do amazing things with paper.  But pop-up cards have tremendous versatility as a way of teaching the basics of 2D to 3D thinking. In these few cards, you can see one that turns into an easel, several that turn into steps, and several that turn into folded panels. There’s even a Japanese envelope-letter: write on one side of the paper, and then fold it, and it becomes its own envelope.

What are the benefits of working with paper first, before working with metal or leather or cloth? First it’s a lot cheaper.  A sheet of paper starts at around a penny a square foot (though it can get more expensive), while fabric starts at around a penny a square inch.  Paper is the place to teach conservation of materials, 2d to 3d, and the principles of cutting and measuring carefully. This is where the work begins. This — and drawing.

If you have to equip a MakerSpace, and you only have a $100 budget for the year, start with a lot of paper in a lot of weights, and invest in cutting and folding tools like Xacto knives, rulers, and bone folders.  You can download all the origami and pop-up card designs you could possibly want from the Internet.  Measure, cut, fold — make templates ,and cutting and folding diagrams, and set up production lines.  Teach the industrial revolution, Hallmark card-style, and reinvigorate letter-writing culture at the same time.

(While you’re at it, teach students to make the Platonic and Archimedean solids — geometry learning should go along with Maker learning. That’s practically standard).

Remember: No matter what you build, it’ll be a beginning. And everything you teach about folding, cutting, bending and scoring will ultimately be useful when you do get around to having a metal brake.

Chinese sewing book


I’ve been fascinated by the Chinese Thread Book, or (zhen xian bao) since I first found out about it several years ago.  It always seemed too complicated. Today, I followed the tutorial here on how to construct it.  There are other tutorials, but this is the one I chose to follow.

The results are not ideal.  The paper I used is really cardstock, and too heavy for this purpose.  It does make it less likely that you’ll rip the twist boxes in the course of opening and closing them, but all in all the book turned out nicely despite being made of paper scraps from my collection of leftovers from other paper projects.

By and large, the most difficult piece of the work is folding the pieces that become the twist boxes.  This involves cutting an A4 piece of paper to the correct size, measuring it, folding it into fifths and halves, and then folding it in a series of diagonals to produce the twist.  All in all, though, an elegant design.
This book contains seven compartments, but I missed an opportunity to add at least two more, if not six more. No matter. I was following a tutorial, not designing my own box from scratch. I do see, from museum examples, that there are some ways of adding more complex compartments to the book — one large one the size of the whole cover, another two on each side, and another pair opening underneath the two compartments on the right-hand side.  Plus there’s maybe space for a couple of ‘envelope’-like pockets under the left and right side compartments.

Here’s the second thing I like about it, despite the heavy paper (or perhaps because of it).  It’s clear that this is a thing with a specific purpose — thread. You’re not going to be storing cauldrons and alembics and elaborate machinery inside of this.  It’s for thread.  Maybe some needles.  I saw a museum-quality example once, really from southwest China, that was large enough to store pattern pieces for sewing shoes in it.  This one is not that big, as you can tell by my hands.  But it’s still a thing rooted in geometry (even if I used a ruler and was measuring in centimeters to make this particular example.  The people who built the originals did so using geometry for the most part, not measurement with measurement-units like inches or centimeters.  They made these things according to geometric rules, which I started to get a handle on as they made these beautiful objects.

Third — as some of you might guess from the paper choices for the twist boxes — there are potential uses for this book of boxes in magic.  I can see Gordon populating this with some of his sigils, for example, or maybe treating the paper as sigil-surface.  It can certainly be decorated, far beyond what I’ve done here.  Or sigils could be secreted inside the various compartments.

This one, I’m going to use in my bimonthly roleplaying game as a prop.  It’s a little too rough and weird and heavy to use as a regular-use object, and I don’t really have a use for it (yet).  But if I make some counters or things to put in the compartments, then maybe this is a wizard’s spell book, or a special-purpose version of something like a deck of many things, or a similarly special-purpose bag of holding. (Just because the compartments can’t hold cauldrons in our world, doesn’t mean they can’t in another world…)

So, that’s the basics of it. Not complicated, really, though it looks intimidating.

