This is the sixth post in a series about my journey making baskets from punctured bicycle inner tubes. To see them all, click here.
My goals after my last post were a little vague. Round basket, maybe some colour work, and trying to get some proper testing in.
Let’s dig into my attempt at colourwork first.
Colour is one of the big barriers I run into as inner tubes are basically all black. The next most common colour is white – the branding and size information on some of the tubes – but those areas make up a very small portion of the material. And even rarer are the treasures of coloured stripes and patches.
When making things out of tubes, I do my best to feature those special elements, as they give so much character to the final pieces and reinforce what the material was in its previous life.
From relatively early on in my basket-making journey I tried to save the strips featuring those elements. As usual not having a plan, but thinking they’d be useful at some point:
As you can see you mostly get plain strips when cutting up tubes. And while the writing pile is bigger than the stripe, it’s generally only a few inches (if that) of writing on a strip.
You’d have to cut up A LOT of tubes to get enough to writing or stripes to make anything that really featured it.
For example, I used a few of the writing tubes on my second coiled basket:
But it doesn’t really stand out on the final piece.
I didn’t have enough writing or stripe tubes to do anything big with them, so I thought I’d try another idea instead. I wanted to be sure of what I was doing before I used those rare resources.
I use a special brand of ink to stamp my labels on my products – and I’ve even toyed around with doing some custom messages.
While I knew the ink could fade with wear it was the best option I had, so I used a sponge and dabbed ink on a strip to make the face white…ish.
And then when starting the basket, I used the crochet-inspired technique from my last basket to try and give myself a barber pole stripe in black and white.
Or at least, that was the idea.
As you can see, it didn’t really work. While I’d waited at least 24 hours so use the strip after applying the ink, the stress the strips are in while constructing the basket is so great it just flaked off and stuck to what was supposed to be the black coil of inner tube.
It was really disheartening so I abandoned it at that stage and moved onto something else: a plain, normal round basket.
Basket for Testing
Testing is such an important part of my new product process. I want to be satisfied that the things I make will last. It means so much that people spend their hard earned money on Team Sikel products, I want their faith to be rewarded by good craftsmanship and design.
And because these baskets are SO time intensive, they’d end up costing a lot. All the more reason to be certain they’d hold up to abuse.
So I spoke with Alicia from Zero Waste on Wheels. I go to her for my refills, and she said how much she loved the way the baskets I was sharing online looked. I knew she travelled around a lot for her markets and visting people’s homes for refills, so I thought her using one of my baskets as display would put it through its paces.
Definitely more than me using them at home as recycling baskets.
So I got to work making one to some measurements she gave me. It wasn’t going to be big, so I hoped I’d complete it quickly.
It all started out ok, but I ran into an issue after not too long.
Can you see it above? Maybe this is one of those things you’ll have to trust me about.
I accidentally nicked a piece out of one of the strips with my pliers. I kept going then got worried, and went over it again with another section of inner tube to reinforce the area. I can see the reinforcement above – about 4 or 5 o’clock, third coil in from the outside.
I didn’t have the heart to disassemble my work so far, so I kept going, hoping that those nagging doubts would go away.
And while everything was looking alright I knew the problem was there. That doubt wouldn’t leave me, so I abandoned the basket about here and turned it into a tray.
Coiled Basket #7
- Size: 16.5 cm diameter, 5cm tall
- Weight: 390g
- Time: ~3.5hrs
- Materials: 4 tubes
- Lesson: don’t wait to fix your mistakes
More Photos and Thoughts
Looking back on it now, the fact that I’d make a mistake might not have been a bad thing. I could’ve kept going with the basket (it wouldn’t have been too much taller than the tray above), and if it held for a while I could’ve been especially confident my technique would last.
But the truth was the spell broke as I was working on this basket. I’m not sure what it was. Despite the fact I only produced 7 of these things, I was OBSESSED with coiled baskets for over a year.
And since that point I’ve spent a lot of time unpicking my thoughts and feelings about them.
Art and Uniqueness
There aren’t a huge number of people working with inner tube out there.
There’s a decent number- I’m discovering more all the time – but it’s not like fabric or yarn where you can find someone, if not multiple people, at every craft market. But even so, when doing these baskets I finally felt like I’d found something no one else in the world was doing with inner tube. It was a great feeling.
I struggle a lot with imposter syndrome, but something about these baskets felt more ‘worthy’ than my other work.
It’s all very silly looking back on it now.
I think it’s tied up with this notion that you have to suffer for your art. Which is ridiculous, I see that now. The first time my hand and arm started hurting, I should’ve put down my tools and not picked them up again until I’d worked out a better way.
Yes I tried some other tools and methods, but the pain kept coming back and all I did was rest and then continue on with the same technique.
What’s the result of that approach? It’s been over a year now since I finished this last basket – more of a tray, really – and that pain still comes back in my arm now and then.
As much as I felt special and unique for what I was doing, it’s not worth sacrificing other things I loved – like knead a loaf of bread or use a pair of scissors to cut out fabric for an outfit I wanted to sew.
Conclusions and Next Steps
I don’t need to suffer for my art. Instead I want to build a process that I’ll be able to continue and develop for years.
While I’m happy I broke that spell, it meant the problem returned of those narrow inner tubes I wasn’t able to use for my other products. So I wasn’t completely done with basketmaking, just that style.
It was finally time to go back to simple basket weave.