This post in part of a series where I try to make a Galapagos tortoise out of inner tubes. Find all the posts here.
This project is definitely not out of the woods yet, but the “Is This Possible?”-o-meter has swung back towards yes. At least in paper mache or clay.
To be perfectly honest, after my last post I procrastinated…a lot. Much of that was due to a deadline for a submission I was working on (more on that if I get selected). But mostly I wasn’t finding it fun.
Sometimes it takes a bit of a nudge to get me over the hump so I start and find something I enjoy. And in this case that nudge was the lady organising our entries getting in touch to say we had a meeting Tuesday the 6th to discuss our progress so far.
I felt like I needed SOMETHING to show besides five paper mache shells and a pinterest board.
I needed to translate my 2D screenshots into a 3D image. I decided to use maths.
I had the handy 360 view of Lonesome George from the AMNH to work from, and I’d taken screenshots and printed out Front, Side, and Back views. I took measurements but was finding it hard to visualise how to combine all those measurements to make sense.
In the end I used this method, hoping to find the distance between the two points:
Does that picture make sense? I ran it past my husband and he said he got what I was on about, so that’s probably good?
Basically I used my quilting ruler to made a grid on top of the screenshots, then measured Lengths and Heights from each applicable view. Then it was a matter of plugging into google’s hypotenuse calculator to get my measurements.
The paper mache shell was double the measurements on the screenshots, so I doubled all my final results. It’s all in this handy spreadsheet:
Which then translated into this diagram:
I followed the instructions on the video, but added extra wires to support the angles of the legs and backbone, as they kept wanting to twist.
So instead of just Left legs / Spine / Right Legs, I also attached separate front legs and back legs wires, AND wires that went from each front leg up part of the neck.
But when I held on the shell…the armature looked a little too big. Still not sure why that happened TBH. I probably doubled at the wrong point.
If I held the back of the shell where I wanted it to be, the join of the front legs was about 3cm further forward than it should be. Proportionally it seemed alright, so I just shrunk everything down by 33% so my 130mm backbone measurement became 100mm.
Here are the updated spreadsheet and diagram.
You following so far? Good.
Assembly Try 2
I followed the same method as the first time, as it turned out really solid. And I’m pleased to say it looked MUCH better.
Funnily enough, if you looked at my last post’s horrible attempt at an armature, it’s basically the same size as my 2nd go. So that rough wire sketch didn’t end up being pointless after all.
I even added a little wire just to hold the shell on for the ladies at the WI meeting to see. I’ll add more wire to create a basic shape for the shell to rest on…and pad with newspaper.
Next up is to make a couple more of these – I’m thinking 2 more. This first one will be for paper mache, the second for (hopefully) inner tube, and the third as a backup…or to try with clay if the paper mache doesn’t go quite to plan.
This method was designed for clay, so it’s possible I could struggle getting the paper padding to stay put. But I think with enough masking tape anything is possible.
This post in part of a series where I try to make a Galapagos tortoise out of inner tubes. Find all the posts here.
We left off the last post with a few ideas of how to tackle construction. Crucially I want a model to work off of, like a dress form.
Deciding on a Reference
While looking for reference photographs I realised how little preliminary research I’d done on the Galapagos tortoise. Some of it is very obvious if you know anything about the Galapagos: it’s renown for the variety of species that developed across the various islands. So yes, each island has its own tortoise subspecies, but to boil it down for simplicity, there are two distinct shell shapes: dome and saddleback.
As I mentioned in my last post, I really doubt the judges will be looking for anatomical accuracy. Or for that matter notice if I used a Galapagos tortoise versus any other sort of tortoise. But it does matter to me. I was already leaning towards saddleback as they can have that great upright stance I mentioned in my previous post. But what clinched it was finding a specific tortoise with a huge number of reference photos to work from: Lonesome George.
You may have seen him in the news: the last known Pinta Island saddleback tortoise. Found in 1972, conservationists were looking for a mate for him for decades. Sadly he passed away in 2012 without having any offspring, and his subspecies is currently extinct.
In addition to all the videos and photos while he was alive, George was taxidermied after he died. There’s a video about it and and a 360 degree view of him on the American Museum of Natural History website. The latter of which is ideal for trying to make a model: I can scrub along the timeline and stop at any angle.
Making the Shell
As it happened we went camping recently, and while digging through the bin of camping supplies I noticed one of our enamel bowls had gone rusty in a few places. But there was a definite upside: it became the basis of my tortoise shell shape.
I used my bowl, paper I saved from parcels, and masking tape to create a basic form, but as it was still a bit squishy I decided a paper mache cover would be best for longevity.
My first was successful but slapdash and a bit thin in places. So I’ve been very systematic covering the rest. At least 5 layers, sometimes six.
Here’s a video of making a good one. As you can see, I put layers in 4 different directions to hopefully give a plywood-like strength to the final piece.
