This post in part of a series where I try to make a Galapagos tortoise out of inner tubes. Find all the posts here.
When tasked with something new, like making a Galapagos Tortoise out of inner tubes, I like to think around the task. Try to see what other people have done. Come up with a Plan A, Plan B, and maybe Plan C of what approaches I can take.
Deciding how to tackle it partially comes with experience. I’ve made lots of different types of things, but I think anyone can have a go.
Create a pinterest board, like I’ve done. Base it on the one you like best, or mix a few approaches.
My board is a combination of pictures of Tortoises themselves, some pre-made tortoises or turtle craft items, and even a few patterns I could use in a pinch.
I’m really keen to not follow a pattern if possible because I get extra points in the judging. But there’s no shame in using one, a lot of people do, and it’s good to know I could adapt an existing fabric pattern if I needed. To be honest, I don’t think they’re going to be sticklers if it’s it’s not a 100% accurate tortoise.
The tricky bit is going to be the shell, which is a somewhat complicated shapes made from hexagons and pentagons and potentially some other -gons. The internet tells me they’re called scutes that are made of keratin. They get bigger as the tortoise gets older creating ‘growth rings’ – one of the details I really liked from that tortoise sculpture I found recently, and something I’d like to try to show off.
From looking at the ideas I’ve collected on my Pinterest board, there are several ways I think I can approach this make.
If you look at Zeno here, the various shapes that make up the dome of his shell have been pieced together from individual pieces of fabric, like the patchwork on a quilt. I’m inclined to avoid this method as it would be a LOT of seams to stitch, including corners.
Now quilt patchwork is mostly made with cotton fabric, which is thin and can create a sharp fold like paper. Think of origami. Inner tube doesn’t do that.
Inner tube has a lot of inherent body and structure that doesn’t pleat or fold sharply without additional stitching. That can be brilliant for a lot of things, but would mean the corners wouldn’t want sit together nicely and there could be gaps.
In a pinch I could try it, because at least my stitching wouldn’t need to be on show.
I am so in awe of this amazing turtle shell backpack. It looks brilliant! If you check out the listing itself, the seller has some images on the INSIDE of the bag, which will make this method a lot clearer if you don’t understand my written description below.
Basically instead of the green pieces being attached to one another, they’re attached to black strips that make the framework for the structure. Think of them like…the lead on a stained glass window? Because leather doesn’t fray, the green pieces are layered flat on top of the black, so there aren’t any folds to worry about and everything sits more cleanly.
Again, there’d be a lot of stitching, and this time on show. AND I still don’t have a sewing machine, just one of these Speedy Stitchers I haven’t quite gotten around to testing. Still it’s doable, but I’d probably need one of those stitch punches.
The two products above have differing themes on the same idea: create the shell, and then put the various scutes on with either stitching or designs on the fabric itself.
Inner tube is famously black, but I could get some ink like I use for my logos to create the design?
Ignore the Scutes
This handbag from WELCOMECOMPANIONS is brilliant in another way: creating the essence of the animal’s shape without having to worry about fiddly details.
It’s very tempting to go down this route, but I’m really in love with those growth rings.
Plan A, B, C….etc
Ok, so what am I thinking?
Of the ideas above, the ones I love the most are the two bags. While a flat pieced style design would be amazing, I’m worried that my stitching might not be so neat. Another detail I’ve neglected to share is that my tortoise needs to be about the side of a side plate – you’d think that would be easier but it’s often harder: pieces are fiddly and you’re working in small spaces.
Plan A is attempting something like the WELCOMECOMPANIONS bag or the patterned shell method, but add physical layers of scutes to give it that growth ring detail I love so much. I could try stitching them on, or potentially even riveting…though that adds its own set of potential problems.
I might try a standing pose with a longer neck and legs to make it less turtle-y, though that would require some kind of internal structure/skeleton and probably another pinterest board!