Book bound, & #makered


I spent some time today binding this book. I had a bunch of 11×17″ paper left over from another project, so I arranged it into signatures/quires of six or seven pages each, and groups of six quires, to produce eight notebooks: coptic stitch sketchbooks.  I like this size and heft; it feels about right.

But boy, are they a pain to bind!  The covers aren’t quite stiff enough with just plain cardboard inside them; there’s a lot of floppiness… or not floppiness, but flexibility.  And you need about nine yards (it feels like, in reality it’s more like four) of waxed string to bind a book of this size, which is more than is convenient to work with at one time.  And the black string combined with the wax leaves black marks on the paper… white waxed string, it seems, is the way to go so as to avoid staining the paper.

Still, it came out all right.  Not an entirely successful experiment, but OK, I learned a few things.  Now what? What comes next?

At this point, I’ve bound and given away four of these notebooks of this size.  (Two were for my parents for their wedding anniversary — matching papers of the same pattern, in different colors).  I have this one bound, which means that I have three more to bind.  I think I’ll save them for days when I don’t have anything else to work on.

Why Bookbind?

Some of my readers are teachers, and must wonder what the advantage is of doing bookbinding.  I mean, MakerSpaces are really supposed to be about things like robots and 3D printers and AutoCAD and digital design…. aren’t they? Or aren’t they supposed to be about building things out of wood and plastic and metal?

Yes, MakerSpaces are frequently about that — but let me say, those of us who teach or taught Maker work in schools are forgetting the importance of the soft skills, and of artisanship.  It’s part of the reason why I taught knitting, and built inkle looms, and learned to spin wool.  It’s part of the reason I learned to work a sewing machine, and to make costumes and hats and bags.

But I’d like to offer the point that Making comes in many different flavors, and it’s not all electronics and gears and 3D printing. There’s fashion design and graphic design and book production and artisanship and cabinetry and furniture-making and mechanical processes and block printing and leather working and architecture and… and… and… the list goes on.  The human experience is huge, my friends in Maker Education… and learning to do more than simply program pre-made robots or build circuits out of LittleBits is probably not enough.

We have a whole range of things that our students are hungry to learn how to do… and there’s benefit in building up OUR skills so that students can see how to grow and expand their own learning processes to encompass other fields of endeavor.

Design Work: Dos-a-Dos-a-Dos Book

Leave a comment

I’m working on a book.  It’s sort of an unusual book, an art project really. It’s a collection of poems, that are going to be bound together in a rather interesting chap book.  Actually, it’s a total of three collections of poems — three sets of hymns.  I suppose you could call the book a hymnal in three parts.  The three parts are individually dedicated to different astrological phenomena: one is a set of hymns to the Sun at various seasons of the year; the second is a set of hymns to angels of the Mansions of the Moon; and the third is a set of hymns to the Behenian fixed stars.

and... on to the third galley proof...

and… on to the third galley proof…

I intend for the book to operate on a dos-a-dos-a-dos bindingNormally, a dos-a-dos binding has three card covers — a middle ‘cover’ that acts as a spine for the book, and two outer covers. The book is then bound dos-a-dos: back to back, with the ‘back’ side of each book attached to the central panel, and each book opening from opposite sides of the book.  I’m adding a third option by adding a fourth cover.  So you’ll be able to open this book top-to-bottom, left-to-right, or right-to-left.

But getting the geometry, for lack of a better word, right on the book design is… well, challenging.  The most difficult part of the design is the pages of the top-to-bottom opening.  You and I in the western world, unless we’re regularly reading in Hebrew or Arabic, are used to reading from front cover to back cover, left to right, with the spine on the left side of the book.  If you read Hebrew or Arabic regularly, you’re used to having the spine of the book just under your right hand.

Behenian Star BookHow’s it going to work when the spine is at the top of the book?