The paste was just a mix of flour and water – starting out in equal proportions, then more water added to thin it out. Whatever I tried, the flour always settled on the bottom, giving my later layers especially gloopy glue. Doesn’t seem to impact the final product, though.
I’ve already made several, and have at least one more in me. Before starting each paper mache cover, I put a layer of compostable clingfilm loosely on my form. Loose so it doesn’t impact the details coming through.
I’m pleased with the results, but they’re really just the beginning. Here’s what I’m thinking going forward:
One will become part of a fully paper mache tortoise. I go through phases of whether or not I think the inner tube version will work, and I’m squarely in a “not sure stage right now” period. Having a completed paper mache version will mean I’ll have *something* to enter and not let the team down, taking the pressure off creating an inner tube version. The paper mache model will also help me get sizing right for the armature of the head/neck/legs for any other versions I create.
I can use the other paper shells as the dress forms for the inner tube version. The spares mean if I inadvertently damage or destroy one it won’t slow me down too much.
Thinking about it…I may need to make more simplified shell shape for inner tube, as having the bumps for scutes in the current form might make it harder to sort my inner tube version out. But I’ll stick with it as is for now.
So stay tuned for my wholly paper mache model. I’ve got garden wire to create a frame for the body and appendages, as well as the 360 degree video and some other in-progress diagrams from the AMNH website to help me out.
If you’re new to the blog, check out all my basket posts here. An explanation for my size shorthand can be found in this post.
I’d really wanted to try something complex. After struggling a little with the results of some of the wider tubed baskets (check out an example towards the end of this post) , I thought it’d be a good idea to go back to using narrower tubes for a while. I’d made some 5×5 #7 baskets before, but as always I want to push myself a little further, and it just so happened 7 of my very narrow road bike inner tubes (all just over 2 cm wide) fit nicely on my #10 stacking box.
In a slight change from my normal format, I’ll show you the final product, then talk a little about how it came together.
The Finished Basket
Size: 17 cm L x 17 cm W x 16 cm H
Materials: Stiffer tubes, all just over 2 cm wide. Material from about 11 tubes (but it didn’t use all of each tube, more on that later)
Rivets: 43 silver-coloured brass rivets
Hand Press Presses: 96
Time: About 2 and a half hours
As this was a very complex basket, I was curious how long each section would take me. So I noted down some rough timings as I went along.
Sorting, Cutting, and Weaving the Base
I’d saved up my especially narrow tubes as they don’t work on my smallest basket size, but it still took time to sort out the ones that had the same stiffness and would work well together.
With this bigger basket I ran into the valve section with a lot of tubes. Quite often I had a choice of leaving a very small section of tube near a valve, or leaving a lot but having to dig more out of my stash to make up the lengths I needed. I chose the latter as thankfully I managed to find enough that would work.
I still have my heart set on a crazy sea urchin basket (discussed a little in this post), and now I’ve got 8+ more valves with a good bit of tube around them to add to the pile of potential materials!
Doing the final sorting and selection of the tubes cutting everything to length, and weaving the base of the basket took me about a half hour.
Time so far…30 mins
Prepping the Bands
Next up was preparing the bands I use to create the sides of the basket (aka weavers). Assembling them ahead of time is an essential part of the process. It means I can make the sizes consistent and pick out how everything comes together to make the most of that lovely writing on the tubes.
At this point I also attach my ‘team sikel’ label. Those are made up of large-ish scraps of tube left over from other things. I tend to save the firmer tube for cable tidies, but anything too stretchy ends up here as it’s just decoration.
This process can be a bit fiddly. There are two mistakes I often make, regardless of how many reminders I leave around my workspace or baskets I’ve made:
Attaching the ‘team sikel’ label at the wrong point, so it doesn’t line with the rivets on ‘over’ sections of the weave.
Riveting together ALL the bands. I need to keep the top one apart (but marked to the correct length) as that’s riveted together with the top.
Thankfully I didn’t make those mistakes here, but it still took about 20 minutes.
Time so far… 50 mins
Weaving the Sides
I finally remembered to take a picture!
While you’d hope at this point it would just magic together quickly, we’re not even halfway through.
As the inner tube is so grippy, there’s some wrestling to get the sides down where the need to be. I make it a little easier on myself by using bulldog clips to hold the stakes (vertical sections of the weave) I’m going ‘over’ in place. But on each side I have to check I haven’t left gaps below, and that it’s not twisting out of shape.
Each loose stake needs a good tug to line it back up with the one that I’ve left clipped, and then I swap the clips over and repeat until I’ve reached the top of the form.
At this point I have to do some clipping to remove excess layers that would otherwise warp the tabs at the top. This is after a lot of testing to find the best finishing method, which I talk about more in this blog post.
I save the final finishing until after the rivets have been attached. But phew! We’ve got something that resembles a basket.
You may also notice I’ve switched clips. At this very last stage I find a wonder clip style warps the top of the basket less as it’s flat on the back unlike a bulldog clip.
But they’re also much more expensive (and a lot of plastic) so I use the metal bulldog clips as much as possible.