If it looks terrible I could go more in the style of the flat pieced bag, possibly even purchasing that pattern and scaling it to the size I need. (Would scaling work, or will that muck up proportions? I’ll cross that bridge if I come to it)
As I’m trying not to use a pattern, my first task is to create a tortoise shell form: something solid I can work off of to get my scute shapes in order. I’ve even pinned a diagram that shows a shell from a few angles to help me get my head around it.
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 post is part of a series about my journey making baskets from punctured bicycle inner tubes. To see them all, click here.
Upcycling can be so satisfying, especially when you take something that would otherwise be thrown away and give it a new life as something useful.
But while I love this mindset it can get you into trouble, as it becomes difficult to get rid of ANYTHING. So while I could recycle the valves as they’re brass, I really wanted to think of a way to show them off. Especially as they’re often the only part of the bicycle inner tube people see, so will help with the perpetual problem of people thinking my stuff is made from leather.
Though this sign does help.
For a very long time I tried to be subtle, but that doesn’t often work. This sign has done wonders at markets – moreso than the bicycle wheel just behind it.
But how best to use those valves?
I’ve toyed around with using valves in the past, making a few cable tidies for a laugh more than anything.
But while I love them on the tidy (and have a few with me for sale at markets), I wanted something that made use of the metal in a unique way. The keychain idea is something I may want to revisit, although I’ve only been able to make one so far – all attempts since have ended with me breaking drill bits.
Thankfully around this time I was making my valet trays, and it occurred to me the valve would be a brilliant place to stack your rings.
But as well as this works, it’s only an option for a small segment of the tubes that get donated to me, as most aren’t the super chunky mountain bike tubes this product needs.
The Seed of an Idea
In my last post, I showed off a basket where I was able to feature the hole where a valve once was. Although it was a death knell for that tube’s use in a bicycle tyre, it was something to cherish and celebrate in its new life as a basket.
But it got me thinking, what if I wove with tubes where the valve was still attached?
I dismissed it for a while as being a bit too mad, but it the idea stayed itching in my brain.
Eventually that itch won and I started a mock up of a basket with a valve. This was back before I found the stacking cubes from my last post, and still using my tetrapak milk carton as a form.
As tempting as it was, even I knew a basket with a valve about as long as the basket is wide probably wouldn’t appeal to anyone, so I didn’t pursue it.
Eventually though I came up with a mockup I was happy with.
Valve Basket 1 – Companion Cube
If you’re curious about the name, I showed my sister some pictures after I’d finished it, and she said it reminded her of the cube from the video game Portal. I definitely agree – there’s something about it that’s just cute!
Size: #7 Stacking Cube, about 12.5 cm each side and 11.5 cm tall
Tubes (estimated): I’d say less than 3 full tubes worth of material, but using at least 4 tubes (as I’ve got 4 valves). All 3-3.5 cm wide.
Rivets: 21 antique bronze coloured brass. None of the valves are all that shiny, so I went with a more muted colour.
Hand Press Presses: 46 (used a couple of washers on the back of where the label attaches)
Assembly was a little trickier than a normal basket, and I ended up drawing on my form to make sure the valves all ended up at more or less the same height. It took extra time and care to get everything to line up but it’s fab so I don’t mind.
As there’s only one valve per tube, I had an extra join so I could put two valves on opposite sides from each other. I only did that the once because I wasn’t sure it would work. I’m glad it came together this way, I really like the asymmetric symmetry.
While my brain kept nagging me with the idea of a basket with every possible over weave featuring a valve like some kind of mad porcupine, it takes time to collect that many tubes that are about the same width and stiffness to work together to create a basket.
So my second attempt was only slightly more spiky.
Valve Basket 2 – Sputnik
Sputnik because the vast antenna array – you see more of it in the galleries below.
Size: #8 stacking box, about 15.5 cm each side and 14 cm tall
Tubes: Material from at least 6 tubes, but probably only 3 or slightly less tubes worth of material. Softer inner tubes, all around 4 cm wide.