So I’m building a mock-up.  About 95% of the poetry is done; it was written by hand under the stars, like it should be. And of course it’s typed up, it’s in digital formats that can easily be ported into a paper-layout program.  I happen to be using Apple Pages, which is terrible for this, but it’s what I’ve got.  Even the old version of Apple Pages was better for this task than the current version, but it is what it is. You work with the tools you have. I guess.

In any case, I’ve now done the layout two different ways — on 5 1/4″ x 17″ paper, which I have to make myself by cutting down 11×17″ tabloid paper to the right size.  The individual pages are then folded and stacked into the right order to make two signatures or quires.  And now I’m trying to figure out if I’ve set the pages up correctly — or if I’ve just printed them back-to-back in the wrong order (top-to-bottom, rather than back-to-back measuring tallness like competitive siblings).

I have the front (Sun) portion of the book laid out already. And I have the back (Moon) portion of the book laid out already.  There are no Moon poems left to write or edit; there are two Sun poems started from last year but not yet finished; it’s mostly a matter of drag-and-drop once they’re typed up. Their spots in the book are confirmed.  And all the poems in this section are also written.  It’s just a matter of getting the layout right.

And then… altering the layout so I can take it to a printing place and have it done up properly on 11×17″ paper, which I can then cut myself; rather than cutting 11×17″ down to fit my printer.

Still, this is what a good artist does: figure out what works, discarding what doesn’t work along the way.  It’s a new version of Solve et Coagula, writ large for the 21st century.

AWS: Further Insights


I’ve finished my own commitment to Autumnal Maker School, but something urged me to keep going. And something else said, “go back to some of your paper-engineering stuff. That’s important, because paper engineering is an important route into the Maker movement, especially for schools with little to no money to invest in tools and equipment.”

And then Deb Castellano kicked my ruck-sack with her current post, Glamour Practical: Burn this Place Down. Mentally, I’ve been under the weather, and unwilling to get out of my own head to get stuff done. Sure, I built a bunch of cool crafts and machine models for working on automata. But I was doing that for school, not for me.  I wasn’t contributing to my own wonder about the world, my own sense of amazement and my own joy in creating. That was work. But her she was, reminding me to play.

The Kavad & Making

And that meant going back to an idea which I’ve had for a long time. A long time indeed. The Kavad.

For those who are just joining me, and don’t feel like reading through a whole lot of posts from several years ago, the Kavad is this idea I had for a magical box.  The box would be made of wood, with a lot of hinged and spring-loaded panels.  Each of the panels would be painted and carved with traditional imagery from Hermetic and astrological teaching. It would be my Maker cabinet of curiosities, designed to teach me engineering and woodworking and three-dimensional design and astrology and Hermetics and neoplatonism, all at once.  I did manage to build four prototypes of it, in increasing complexity; but I got bogged down in the engineering and woodworking of it, and the challenges involved in learning how to automate it.

And then I discovered bookbinding. And see, the Kavad of Hermetics was always a cool thing, but it was a three-dimensional representation of a set of spiritual concepts, trying to cram a western/magical system into a device/tool/imaginarium that came out of India’s vedic and yogic traditions.  Whereas the Western world has always crammed its mysteries into books and scrolls, into grimoires and sworn books and papyri.  Different technologies, different mysteries.  It’s not to say that the Kavad can’t be built, or won’t be built.  Just that right now, I’m learning the skills that are required to build it.

clockwise from top: pulley card, two origami envelope folds, and a midori book page with contrasting inserts

See, the nature of the Kavad for me was always as a tool for exploring the nature of Making.  It would require skills in carpentry and cabinetry, rendering a two-dimensional material (like plywood or wood or foam core) into a 3-dimensional object. But the source material kept pulling me back to books, to paper.  How can these materials be used to convey particular ideas, particular concepts?  Not just concepts of spirituality, but also concepts of Making?


In any case, I got out my paper cutting mat and some scrap and good paper, and made a bunch of things.  I’m not happy with many of them, but I’m looking forward to fussing with these elements further.