Time so far…1:45
Finessing and Attaching the Rivets
This one was a bit of a marathon. My simplest baskets are 3×3, meaning I have 9-10 rivets to attach at the top. Being 7×7, this basket has 29, so about 3 times as many!
Thankfully I have a placement template to help me keep everything more or less consistent around. I mark while it’s still on the form and then wiggle it off.
Before I get to riveting though, there’s invariably some finessing to make sure the top of the basket isn’t warping and the stakes end straight in the back. I also tend to have a little gap at each corner due to the form I’m using, and I try to space out the top of the stakes to distribute the worst of it along the side.
For the actual riveting, my table top hand press to makes it much easier. As the inner tube is grippy, I have to be careful that the flaps on the back don’t bend out of shape. On many baskets I use some water-soluble double-sided sewing tape to keep everything in place where I can’t see it.
Believe it or not, that process took about a half an hour. And it’s still not done – but thankfully there’s not much left to do.
Time so far… 2:15
Tidying Everything Up
Last but not least is trimming off the ends of the tabs and making them look pretty. It’s something I have to do inside and out. On smaller baskets where it’s harder to get my hand in, I’ll physically flip the basket inside out…one of the perks of using this flexible material!
In my initial trials I tried I lot of finishing styles to end up with the one I have now. It creates a bit more waste than I’d like, but the alternative was something that looked rough for my liking. Until I think up a neater finishing method, I’ll just save up those little scraps to stuff another doorstop for myself.
Final Time… 2:30
But with the basket done, all there’s left to do now is take some photos to show off all the work that went into it!
I love how much writing I was able to show off on this basket. And the contrast of the metal with the black of the tubes.
There’s something especially pleasing about these baskets made with the narrower inner tubes. I think it reflects all the effort that goes into producing them.
It may seem odd that I’m devoting so much of my blog space to discussing these baskets when I don’t have them for sale on my website. I absolutely love them, and how they’re able to use up the tubes that I otherwise don’t have a use for. But to be honest, I’m struggling with pricing them.
So while I work through some self doubt about charging their worth, these will be priced cheaper than they should be as an in-person market exclusive.
Though you may see a few up in my Super Seconds Festival offerings – but more on that another day!
Quite simply I wanted to see if this could work. I had some strips already cut – they were for a normal basket, but didn’t quite fill the form I had in mind.
At this kind of early stage I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself, I just wanted to stay curious, so I didn’t even time myself.
I used a size 6 form (more info on what that means in this post) as it fit the width of inner tubes (all about 4 cm wide). Even though the tutorial didn’t use one, I knew inner tubes could be an absolute floppy nightmare if I didn’t have a structure to clip them to.
It was still a bit of a pain to be honest – the structure of the basket isn’t really set until it’s complete (I’m not sure how else to explain that…it felt a little like knitting a row without needles?). Somehow the basket turned out really well. Call it beginner’s luck!
Spiral Basket 1
Size: about 13 cm across at the bottom and 11 cm tall to a point.
Hand Press Presses: 24
It’s a bit lacking in stats like I said.
The above picture isn’t my favourite angle though – check out the gallery below for some absolute gorgeousness.
Other Angles and Thoughts
The top view is my favourite.
It was interesting to see the differences between this and the paper version, namely that slight twist the top develops. It looks like some kind of flower, I’m absolutely obsessed.
My husband is a huge fan of this kind of basket, too. Although he’s very supportive with my business, I could tell the other baskets I made weren’t really his thing. He actively questioned me making ones with valves – but he’s not my target customer so I just ignored him and laughed about it with his sister (of A Good Talking To, who I do markets with).
With this one though he kept talking about it, and more or less made me bring them with to the Wasteless Market last weekend. It wasn’t for sale though.
Notes for Next Time
I wasn’t sure I was happy with how I finished off the top. Was there some kind of way to fold the ends under for a neater look? I had an idea to try next time.
But what I struggled with most was not knowing how to plan and cut my materials.
With the straight basket weave, I could easily measure out how long everything needed to be, even if I’d never used the form before, reducing waste. I could picture how it would come together and plan ahead to make sure as much of the writing, patches, and other interesting bits of character would be visible on the final basket as possible.
This was like writing in some kind of foreign language I didn’t speak or really understand.
Needless to say it took me a while to make another one.
It was long enough between my first and second attempts that it almost felt like starting from scratch. I didn’t have any lengths of inner tube cut ahead of time, so I tried to use full tubes.
I did try something a bit different with construction, too, using clothes pins like in the paper tutorial I followed. The bulkiness of the peg made it hard to work with the form, and they didn’t have enough strength to keep the unwieldy inner tubes together.
While I did end up making a basket, I can’t say I was very happy at the end of it.
I thought there had to be a better way, so I disassembled this and regrouped.
Being a bit more systematic
Often when I’m sewing I’ll do a mock up in a similar material. For bags I’ll often use paper, as I have a lot of it around with one or both sides covered in writing or misprinted sewing patterns.