Valves: 6 valves – 4 presta (one missing a core), two schrader. Prestas vary from 4-6cm long, schraders just over 3 cm.
Hand Press Presses: 54 presses (two washers again on the back of the label)
It took even more time to put this together than my first attempt, mostly because I didn’t plan ahead. I riveted each pair of valves across from each other without thinking of the overall design, and I got a bit panicked that it was going to look unbalanced.
There was still some rearranging I could do so I sent some pictures to my sister.
Her reply: “Wait, what’s the difference?”
I settled on the first picture above. Ideally I would’ve put a short one opposite a long one on two sides, and kept the two long ones on the other ends. But that was the arrangement I was happiest with given what was already attached.
More Angles & Notes
The big construction difference was that I hid the rivets on the horizonal bands. I kept them on the under part of the weave, as I was worried it would distract from all those valves.
As much as I love it, I do see some areas for improvement with this basket.
Although it’s only a difference of at most 1cm, tubes this wide start looking a little wavy with my normal construction style.
The valves are on the inside of the tubes (the hole in the donut), as is most of the writing. So I tend to make my baskets with that inside facing out. But as the tubes get bigger, the difference in diameter between the inside and outside of the tube grows, and can warp how the basket looks.
Looking back on it now, this width of tube may still be useful for baskets, but they would have to be constructed outside out. In fact, these baskets are pliable enough I can turn this inside out, and you can already see an improvement…though it starts looking like some kind of alien mouth on the inside!
The downside would be some of the writing and character might be hidden, but I could make wider baskets with lower sides to improve the chances of it being seen.
Another note: while this basket is larger, I’m not sure it’s large enough to balance out those massively long valves.
It might be that I just don’t use those for basketmaking, or maybe it needs to be a really massive basket?
I’m not in a rush to try another with that length of valve anytime soon. Or at least not without a lot of mocking up before I rivet things together.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love this basket, and it definitely gets attention at markets so I’ll keep offering it there…though most people tend to be amused/confused/point out it could be a health and safety hazard.
I’ve paused on valve baskets for the moment, until I collect up enough to play around with properly.
But in the meantime I’m still working on my normal basket weave designs, and toying around with another style of weaving- but more on that next week!
This post is part of a series about my journey making baskets from punctured bicycle inner tubes. To see them all, click here.
Measurements & Goal
My last post ended with my purchase of these lovely kids stacking boxes.
The boxes are all more or less cubes, they’re a tiny bit shorter than they are wide. The sizes are (measurements are along one side):
#1 – 5 cm
#2 – 6 cm
#3 – 7.5 cm
#4 – 8.7 cm
#5 – 9.5 cm
#6 – 11 cm
#7 – 12 cm
#8 – 13.25 cm
#9 – 14.5 cm
#10 – 16 cm
#3 is about the same size as the milk carton from my last post, and probably the smallest I’d use to make baskets. #10 is about the same size as the cardboard box I was using before, but with the added benefit of height. So while they won’t let me make anything bigger, these boxes greatly increase the range of things I’m able to make.
And because I get such a variety of widths in, it should hopefully mean I’m able to use up more of the tubes donated to me.
But at this stage my only goal was to experiment. As this was a very playful process, I don’t have much in the way of in making-of photos. Sometimes having to document can be a real barrier for me to create if I’m in a certain mood, so I gave myself permission to just have fun with it.
#10 5×4 Basket
I should probably come up with fancy names, or something besides my personal shorthand to label these baskets, huh? But I can’t think of anything else that works as succinctly to capture the variety possible with all these different forms.
#10 stands for the size stacking box I used.
5×4 are the number of tubes in each direction – 5 on each side vertically, and 4 high.
Makes sense, yes?
Here it is:
A few stats:
Size: 18 cm on each side, 12.5 cm high.
