The Mysterious Flexagon (and a Flexagon Mystery)

It’s no secret that I’m sort of a nerd. One thing I find fascinating is folded paper. I think origami is amazing and I particularly like how some people have used modular paper folding as an art form. But those aren’t really conducive to the book arts.

A few years ago, though,  I became interested in flexagons–paper folded in such as way that you can bend it and reveal a hidden side. In particular, I like to make hexahexaflexagons, which look like a two-sided hexagon, but which really have six faces. Like an old school “cootie-catcher,” you squeeze it and then open it to reveal another side.

This was literally supposed to have six faces, but it was wrongly glued.

This is an excellent opportunity to introduce you to Vi Hart, YouTube vlogger who makes math fun. Vi explains and demonstrates the hexaflexagon in her most popular video yet.

Cool, right? But a hexahexaflexagon is more than freaky, geeky toy. It’s made of paper (I make mine with register tape) and begs for text. But the way it flexes, while mathematical and predictable, is not like turning the pages of a book. I wondered if I could create a narrative using non-linear story telling.

“New Tricks” is the rough draft of a simple murder mystery told using the hexahexaflexagon format. Find each face to reveal the clues, five on each face. Piece together the 25 clues to figure out who dunnit.

New Tricks (draft) by Eliza Lane

New Tricks by Eliza Lane

Although she was getting on in years, Lady Ellsworth did not die of natural causes.
Who took Lady Ellsworth’s life?

The Victim

Lady Ellsworth lived in a brownstone near the Keller Institute.
She was a loyal friend, beloved by all who knew her.
Although she work faithfully every day, she died without a penny to her name.
She and Thurston had not left the apartment for almost a week.
She took her last breath on a winter afternoon, surrounded by friends.

The Scene

The body lay on the floor of the bedroom, covered by only a blanket.
Nothing in the apartment was out of place.
The only clock in the apartment was exactly one hour fast.
Thurston had tried to hide her medicine in a plate of food, but it sat on the counter untouched.
Detective Cleary took Lady Ellsworth’s body away from the scene.

The Suspects

Thurston Ellsworth calls Lady Ellsworth is “best friend.”
Dr. Loomis has a private practice and also volunteers at the zoo.
Max, the upstairs neighbor, also sees Dr. Loomis.
Buddy is silently thankful that Max is at his side.
Mr. Wong delivers groceries to the Ellsworth apartment twice each week.

The Killer

The killer had known Lady Ellsworth since she was young.
In Chinese astronomy, the killer was born in the year of the dog, the victim in the year of the dragon.
Lady Ellsworth was more mature than her killer.
The killer received a phone call that morning from Thurston’s daughter.
The killer thought to himself, “this never gets easier.”

The Investigation

None of the people living in the brownstone saw the killer.
Five people were known to have been in the apartment that day.
Six pairs of footprints could be seen in the fresh snow outside the front door.
Detective Cleary spent the afternoon talking with the neighbors.
The police were never called.

Any ideas? Leave your guesses in the comments below!

While this is merely a draft, I can imagine this weird, flexible book on lovely paper, perhaps even letterpressed. This hexaflexagon, with just three faces, is for sale as a limited edition on Etsy.

Curious to learn more? Here are two good sites:

And if you loved Vi Hart, check out her other videos on this subject:


PDX Book Arts

Portland, Oregon is a maker-town. We have a giant craft fair, a membership-based workspace with power tools, indie boutiques galore and several places with art+living studios. We like DIY, “upcycling,” and embellishing. Portlandia’s “Put a Bird on It” skit might be satire, but what makes satire work is the truth underneath.

Portland is also home to readers and bibliophiles of all ilks. We have Powell’s City of Books, the largest independent bookstore in the country, numerous small publishers, and  Wordstock, a fantastic annual reading/writing festival.

So it’s no surprise that a city of creative readers (or is that literary creators?) has spawned a number of book arts studios and galleries. Here’s a quick tour a just a few of them.

Em Space

This studio bills itself as a “printing and book arts resource center.” The founders of Em Space came together to share equipment and knowledge and now offers workshops, classes and memberships that allow others to use the studio. They provide space and rare equipment to artists and interested community members, and have a goal of creating awareness of traditional and contemporary book and letterpress  arts within Portland and beyond.

CC Stern Type Foundry

Most artists using letterpress printing have to seek out vintage metal or wood type, or they use polymer plates. They are unlikely to ever learn much about the process for actually casting the metal type. CC Stern Type Foundry is a non-profit working museum of metal type and casting equipment founded in 2009. Their mission is to “preserve the heritage of America’s typecasting industry; educating people in the history of metal type and typography, its continued design influence and modern applications; and inspiring graphic artists and printers to pursue new directions using traditional practices.”

23 Sandy Gallery

This art gallery presents local and national artists working in contemporary book arts, painting, photography and printmaking. The gallery also serves as a community gathering space with lectures, workshops, salons, readings and more. Each month they welcome to the public to the First Friday gallery walk.

Independent Publishing Resource Center

The Independent Publishing Resource Center is known as a place to make zines, but it has grown to include everything from printing presses to computers, workshops to an extensive lending library. Additionally, this nonprofit organization does outreach to youth, encouraging media literacy and self-publishing as an expressive art. Several years ago they started a certification program that is an inexpensive alternative to the traditional MFA program.

What book arts organizations or collections to you know of in Portland? Let me know in the comments and I’ll check them out.

(photos courtesy of the associated websites)

Unusual Book Structures with Marilyn Zornado

Oregon College of Art and Craft offers a variety of book arts classes for the general public, in addition to the BFA in Craft. These classes cover the basics of book binding and letterpress, as well as specialty workshops that focus on specific artists and techniques.

Marilyn Zornado has been teaching community education classes at OCAC for years. She also teaches animation at Portland Arts Institute. She often combines books arts, calligraphy, poetry and animation in her work. Additionally, she is on the board of the Independent Publishing Resource Center and is the coordinator of the annual fundraiser, The Text Ball.

In spring 2010, she taught a class at OCAC in unusual book structures. Two of the formats were especially fun for the artists in the class, some of whom had never made books before.

tunnel book

A tunnel book uses two accordion pleats to create a tunnel that you look through. Some of them are complex; others very simple. There are some fantastic tunnel books on Pinterest that show the versatility of the format.

Mine had a hard cover with a cut out that exposed a bird figure that I made from handmade felt (created in a fiber arts class at OCAC the winter before). The tunnel shows a bird cage and bird. The tunnel makes the objects appear in three dimensions.

star book

The star book also has a three dimensional aspect. It is created with modules, and when opened all the way looks something like a star.

Mine used ephemera in the form of swanky real estate advertisements. The viewer peers through a house-shaped cut-out to see the house for sale.

Both of these books were on display in a show called “The Book Exhibit” at the gallery in the library at Washington State University Vancouver.