I thought if I could cut some strips to the right width I could assemble the basket, then take it apart to get a rough guide of what I needed to cut.
It looks so orderly laid out like that, though I wish I’d marked the “over” sections of the weave so I could use them as a template for featuring patches or writing.
But with having a rough idea of what lengths to cut, I felt more confident having another go.
Inner Tube Construction
I swapped out my clothes pegs for something more suitable working on a form – a spare band of inner tube I’d riveted together for another basket but hadn’t used.
There aren’t any pictures of this assembly either, but it did make a difference in helping me keep everything from just going everywhere.
The other difference to my first attempt was I went one row (?) higher in the weave because I could, and to see how that would change things.
Oh and I did try folding the ends under, but it made everything too bulky and complicated so I just trimmed it off as I had before. That look is growing on me.
Spiral Basket 2
I used the same form and size of inner tube as attempt 1, but this one’s slightly higher (about 14 cm total).
There is another difference I wasn’t expecting, best seen in the top angle below.
Other Angles and Thoughts
Hmm, maybe you can’t really see! The twist is more pronounced, so the top is more closed in than the lower basket. There’s also an issue of a slightly wonky point, which you can definitely see in the picture below.
It curves in more than the others – maybe one of those tubes is a bit too short or long – stretched or given too much slack with all the faffing about I did attempting the initial folded under finish.
Nevermind, it’s still lovely to look at.
Thoughts for Next Time
That second basket made me feel more confident with this style. The idea of making a paper trial for every size of inner tube/basket I want to attempt this with does put me off a little, if only because that would increase the price of the final product.
But I think this style of basket is slightly more limited in the variety of baskets I can make, especially with the forms I have right now.
In my head all the tubes need to be the same width and I need construct it with strips cut in multiples of four. Though I’ll have a play around with some paper to double check. I’ve also seen oblong examples as purses, which I may have to try out as well…eventually.
Although it’s still like a foreign language, I’m starting to grasp bits here and there.
This Blog Going Forwards
We’re finally caught up to where I am with this process! So going forward don’t expect to see the same kind of leaps of style as there have been. Each basket is a unique construction, with its own characteristics and quirks, and in future I’d love to feature more detail of each one I make instead of breezing on through.
I may post a little less frequently or (gasp) write about something besides baskets.
This is the seventh post in a series about my journey making baskets from punctured bicycle inner tubes. To see them all, click here.
After my previous attempt, I took a break from making baskets. Partially to let my arms heal, partially to work on other things. But the idea never really left me.
Work on another project – my inner tube footstool – reminded me that just a plain weave could look gorgeous, too.
More info on that project can be found in a series of posts here.
As much as I wanted to make more plain weave baskets, I still struggled with how to make it work. I loved my first attempt, but there were a few things I wasn’t happy about the process.
Stitching through up to 8 layers of inner tube was tough on my hands and took a lot of time. It also wasn’t the level of finish I was after. I needed an alternative that wouldn’t take ages, would look nice, and would hold up.
And then I remembered my rivets!
(Not So Much) Fun with Rivets
Rivets are used in sewing to reinforce stress points. You see them on the handles of bags, and on jeans in areas that might be under a lot of strain (like around pockets).
A while back (2019 sometime?) I bought myself a cheap rivet set off eBay – I can’t find the listing again and wouldn’t recommend it anyhow, though it was useful for testing.
How rubbish was it? Well for one the clasp that holds the case shut is broken, on more than one occasion it’s spilled everywhere and I tbh I can’t be bothered to put it back properly.
But at least it came with several sizes and colours of rivets, a setting tool and a hole punch.
I had only ever tried them with one product: a test for a bifold wallet commission.
You may have seen this product for sale during my first Super Seconds Saturday – this one was listed mainly because of the rivets. They weren’t really necessary, but once I’d made the holes for them I had to follow through. The issue was that they didn’t want to attach straight.
Here are some failed attempts I had to remove:
As you can see they didn’t line up. Eventually I was able to hit two in that went straight, but more often that not, on this project and on other tests, they’d go all wonky.
I assumed it was because they were just rubbish rivets, but I’ve since learned a few useful lessons about rivets.
Fun with Rivets
I picked up my rivet knowledge through a live talk on Craftsy which I also can’t find a link to now. But there are tons of tutorials and YouTube videos out there that will help. If I’d looked at basically any of those, I could’ve saved myself a lot of heartache.
My main takeaway was: you have to fit your rivets to your project (or your project to your rivets).
Let’s look at the rivets I got in my set – for reference the grid is made of 1 cm squares.
My issue was using a rivet with too long of a pin. My wallet material was maybe 2 cm thick, and even the smallest rivet was about 5 or 6 cm long. It’s a surprise I managed to get two straight!
Another tip I picked up in the talk was (depending on the type of rivet) I can cut them to size. So if I needed something that was shorter than the longest one, but longer than the middle one, I could make my own.
That raw edge would be hidden inside the rivet cap I attach on the other side.