Tubes: There are at least 3 different tubes in this basket (you can tell with the blue stripe and varying widths, 2.5-3.25 cm)
I didn’t take full advantage of the height here as I was using up some scraps of inner tubes from other projects, but I still love it.
There were so many wonderful bits of character on the tubes I used I just had to show off, scroll down to see some more.
There are some brilliant features on this basket I had to highlight. My favourite bit is the hole where a valve is missing.
You can see a stripes and some writing on that side too.
Some great patches on this basket. Check out my first photo of this one to see another on the lowest horizontal piece under the rivets.
As you can see there’s a bit of warping on some of those skinny tubes on each end – most noticeable on the picture with the valve hole.
It could just be the width compared to the tubes that are going across them, or maybe they were slightly more flexible. It was also still early on in my process and maybe the bands aren’t as even as they perhaps should be – to me that top row is a bit wide compared to the rest of it. That may be more noticeable in person, though.
Traditional Action Shot
There’s something about a basket of this size, I just have to wear it on my head.
Call it a compulsion!
I was really happy with how this turned out. I featured everything I wanted to here. Beyond maybe taking a little more care that the horizontal bands were all the same size, next time I wanted to take advantage of the full high of the forms. And maybe try some other widths of inner tubes to see how the baskets turned out.
#8 3×3 Basket
While my process is generally to cut the wide ones flat for use in products like my wallets and coin samosas, I’d kept a few as tubes for another project. It wasn’t successful, so I tried them here instead. (If you’re curious – cutting a tube into a strip using a spiral to get a much longer length to crochet. It was too grippy to act as yarn.)
Size: 15 cm x 14 cm
Tubes: Three different tubes, ranging from 3.5-5cm width.
Rivets: 31 silver-coloured rivets
Hand press presses: 100
Here’s a check of whether or not you’ve been paying attention – did you notice this basket has a huge jump in the amount of times I had to use my hand press?
My previous attempts have all been just over twice the number of rivets. But this basket was made from thinner inner tubes than the previous ones I’d made. To get the rivets as secure as possible, I needed to pad out some of the places they joined with washers.
So instead of just one press for each hole and then one to set the rivet, add two more to create each washer. And these joins have washers front and back.
With a little more forethought I could’ve constructed this differently to avoid some of those washers, but I was happy with the way they looked, and glad to know I could use those wonderful scrap busters in my basket making, too.
(You can read a little more about how I make washers and other ways I use up scraps in this post.)
Details & Lessons
Here are some more angles of this lovely basket.
I also experimented with the number of rivets I used on this basket: with the wider ones I used two at the top of each vertical tube. And went all out with four on each band.
While I didn’t mind the way the top looked, four is way too many in such a concentrated area.
I have much better uses for 5 cm wide tubes anyway (especially once I get my sewing machine sorted), so it’s no great shame to rule them out for basket making.
Well, unless I was doing something much larger than my current forms.
Hooray for height – this taller basket lives (for now) with my Aloe plant, though it’s been ear marked for one of my brothers in law once I get my act together and make the rest he’s asked for!
#7 5×5 Basket
After my foray into wider tubes, I wondered how the tubes I’d used on my small baskets (milk carton/#3 if you’re keen to use my system) would fare in a larger size.
The answer is that they’re gorgeous.
Size: 13 x 12.5 cm
Tubes: At least 5, about 2-2.5cm wide
Hand press presses: 66
These were thicker tubes so the only place I used washers was to help secure where my label attaches – they’re on the back of the tube so hidden in the weave.
I always try to make the most of the marks from tubes’ previous lives when making baskets, but it gets so much tougher the more complex the weave.
If you think about each visible section of the weave as a square, there are 100 squares to keep track of on this basket (25 per side). On my previous one there were just 36.
But I still managed to feature a wonderful patch, a white stripe, and some bits of writing.
