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Coiled Baskets #4-6: Trials in Oblong

This is the fifth post in a series about my journey making baskets from punctured bicycle inner tubes. To see them all, click here.

Goal

After finally finishing my massive recycling basket I decided to try an oblong shape, and because I was feeling keen I wanted to try adding handles, too.

Sounds simple enough, right? Think again!

Coiled Basket #4

Trouble from the Start

This shape proved tricky from the get-go – though my initial issues were of my own making. For some reason I thought I’d wrapped around my core inner tube three times before picking up the coil below, but I realised pretty quickly that ratio turned gappy.

At that moment in the process I couldn’t face unwinding everything: there’s no easy way to take it apart without cutting the strips to bits. So instead I started a second attempt – this time using my tried and true two wraps around the core before picking up the coil below.

Also – there was part of me that thought the gaps were caused by the oblong shape itself, and I didn’t want to spend time taking something apart if it happened again. Keeping the first would give me something to compare the second attempt to.

Can you tell how much better the second one (the one on the left) is? To me it’s obvious but then I’ve stared at these baskets for hours and hours.

Sorting that out meant I was able to continue on with construction.

Handles

Inner tubes have one big difference to more traditional basket weaving materials like willow: they always stay stretchy/flexible. Those more natural materials are soaked before being worked with, but firm up as they dry.

Even other coiled baskets are made with rope and other fibres that don’t stretch. So while many different types of basket handles came up on Pinterest and Google image search, I never felt like they’d work with what I was doing. Or they might look nice, but not be functional or long-lasting. Especially if you put something heavy in the basket: the whole basket might just stretch out when you picked it up.

I decided to integrate a second, sturdy reclaimed material into my process: webbing harvested from a bag I’d made a few years ago.

The idea in my head was to leave gaps in the coiling (i.e. leave a wider gap between points where I pick up the coil below) and weave some webbing through those spaces. The webbing would go under the basket as well, supporting the weight so it wouldn’t stretch the basket out.

All my planning sketches were on the backs of envelopes which have since been recycled, but you see this kind of thing on duffle bags:

Obviously there are some differences – I wouldn’t just be attaching it to the outside, it would be woven into the structure – but as above there wouldn’t be a single stress point where the handles attached. The webbing would support the inner tube and take the weight of what was inside.

That was the theory at least. My attempt didn’t turn out looking like what was in my head.

I wasn’t happy with how this looked: it reminded me too much of my initial failed attempts at this style of basket, I wasn’t able to get the openings consistent enough, and it just looked sloppy.

Looking back on it now, maybe if I’d integrated the handles in lower and left more space between coils where I wove the inner tube through it would’ve looked better. But to be honest it wasn’t the only issue here. There was something fundamentally off about this basket I needed to correct before I even considered adding handles.

So I undid to before where I added the gaps, and tried to address the bigger problem.

The Twist

From the start, this basket wanted to twist. Here’s the earliest picture in the process I could find – you can see how warped it is:

My working assumption was that it would get better as the basket grew, and at some magic point would go away entirely. Believe it or not, it was even worse on the very first coil around, and seemed to get incrementally better as I added layers of coils.

So at every opportunity I’d manipulate it back to being as flat as I could, but it never really went away. You can see it with the finished basket.

Coiled Basket #4

Some stats:

  • Size: 12 cm tall x 17cm wide x 26cm long
  • Weight: 973g
  • Time: Approx 8 hours
  • Materials: 6ish tubes

It’s a perfectly usable basket, but not what I wanted. It does rock a bit, even when full. Some people might even like this look as it’s a bit different, but it wasn’t what I was after.

But how to move forward?

I had a few theories:

  • The twist was caused in that first coil around. If I could find a way to stop that, it would never develop.
  • The twist was caused by the construction method. The inner tube is flexible and the wrapping itself or direction of coiling was causing the twist.
  • Or both of the above.

The first one was the easiest to correct, so I went ahead with that.

Coiled Basket #5: Attempt in Bracing

I used a wooden dowel from a toy I’d partially dismantled to use as an earring display. The dowel was wrapped in inner tube strips before coiling a tube around that support as normal. At first it worked:

But the further I got from the dowel, the twist grew. As I didn’t need another twisty basket, I abandoned it soon after this, and just left it as a twisted tray.

Coiled Basket #5 Tray

Stats:

  • Size: 33 cm x 10.5 cm wide, 4cm high in the middle
  • Weight: 435g
  • Time: Approx 3.5 hrs but I was bad at time keeping
  • Materials: 3ish tubes

It wasn’t all bad, though. The dowel made this tray much sturdier than it would’ve been otherwise. If I found a way to fix the twist, I could use the dowel in addition to give longer baskets more structure.