Alternatively, I could add an extra layer of material to bulk up my project to suit the rivets I had.
Another lesson: attach on a hard surface.
You want to have something sturdy, like concrete, under you when you’re attaching hardware like this to make sure it’s secure. This meant working on my kitchen floor.
(Though just a note I ended up taking a lot of photos in my bedroom bay window for the purposes of this blog post as the lighting’s better)
So armed with this new knowledge I was ready to try baskets again.
Things seldom work perfectly, but by giving myself one or two things to focus on, I can feel like I’ve succeeded even if there are still some issues to work through.
This time it was just seeing if I could get rivets to work. Would they hold? Would the basket look ok? There were so many unknown unknowns I gave myself a lot of slack.
I armed myself with my rivet set, my belt punch, and an old cutting mat to prevent me from damaging the floor.
And – not pictured – a hammer.
If you read my trials with an earlier basket weave basket, you know I struggled a bit during construction to keep everything together. So this time I had a form:
High tech, eh?
Those triangular bits in theory help the sides from caving in while I worked. I’m not sure if they actually did anything but they were reusing the flaps I cut off the top and made me feel better.
I don’t have a lot of in progress pictures, as stopping to document can sometimes take me out of my flow state, but I did end up with a basket at the end.
As it was my first go I initially secured everything with thread so I could work out how to attach the rivets without additional stress. Then I used my leather belt punch tool to create the holes. I also took the opportunity to finish it off several ways to help me settle on the look I wanted to go for.
Brace yourself, it’s really rough!
Woven Test 1
Size: 23 cm across and 10cm tall.
Poor record keeping means I’m not certain how many tubes I used (it was a while ago). I can see material from at least three different ones, but there are probably more.
I learned a lot about what I didn’t want to do in future baskets with this one. While it was a bit of a bust, I saw enough to think I could continue and make it better.
But let me show you more, as embarrassing as it is.
I left just sewn in. It’s the most closed on top and obviously rough, but good as a comparison.
Secured with two rivets at the top of each section of tube. While it’s neater on top than some of the others, there’s far too much hardware.
It looks too busy and any differences in spacing are really obvious, as are if I’m accidentally higher or lower than the other rivets around it.
Ignore bits of fluff, I’ll get to those later.
One rivet in the centre of the horizontal band at each section of tube.
A little neater, I liked the placement in the centre, though it ended up being more distorted and looking A LOT messier from the top.
One rivet for each section of tube at the top of the horizontal band.
While neater than the above from the top, it didn’t look as pleasing from the side.
I saw enough in the method not to abandon it, but there would need to be some changes to fix how the basket looked.
Folding it over at the top like I’d done on my first basket was on my list to try next time, but that wasn’t all that needed fixing.
Let’s Talk About That Corner…
Oh it’s awful, isnt it?
In this post I skipped a train of thought I’d had: that maybe the issue wasn’t the stitching itself but the fact that I was just using a needle and thread to go through the tubes. I thought that by using the punch tool first I could then go through with thicker thread and it would look better.
The answer was no. No it wouldn’t.
Why I chose jute I don’t know, probably it was what I had on hand. I’d forgotten that inner tube is crazy grippy, and all it succeeded in doing was looking awful and pulling the jute to fluffy bits.
I also struggled making the holes down the side with my rotating punch tool. The jaw wasn’t deep enough to reach the bottom without scrunching everything and making it hard to be neat.
Thankfully I had a little stand alone punch tool that came with my rivet set (left below). I was determined to use that and the rivets next time.
But no, there’s even more that needed fixing.
…And That Middle Tube?
Do you notice how round that middle horizontal tube looks? Turns out, you can’t just bung any old tubes together to make a nice basket.
I’d just looked at the width of the inner tube, not considering how thick the butyl rubber was. That centre tube was a lot thicker than the tubes around it. That thickness and the narrowness of the tube meant it just wanted to stay round. The thinner tubes around it didn’t apply enough pressure to keep it flat.
But I didn’t notice it until I’d taken it off the box I was using as a form and it was too late to correct.
So yes, paying more attention to the materials I was using, and making sure they’re from similar types of tube, would be important in making a successful basket.
So I gave myself another attempt, with these new things to look out for in mind.
Woven Test 2
Just to sum up what I wanted to do:
Fold over the tube sections at the top so there’s no weird gaping open areas of tubing.
One rivet per vertical tube, not at the very top of the basket
Use my single punch tool to more easily reach into corners
Secure everything with rivets
Use the same type of tube for the whole basket
Sound good? Well let’s see how it turned out. Once again I took the opportunity to test finishing techniques out on each side.
Test Basket 2
That’s looking a lot better, isn’t it?
Same size as last time because I used the same form.
I did have some fun experimenting with tweaks to the folded finish to get the best look though.
For this side I just folded over the sections of tube and riveted them down. While already miles better looking than my last attempt, it still wasn’t as neat as I wanted.