Videos are the easiest way for me to share how the same kinds of inner tubes behave differently in different sized baskets. Here’s the larger basket. Apologies about the shakiness of the video – I wasn’t using my tripod for these.
The stiffer inner tubes provide a lot of structure to the basket, helping it keep its shape. In comparison, here’s a small sized basket (#3) made with the same kind of tubes.
These tubes were probably a bit narrow for this form – it’s a little gappier than I’d like. But the real issue is that stiffness. It’s adding so much structure it’s warping the shape of the basket, making some areas too rounded. The resulting basket looks a little sloppy.
You can see above where these stiff tubes want to be tubes. The vertical sections near the corners push the horizontal band in, making that middle much rounder than the top and bottom.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love this basket, but I know now to save those stiffer tubes for larger forms.
Each basket I make gives me more experience with how best to use this material. As I play around ideas pop into my head on new things to try.
But those wouldn’t really do long term. As usual, I’d been thinking a lot about it and had some qualities I was looking for.
For my basket forms I wanted…
Sturdy forms – they needed to hold up better than the cardboard box.
Square bases with higher sides – not that I thought I’d have the same problems as the oblong coiled baskets I made, but square was a more reliable shape. Higher sides meant I had options, and could even make plant pot covers.
A variety of sizes – as the inner tubes come to me in a variety of widths, I wanted to make sure I had options and wasn’t just stuck on one or two sizes.
Ideally secondhand or repurposed – though I’d consider something new as long as it was well made
I did a lot of searching for metal tins – but had trouble finding anything with the variety of sizes I wanted.
The closest I got were kitchen tin sets – a large bread bin, with smaller ones for tea and sugar, but it wasn’t like the ideal Russian nesting doll in my head so I didn’t pick any up.
In the Meantime, Some Ideas
I always try to think of alternative uses for things before they go into a bin. There is no such thing as “away” when you throw things out. It mostly just remains a problem, just somewhere you can’t see.
Over the warmer months I often make my own yogurt, using a starter I got online and UHT organic milk. While I thankfully have a council that recycles tetrapaks, it occurred to me these flexible containers might be sturdy enough to work with.
And as luck would have it, I had a width of inner tube where three fit perfectly along one side. So I decided to make some little baskets.
While my hand press made things a lot easier, I realised that the mouth of it wasn’t deep enough for me to rivet everything together once woven. So instead I made the bands that would go sit horizontally first, and then wove the vertical sections of the basket around them.
It was easier to make the basket a uniform size, though I’m not sure it was quicker.
I’m determined to make the most of each inner tube’s individual characteristics (writing, patches, etc), so more often than not I assemble most of the basket before taking it apart again to punch and rivet the bands, and then reassemble to finish around the top.
Maybe not quicker, but definitely neater!
Size: 11 cm across, 8.5 cm tall (approx)
Time: about an hour (just on construction, not washing or sorting tubes)
Weight: 128 grams
Inner tubes used: about 1.5
Hand Press Presses: 28
There still were some things to tweak, like taking more care so the little tabs at the top finish at the same place. You can see above that some are shorter than others. Overall though I was very happy.
Tetrapacks weren’t a viable option for the complete size range I wanted from my forms, but for the time being I played around with constructing these and made a series of little baskets.
I discovered that some tiny plant pots and saucers I’d picked up on freecycle months previously fit these perfectly.
Those saucers were essential as the inner tube wouldn’t be water tight. Unless you had fake plants, you’d get your surfaces all wet.
Of course I had to do a little photo shoot with succulents.
More Photos and Process Tweaks
One thing I was really happy with was how my TS logo stamp fit perfectly on this size of tube (about 2.5 cm wide). But I wanted a way to have my full business name on there somehow, too.
I’d seen people use wooden or metal tags on crocheted baskets, so I played around with some inner tube scraps until I came up with something that worked.
