My niece and the Chinese Sewing Box

My sister and her family came to visit me this past weekend and as I’ve done in the past, I asked my niece if she’d like to make something in the studio – we’ve been making books together since she was six years old (she’s 13 now).

I offered some ideas and anticipated her asking to make a journal, but that didn’t happen. Instead, she uttered three words that filled me with fear:

Chinese. Sewing. Box.


I don’t remember when I showed her the structure or how she even kept it in her mind, but she wanted to make one. I had never taught it to anyone before, so I was more than a little freaked out.

For those who don’t know about the Chinese Sewing Box, here’s what it is (mine has 13 individual, folded compartments.):

Chinese sewing box

It starts out unassuming…

Chinese sewing box

…and then you open it up.

If you’d like to see it opened in all its glory, you can check it out in this blog post.

Anyway, far be it from me to deny my niece the opportunity to make a Chinese Sewing Box. I warned her that it took me two hours to make one, so it would most definitely take her longer. She still wanted to move forward so I accepted the challenge.

Yeah. She got tired of the folding pretty quickly. We took lots of breaks. She wanted to bail a few times, but there was no way I was letting that happen.

First step – square Masu boxes! We used reversible Unryu for the entire structure.

Folding compartment boxes for Chinese Sewing Box

Next came a departure from the original structure I learned – the top boxes are Pop Up Envelopes – I learned how to make these in a Flickr tutorial by Kathrin Achenbach (a.k.a. annekata).

We then completed the remaining compartments, which were all variations of rectangular Masu boxes.

Assembly commenced.

Assembling parts for Chinese Sewing Box

Being that my niece is 13 years old, we took a brief break for the requisite I’m going to put glue on my hand so it can dry and I can peel it off moment.

Chinese Sewing Box

I’m telling you, my niece is impressive – she stuck with all of it. And I was pushy. Well, a pushy cheerleader, anyway. I love her so much!

The last piece she completed was the crazy ass belt. It was designed by Hedi Kyle. She is so damn clever.

Attaching belt to Chinese Sewing Box

FYI – You can find Hedi’s original pictorial directions for the belt on page 14 of the handout from her 2005 Guild of Book Workers Standards presentation. Cathryn Miller of Byopia Press took it one step further and added written directions to Hedi’s pics so the belt is easier to construct – hooray! 

Here’s the final thing of beauty:

Chinese Sewing Box

I loved that she chose different colors of reversible Unryu instead of just sticking to one sheet. I’m so proud of her.

And now I know that I’m capable of teaching the Chinese Sewing Box. Who knew?

8 Responses to “My niece and the Chinese Sewing Box”

By Carolyn S Bensinger - 23 April 2018 Reply

This is fabulous. Glad to know the Unryu works.

By Elissa - 23 April 2018 Reply

Carolyn –

The reversible Unryu is so fabulous. If you make a wrong fold, you can fix it then the old fold just disappears into the crinkles.

The paper starts out stiff, but gets softer as you work with it. By the time you’re done it feels like fabric. I love the stuff!


By Becky - 23 April 2018 Reply

Lucky niece to have an Aunt Elissa!

By Elissa - 23 April 2018 Reply

Becky –

We all know I have a book agenda. My niece doesn’t have a chance against me! Bwahahahah!


By daria wilber - 23 April 2018 Reply

Love it!! And of course drying glue on the hand is THE most important part of ANY glue related process!

By Elissa - 24 April 2018 Reply

Daria –

I looked away for the teensiest moment and when I turned back around, there she was using my glue brush to paint her hand.

She’s quick on the draw (or paint, I suppose)!


By Kris - 23 April 2018 Reply

Love seeing this, Elissa! Thanks for sharing it. Kris

By Elissa - 24 April 2018 Reply

Kris –

My pleasure! Of course, had she not finished, maybe I wouldn’t have posted…


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