For this side I cut off the lower layer of tube at the point it folds over the top. That stopped the layers from warping, but still looked a little rough.
It didn’t help that I put the rivets really close to the edge.
This one I cut the lower section of the tube off past the fold, but also cut the corners to give it a more intentional finish, like I do with many of my cable tidies.
I really liked the way this looked.
Same again, I couldn’t think of anything to tweak, though I probably should’ve changed the angle of the notches I cut off.
Nice to know it looks just as good with these colour rivets.
Overall I was much happier with how this worked, though there were still a few things that needed tweaking.
This was better but not perfect.
The rivets I had were too short for 6 layers of inner tube, so I cut off some of the under layers as I did when finishing off the top. Though obviously I went a little too far on some of them, as you can see the cuts on that middle horizontal tube.
Hiding off those raw edges was definitely on my list of to dos for next time.
Thoughts Going Forward
After this second basket I felt sure I could make things I was happy with. All the remaining tweaks were fairly minor – more about finishing than the actual construction method.
Some things to think about for next time:
I still struggled a little using the hand punch tool (more on that in a sec…), so I thought it best to invest in a table top hand press. I also wanted better rivets, ideally something that wouldn’t rust.
My cheap rivet set weren’t the right size for the baskets I was making – I wanted to source ones that were. Although I cut long ones to size for these, it’s a bit fiddly and adds a lot of time.
Another future issue was going to be finding more sturdy forms. The box I was using was starting to look rather knackered, and I wanted the option of doing a basket with higher sides.
Because the tubes are all different sizes, I wanted a variety of forms – like a Russian nesting doll of cubes, so that regardless of the size tubes I was working with, I could find a form to fit.
All of that was going to require a bit of research. But I felt really positive.
A Little Mishap
Well done for making it to the bottom of the post. For fun I thought I’d share a blooper from the making of this second basket.
Remember how I switched to that stand alone punch tool? I used it over the cutting mat to protect my kitchen floor. I assumed it would be as rubbish as the rest of the set and need some oomph to make it through all those layers of inner tube, but it turns out it was pretty sharp.
Yes, that’s right, I went straight through the tubes and mat, putting a hole in the kitchen lino.
Thankfully I was able to fish the bit I cut out of the tool and stick it down with some glue. Can you see where it is?
I can, and I made the mistake of telling my husband. Though it’s been about six months since this happened, he confessed last night he notices it every single day.
Oh well – at least it’s not obvious at a casual glance!
This is the fifth post in a series about my journey making baskets from punctured bicycle inner tubes. To see them all, click here.
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.
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.
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
Size: 12 cm tall x 17cm wide x 26cm long
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
Size: 33 cm x 10.5 cm wide, 4cm high in the middle
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Size: 23 cm long, 16 cm wide, 19 cm tall
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:
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.
This is the fourth post in a series about my journey making baskets from punctured bicycle inner tubes. To see them all, click here.
If you remember from my last post, I had some ideas on how to change or improve my process on this next basket:
Make the sides a bit more even – my previous basket has a bit of a waist (for lack of a better word)
Change the method I used to pull the strips through – the pliers I use have teeth and I damaged the coiling strips a few times
Use a different size tube for the core of the coil – I’d nearly run out of the very narrow ones I was using before
In my head this one was also going to be a bit smaller, hopefully taking less time. If I ever wanted to sell these for my business, I felt I’d need to be able to make them faster (or accept the fact that they’d end up costing hundreds of pounds).
Given the second two points above, my construction method changed a little bit this time around.
As you see, I only used one inner tube as the core material for my coil instead of the two (narrower) tubes I’d used on the first two.
And instead of the pliers I used for those first two baskets, I switched to a wooden needle I’d carved myself for needlebinding.
The method was similar to that second coiled basket – around the core tube twice before picking up the coil below, and I focused even more on making the sides straighter than before.
I progressed- though it was even slower as the coils were thinner (it didn’t grow as quickly), and the basket ended up being bigger. I worked on this basket from August-November 2020.
For once I wasn’t terrible at documenting my progress. Here are some shots as I went along.
5 working hours in with my hand for scale. I was about 4 inner tubes in at this point, too.
My initial idea that this would be smaller than my previous basket was well out the window, but I was enjoying the process so I didn’t mind.
The needle seemed to be working well at this stage.
7 hours into basket making. Not a huge difference from my previous basket, but that’s because I spent a good chunk of that additional time cutting strips from the wider, stretchier inner tubes I couldn’t use on wallets or samosas.
While I liked using the needle, the movement of using it put a different kind of focused strain on my hand. The repetitive motion caused me to pull a muscle or tendon (or something) that impacted lots of things in my life.
I distinctly remember it hurting to turn on the tap in my kitchen. So at this point I took a break to let myself heal.
These didn’t have any teeth – the inner tube doesn’t need it, with pressure it grips well enough in the pliers jaws – so hopefully I wouldn’t damage the strips as I was doing before.
