Chinese-Inspired Stick Scroll

A friend was traveling in China this summer and sent me a picture of an ancient almanac from the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD). Bamboo strips were inscribed vertically and joined with strings woven through the strips (much like a sushi mat you might buy today). I realized later that Terry Horrigan of Protean Press in San Francisco had made a book in 2005 with an articulated cover called The China I Knew by Rose Covarrubias, perhaps inspired by this ancient form. Those movable segments have always intrigued me. It was time to make my own version.

I wondered where to get bamboo strips and looked at window coverings and hobby and garden stores. Impatient, and not wanting to buy any new supplies, I got out my 4-ply museum board scraps and found I had several strips I would never use for bookmaking. Until now.

Out came the acrylic inks, of course. I painted a half sheet of Velin Arches. I let the black fade into gray as I went along and used red to color the counters (the enclosed areas of the letters: o and a and e and b have them, for example).

My painting says, in a variety of repetitions, What do you see when you look at me? a scroll a book a sushi mat? What do you see when you look at me? a text a subtext a body? What do you see when you look at me? Look at me.

I wondered what would happen when it was cut into strips, if the text could be read or be understandable.

I wrapped each of the boards as you would wrap separate book covers.
(See instructions for wrapping separate boards in Making Handmade Books.)
And I collaged the backs with scraps of the painted paper I didn't use
but still in keeping with the gradation idea.

Red or black waxed linen? I chose black, leaving the only color
the counters of the letters.

A little over twice the width of the strips.
Three threads this length.
Place the first board in the folds of the threads 
(the fold is shown on the left).

Cross each thread. Arrange one thread left, one thread right.
Lay the next strip on top of the threads pointing right.

Repeat the crossing of the threads and placing the next strip on top of the
threads pointing right.

Tie off in square knots at the end. Do not trim! 
You will use these as a closure when the scroll is rolled.

Back view with random scraps collaged as end papers.

Front view. I kept the strips on order, but they did wrap around the edges
so the lines aren't completely legible.
The final piece measures about 16" square (factoring in the tallest pieces).

Every new structure demands a new way of thinking about text, which is probably why I like this activity so much. Smaller lettering next time will help, I think! Onward to more challenges.

Thanks, Cara, for inspiring this!

Addendum 10/10/14: It now seems unlikely to me that the original was rolled. I found an image of Sun Tzu's The Art of War that shows it laid out more like an accordion with fourteen sticks across for each fold.


This is so coll; thanks for the tutorial! I may have to go make one of these right now...