Moving Forward

As the bracing didn’t work, I moved down to my second theory – that something in the construction method itself was causing the twist. Fixing that was a bit trickier, but I borrowed a technique from crochet in the hopes I could make it work.

Basket #6: Two Coil Method

Construction

Coiled basket making reminded me a little of crochet in that there was only one active point. It meant when I wanted to stop I just had to tie up that end point, and the rest of the basket wouldn’t unravel. This is opposed to something like a standard basket weave or knitting, where you’ve got lots of ends on the go at once.

Now and then while crocheting I start two colours at once to create a stripe without having to switch colours, like a barber pole. Check out this tutorial from Shiny Happy World if you can’t quite picture what I’m on about:

If the twist was caused by the wrapping, then in theory I could start a basket with two inner tube coils: one always wrapping the inner tube away from me over the top of the coil and the other always wrapping the inner tube towards me. The two twists would cancel each other out.

In theory.

So that’s what I tried:

And as you can see – it worked! Even from very early on, I didn’t get the extreme twisting I had with my first oblong basket attempt. I’ve included both pictures above as it’s easier to see the two coils (and two active points in the basket) in the second image. Here’s a picture from the side:

I was so excited to have finally figured it out and did my best to speed through construction.

While I was hoping changing up the wrapping direction would give my muscles a break (as the pain in my hand/arm I’d experienced before came back now and then and I often had to stop for a day or two to recover between sessions), it really only succeeded in knackering them more thoroughly.

Why was it so tough? If you’re curious how I constructed the basket, I managed to take a few detailed process photos so you can see why.

Coiling an Inner Tube Basket

Coiling these baskets was knackering process, so don’t try this at home. Maybe if I’d done a “proper” basket weaving class with something like willow before I started this obsession, I could’ve built better technique into my process from the start. But this is what I was doing.

Wrapping strips around the core inner tube was easy enough. I rolled up the whole inner tube I was using as a coil (kind of folded it in thirds) and used my left hand to keep that together. Notice how tightly I have to hold it – the tip of my left index finger is going white.

My right hand controlled the strips and wrapped them around that core material.

Even between wrapping I had to keep a firm grip on the active point of the basket. The strips were at tension, so if I let go it would loosen up at a minimum to the point I last wrapped around the coil below, but probably more.

This was kind of an organic process, so sometimes I’d need to pick up the coil below at the same point I’d done that on the previous coil. It’s a judgement call which way to go.

I used a pair of bent needle nose pliers (you can see them towards the bottom of the picture) to poke through a gap below the previous coil, grab a section of the inner tube strip a few inches along, and then pull it through.

I was careful not to twist the strip.

Then while holding the strip in place at the top, I’d pull the rest of the strip through. This picture I think is the very end of that process, right before I was about to wrap twice around that core inner tube again.

Because the inner tube is stretchy and grippy it took a lot of effort to pull the strip through. Lots of repetitive motions without giving yourself lots of breaks is a recipe for an RSI.

In the time since this picture I’ve done that willow basket weaving class, and have learned there are tools to help keep the gap open between coils and remove some of the effort of pulling the strip through the gap. It wouldn’t have eliminated the chance of hurting myself like I did, but it would’ve made things easier and quicker.

Oh well.

But I kept that method up throughout, always wrapping one coil’s strips away from me, the other’s towards me, until I reached a size I liked.

Coiled Basket #6

Stats:

  • Size: 23 cm long, 16 cm wide, 19 cm tall
  • Weight 775g
  • Time: 6.5ish hours over two weeks
  • Materials: 7ish inner tubes

More Photos and Comparisons

I was so chuffed how this basket turned out, it looks great from any angle.

The new technique created a slightly different ‘look’ to the basket – do you notice the difference between the two photos below?

There’s always going to be some variation in the slant of the wraps that pick up the previous coil in the basket (as I’m not a machine and my strips are different widths), but having two different directions of wrapping gives a slightly irregular appearance to the finish of the basket. I honestly don’t mind, but it might have been something I played around with in future baskets.

And how did it compare with my previous oblong basket? Tilly does like a photobomb.

At first glance they may look the same from above, but the one on the right has the twist. Look how slanted the sides look in comparison to the central line where I started the basket. It’s nearly \ | \.

I finished this basket in April 2021, so obviously I had to do an Easter picture:

Next Steps

I had a few more ideas for these baskets. I thought I’d go back to the round shape, and maybe have a go at smaller ones that would be a lower price if I eventually sold them (as they would take less time).

I wanted to try colour work and be more sure of their longevity: I even went as far as getting a tester lined up. While the ones I’d made over the past year+ were still going strong they largely stayed in one place. I needed someone who would move it around a lot and give it a bit of abuse.

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