It also meant I was using my whole hand in the motion, and not a few little muscles in my fingers, so hopefully I wouldn’t injure myself
To be honest my hand still twinged a bit now and then, which was a little scary but I was still OBSESSED with these baskets so I kept going.
16.5 working hours into the basket (though we’re now into October 2020).
A lot of other things took precedence in the months between this and the previous photo, but thankfully inner tubes don’t go off, so it wasn’t hard for me to pick this up again.
Not sure how far this one was along, but I was close to finishing. Tilly for scale (though she’s a petite cat so I’m not sure it’s much help).
One thing I enjoyed about this style of basket making was I could do it on the comfy seats in the evenings.
As I wasn’t working to a form there was a judgement call about when this basket was actually done. It’s hard to describe but one of those ‘I know it when I see it’ things.
That’s all the in-process photos I have. Curious to see how it turned out?
The Final Basket
Size: 24 cm tall, 23 cm diameter
Weight: 2.4 KG
Time: About 23 working hours
Materials: 20 or so inner tubes (I was bad at keeping track)
How did this fit in with the baskets I’d made so far?
Obviously it’s bigger and took more time – both because of the size and the fact there were more layers of coils.
I felt a lot neater this time around, though I can see there it’s not perfectly straight. Let’s be honest, I’m a human not a robot, so it’ll never be perfectly straight.
It’s hard to get a sense of the sizing from those photos – this basket felt massive compared to the previous one. For fun (and maybe because I was going slightly mad) I found an better way to demonstrate.
The first photo is of my previous basket – I’m getting Marge Simpson vibes. But happily (?) this one’s big enough to completely cover my head.
Do ignore the messy shelving.
I didn’t feel completely done with round basket making, but having made three I wanted to try a different shape. So I set my sights on:
an oblong basket
maybe even one with a handle
Sounds simple enough, right? Next post is going to cover three (or nearly three) baskets as I worked out all the kinks with what I thought was going to be an easy progression with this technique.
I’ve written in the past about how I make the most of inner tubes, and how I use up scraps. While I touched on how I’ve use the narrow inner tubes to make baskets, I wanted to expand on how I got to the method I’m working on now. This is the first in a series of posts about inner tube baskets. Read them all here.
It all started with this basket:
Dimensions: 30cm across, 13 cm tall
Material: 11 inner tubes!
Finished with: Heavy duty Gutermann thread
I’m getting a little ahead of myself, though.
It REALLY all started with a kind of tube I wasn’t able to use to make my core range of products. The narrow road bike inner tubes, even when cut open, wouldn’t be a useful width. So beyond a few keychains, and the odd strap for a light duty bag, they just built up in my inner tube store.
I’d been thinking about basket weaving with inner tubes for ages before I ever attempted it. I was inspired by baskets made with other unconventional materials, like blinds.
When I finally got up the nerve to try it, I was basically winging it. I collected a bunch of inner tubes that were about the same width and arranged them on the floor. Everything was done freehand without any kind of form for support- to be honest it was a bit frustrating. But I used lots of bulldog clips and patience to get things to stay in place.
The toughest bit was finishing it off. While a lot of traditional basket weaving materials are already stiff, or stiffen as they dry, these inner tubes would always remain a little floppy. I settled on sewing Xes using heavy duty upholstery thread.
Each one is separately tied, and the process very nearly put me off basket making entirely. It took ages and was really tough on my hands, as in some places I was going through 8 layers of inner tube! Thankfully I had a thimble, and just tackled it in stages, in the evenings in front of the telly.
I do really love how it turned out. But I knew if I wanted to do them for my business I needed a better way to put them together. Ideally one without a lot of ends that needed sewing to keep the basket secure and together.
Where is the basket now? I still have it, but I don’t have a photo in situ. Why? It’s storing unphotogenic things in my bathroom.
Inner tube is a funny material. It’s curved in two directions and comes to me in random lengths and sizes, depending on what gets donated. It’s very rare that I’m able to use up every last scrap on a design, due to the way they’re constructed.
So what do I do with what’s left over?
Above is my very rough and ready storage system for scraps. It is a bit of a mess, I know. Most pieces are leftover from making products. It also contains some things I’ve taken apart: products that were too wonky even for Super Seconds Saturday.
They sit there until I’m able to find a use for them.
Using Scraps While Making Larger (Or Non-Inner Tube) Things
Where I can I try to use the scraps in my normal making process. The tabs around either end of the zip are often made of smaller scraps from other projects, and I’ll mix and match the pieces for wallets as they all tend to be the same width and amount of stretch.
I’ve used scraps to reinforce around poppers, as flaps over pockets, and even as a grippy helper to pull needles through thick layers.
That grippy nature also helps me use inner tube around my business for other things: I use a strip of inner tube to keep my ruler in place when cutting out coasters.
I also use that strip to open bottles of glue if they get a bit stuck. I’d love to make jar openers out of inner tubes, but the material isn’t food safe so I wouldn’t feel comfortable.
But what about those smaller bits?
Whenever possible I try to turn them into something useful!
