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Making the Most of Inner Tubes

I started my business to help reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. Not only just reuse it, but try to make the most of its unique characteristics and feature any wear from the life it lived before it came to me.

Surely an Inner Tube’s an Inner Tube…right?

Not quite. They’re all (mostly) black, and the ones I use are all made of butyl rubber, but I never know quite what I’m going to get when I collect from the lovely businesses that save inner tubes for me: Senacre Cycles and Zero Waste on Wheels. There’s so much variation in each batch.

They can be very narrow or very wide (though not often as wide as the one below):

And either of those can be for a large or small wheel.

And if that weren’t enough, but the thickness and stretch of each inner tube varies, too!

Combining those ranges of sizes and widths and thicknesses… it’s no surprise that no two products I make are the same. It’s hardly ever as easy as pulling out the first inner tube I see and being able to make whatever I want with it.

Projects to Suit

So making the most of the inner tubes means….what? Coming up with projects that suit those varied qualities.

In the most basic sense, the first divide I make is narrow and wide. The wider ones I cut open for projects like my Wallets, Coin Samosas, and Bags.

The strips aren’t flat, but flat enough to work with in projects like this. For larger items like bags, I have to piece the strips together to make them large enough.

Whenever possible I try to make products from just one inner tube – as I was able to do with the bag above. You can see the blue stripe on all three strips I sewed together (it’s all the way over to the left and top of the piece with the writing on it).

If I mix and match I take a lot of care in choosing inner tubes that are as similar as possible.

Circumference

The smaller circumference of the tyre and rim the tubes are made for, the wavier the strip. Those small ones are really great for coin samosas – you end up with such great volume inside to hold your change.

It can be trouble for bags, though. I once made a little clutch bag from a smaller tube. I loved all the detail and waviness, until I realised it affected how the zip functioned! I kept that one for myself, though, so it’s not as though the inner tube was wasted.

Working with Stretch

And finally there’s stretchiness and thickness. Inner tubes that are thicker are better suited for Samosas and Wallets. That sturdiness holds up well with the snaps. I once made the mistake of using a stretchy tube for a prototype wallet…and then having the tube stretch around and leave the snap where it was!

It happens towards the end of the video below.

Those stretchier ones end up as bags, or were cut into strips for my coiled baskets (more on that below). Now that I’ve stopped making those, I’m using those strips in new projects launching next month.

What about the narrow ones?

Below a certain width, it doesn’t make sense to cut them open. I’ve used them for projects like keychains or my coiled baskets, or even straps for certain bags.

While I’ve stopped making my coiled baskets, I’ve been dabbling with some woven ones. They’re not quite ready to release online, and probably won’t be until next year. Alicia from Zero Waste on Wheels has been kind enough to test a few sizes for me on her van, if you want to spot one in the wild! A few may make an appearance at any in-person markets I do in the lead up to Christmas.

What I love about Inner Tube

Inner tubes are made form butyl rubber, a durable material that’s also used for lining ponds and roofs. It’s got some stretch and grippyness, and can often be treated like leather. It’s such a hard wearing material, it would be a shame to send it to landfill just because it can no longer be repaired for use in a bicycle tyre.

I love the character on the tubes – the lines, the writing, the patches! And I try to feature those on items I make.

When I get a very special tube in – a colour stripe I haven’t seen before, a new brand of inner tube with interesting branding, or a unique size – I often save it for a special project. That was the case for the valet trays I’m releasing next month – but I’ll post more about that soon!

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