Gender and Craft

Ironically, a good deal of the paper and book arts generally have been left to women, in the form of scrap-booking and album making.  I don’t wish to get into a huge fight about gender here, but women’s arts have been regularly relegated to the realm of “arts and crafts” and discounted as less valuable than the more ‘masculine’ arts of painting and sculpture.  Which is silly — painting and sculpture are wonderful, but they’re also sort of useless.  Whereas “women’s crafts” like knitting and sewing and paper and scrap-booking and related book-binding and -making arts are intensely practical… but also seen as less valuable? What’s up with that?  

Women have known this for years, of course.  And I have, too.  But Design Thinking teachers have to take care to notice this, to call it out, to object to it, and to demand that their students notice it and work to minimize and correct it.  When we run MakerSpaces, we have to take care that the gender issues in our society begin to be corrected in what and how we teach.  Hence the continuing focus in my Design Lab on making the tools for braiding, weaving, spinning — because those tools and skills lay at the heart of the Industrial Revolution.

(I’ve seen this in my own Design Lab, and I have to work to nip it in the bud, that the girls move in the direction of fabric or paper arts and the boys move in the direction of carpentry.  I have to work to stop this, or at least arrange for more divergence.)

Paper Album

I also spent some time tonight building a little paper album based on some designs I found on Pinterest.  I intended it to be a frame for some calligraphy practice, writing out some of the prayers and hymns and calls of druidry in the various pages.  The video is very fast — time-lapse photo rather than a true video — but it gives you a sense of what paper craft can accomplish these days.

This is based on Loretta’s video, here (and the website from which she got it is here):

She’s quite right — this is not particularly complicated or heavy-duty work to make.  But you have to Make it to learn how to do it, just as with the Pulley Card.  And you have to have a sense of what you’re going to use it for. Could this be a book about geology for one of your colleague’s classrooms?  Could it be a place to collect a short story in a foreign language?  Could it be a place to store a kid’s short poems?  Photographs? How do you make the process of teaching someone to Make this part of curriculum, whether in Design or embedded in core (or encore) curriculum?  I don’t know yet.  But I know that Making it helped me develop a sense of what’s important in a MakerSpace, and how to use paper as one of the key materials to teach important skills for Making generally.

Papercraft: The Boxes

1 Comment

The Boxes

Originally uploaded by anselm23

I’m teaching a class on paper-craft and in particular pop-up books during summer school this year, and I wanted to start working on my skills so that I can teach my students some new skills when it comes time. There’s a colleague of mine, as well, who’d like to teach her students some pop-up structures, for making cards and mini-books about Native American peoples they’ve studied this year.

I figured, it was time to teach myself some skills. So, I brought home Carol Barton’s book, and I made the first six of her designs: a straight box (purple and yellow in the upper left of the photo), a stepped box (purple, white and yellow in the center back left), a freestanding box-support (back right), a weird “carved box” shape (lower left), a modified box (the shield shape in lower center), a heart, (right hand side, in red), and a scallop shell (center, and hard to see).

About two hours of work. Taught me a lot about following directions, about learning to see possibilities and potentials. I’ve already decided that I want to make a mini book for someone, detailing the Five Elements, the Seven Planets, and the signs of the Zodiac. Call it a mini-kavad in book form. Not sure when I’ll get to it. It’s clear that knowing the structures is one thing — having a clear sense of the book you might produce with such a thing is another. The technology and the vision are separate from one another; learning the methods will not help you come up with creative ideas of how to use the construction techniques. You need the mysteries, or access to the imaginal realm, or the ability to travel astrally, to get access to those sorts of things.

Via Flickr:
Carol Barton’s “boxes” from her book The Pocket Paper Engineer: Vol. 1.Am I getting ideas for the kavad? Of course. Are all of them practical? Of course not.

This is about two hours of work. I learned a great deal in the process about design and structure of pop-ups, and how challenging its going to be to teach some of this in a class this summer. Knives and rulers and protractors and pencils oh my!

One of my aphorisms for design is my friend Mark’s saying, Tools dictate solutions. If all we give students is lined paper, graph paper, three ring binders and pencils and pens… All of their solutions start to look like that. Even the addition of a knife or a pair of scissors is something.

I look forward to tackling triangles soon.