Cable tidies are my go-to scrap buster. If the pieces are at least 5-6 cm long in one direction, I can probably turn it into a tidy.
And they’re great for showing off that wear and character that gets left behind on other projects. Just check out some available at the time of writing in the shop:
But what to do with those even smaller scraps?
Any thin strips of inner tube, where possible, gets turned into rubber bands to help me store more inner tubes! Sometimes I do have scraps that are circular strips, but more often than not I tie them up from longer strips.
I also use any rubber bands we get in on produce. I don’t think I’ll need to buy a rubber band for the rest of my life!
But I’ve still got the chunky little bits of inner tube I can’t tie into bands and are too short for cable tidies. I’d been saving them for ages, waiting for a project, and I’ve finally found a use in a new product!
Valets – Helping use up the unusable
If you’ve been paying attention to my valet trays on social media, you may have noticed there are washers near the rivets.
They’re there to add a little interesting detail, and to make the rivets I use more secure. But did you realise I make them myself? They repurpose those little scraps I can’t do anything else with.
You can see the process clockwise for making 10mm washers I use for the small valets – and it’s basically the same for the 12mm I use on the large ones.
They do take a bit of time, but I’m so happy to remove even more waste from my process. But obviously that’s not the end of the story.
End of the line – a work in progress
As great as the washers are, I’m still left with little circles and wispy remnants from around the washers. I also get little straggly strips from neatening up edges on other projects that are too thin or weak to use as rubber bands.
If I can’t find another use for them, those bits will probably go into stuffing something for myself. I’ve already made a little bolster to prop the door open for my cat to come in and out of the loft.
Believe it or not that bolster is has 1.8kg of inner tube scraps in it. It just swallowed them up. And the exterior of scraps made from fabric scraps of some linings for bags.
I’m always on the lookout for more ideas, though, especially for inner tubes. If you have any, leave a comment below!
If you read my last blog post, I talked about the huge variety of inner tubes I get in. Now and then there’s something different that I save for a special project, or cut carefully to preserve an interesting detail. Hopefully this will be the first in a little series of unique makes.
A while back I received two tubes that were wider than anything else I’d ever gotten in. I’m not sure what they were for, maybe a motor bike. Cut open, they were just over 16 cm across. As a comparison, check out the image below.
The top is the narrowest I’ll cut flat (becoming about 8cm wide strips), then largest size I’ll get in regularly (11-12), then the massive tube! I set the two big ones aside, waiting for inspiration to strike.
While the temptation was there to use it as part a of a bag, I thought there had to be something different I could make. These tubes are a bit thicker, so they have a lot of body. Used strategically, the material can hold a shape and structure in an interesting way. The thickness also meant they’d be harder for me to sew, especially as my sewing machine was starting to struggle with inner tubes.
I knew eventually something would come to mind to make the most of its properties.
And then a few months ago, I bought myself a hand press.
I initially picked this up so I didn’t have to set snaps on the kitchen floor (the firmest surface in my house – best place to set them securely). But there are so many different dies, this machine opened up a new range of construction opportunities.
In the past I’d struggled with rivets, but this machine means they set straight every time. And then a use for those wide tubes hit me: a valet! A rivet on each corner would turn them into useful little trays. That shape would make the most of the full width of the tube, as well as my new machine.
I played around with a tester, using my knock-off wonder clips to see if I liked the size and shape.
Not that you can tell by the messy work space above, but it was just so handy for keeping things organised while I was working. I knew it something I wanted to make for Team Sikel. So I did! Just a few at first to test construction methods, to find one I was happy with.
I settled on a construction that used inner tube washers behind each rivet head. I make these myself – it takes time, but makes the final product more secure (and uses up tiny scraps of inner tube, but more on that in another post!).
The downside is that I just have those two wide tubes. After some sales at a little soft launch the valets had at an in person market earlier this year, and a few seconds you may have seen during my Super Seconds Saturday sales, I only have about a dozen to offer in that size when they launch on the 6th November. That is, until I get another wide tube in.
And who knows that will be – the joy and struggle of using reclaimed materials.
But I loved the shape, so I toyed around with a smaller trays in my next largest size – about 10-12 cm across. Those became my small valets – perfect for rings, earrings, or other smaller bits and pieces.
I absolutely love these little trays. I’ve got one next to the sink for when I’m doing the washing up and one in the bathroom for when I take a shower. I even brought one on holiday – it squashed into my wash bag, and was so handy for when I was doing messy things (like a basket weaving workshop) or out on a long hike, where I was paranoid my rings might get lost.
The one above is my favourite. Normally I’d save the patched ones to sell, but this time I kept it for myself!
It’s pleasing when I’m able to find a unique use for a very special tube like those huge ones. And even better when it’s able to inspire another use for other tubes.
If you’d like one for yourself or a gift, do sign up for my mailing list for first dibs on this new range! While they’ll go live to everyone on Saturday 6th November, newsletter subscribers get early access on 5th. I’m debating some other perks, too!