I didn’t really like the positioning on this basket, but I learned that I needed to think really carefully about the placement of those tags. As I’m assembling the bands first, I need to check and double check…and given how I still mess this up sometimes, triple check…that the placement of the tag so it’ll end up on the correct side of the basket.
If this label were on the lowest side (where I initially wanted), most of the name would be covered by the vertical sections of the weave!
As you can see in the photo above, I also settled on two rivets holding the horizontal bands together. This was prevent them accidentally bending at that join – though that’s less likely when the basket’s assembled as everything’s pretty snug.
It was also interesting to see how different thicknesses of inner tubes affected the shape and feel of the baskets (though it’s difficult to show in photographs so I’ll save it for a future post).
Larger Basket and Testing
While I kept an eye out for other forms, I took the lessons above and applied them to my larger basket form.
So happy with how this one turned out. I have no stats as it was a while back and I don’t have it to even weigh or measure! More on that in a sec. But as it used my same box, it’s about the same size as my attempts from a few posts back.
My branding looks good on this size, too.
So why don’t I have it? I gave it to Zero Waste on Wheels to test. As I mentioned in an earlier post, she does so many markets, so I knew if it was part of her display it would get some robust testing. Here it is in action.
I still wasn’t set on how I’d be constructing these larger baskets. But while I was still tweaking this larger size’s construction, I thought I’d give it to Alicia anyway. I’m pleased to say it’s held up well!
But I was limited to how many baskets I could make with those two forms, so I was still on the lookout for something better.
I have a slight addiction to freecycle, olio, and facebook marketplace. It started during lockdowns, when I couldn’t my usual charity shop treasure hunt fix. TBH I hardly ever pick anything up from there, but it was nice to keep my mind working on how I could potentially reuse the random things that people list.
One day I was scrolling through and this caught my eye.
They’re children’s stacking boxes, made out of a sturdier cardboard. The cute designs are just a bonus.
The sizes ranges from 5×5 cm to 16×16 cm. And while I initially thought that was far too small, I realised the shipping box I was using for my larger forms was about 16 cm square. So I picked it up.
While ideally I want to make larger baskets as well, these fit so many of my goal criteria:
Sturdier than my shipping boxes
Good range of sizes
And for I think £3, they were definitely worth a punt.
But I realise this blog post is already far too long, so what I did with these will have to wait until next week!
This post is part of a series about my journey making baskets from punctured bicycle inner tubes. To see them all, click here.
Background and Goals
If you read my last post, you’ll know I felt a lot happier constructing woven baskets the second time around. While I still had some things to improve on, I saw enough to keep going.
What I needed to figure out were rivets – finding the right size/ kind for me and a reliable supplier.
What I Wanted
Feeling confident in my products is the most important things for me. I feel so honoured when anyone chooses to buy from me, I want to reward that trust with something that will last.
So while I could get the cheap set I found to work by trimming the rivets pins to length, I doubted they would last. For one they were made from a steel alloy that would rust.
All they came with was a hand setting tool that wasn’t consistently accurate and was difficult to use, as the only solid enough place in my house was the kitchen floor. I also used the kitchen floor to set poppers for my cable tidies, samosas, and wallets; so finding something that could be used for both would be ideal.
And speaking of those poppers, I’d run into an issue a while back where one colour of popper wasn’t working with the setting tool I used, leading to a lot of frustration and waste. They were from different suppliers so avoiding that situation was top of mind, too.
So a bit of a summary of what I wanted:
Rivets that wouldn’t rust (e.g. brass)
Correct pin length
Additional dies available for cutting holes and attaching poppers
Supplier who provided both the rivets and the machine to set them
There were three main suppliers/options I came across in my search:
Random eBay Amazon
There are lots of options of people selling machines on eBay and Amazon. I mention them only because they may work for some people. Definitely the cheapest option, and tempting as they look so similar to ones from other stores.
But it didn’t meet my criteria – I wouldn’t necessarily be able to find other dies and supplies that fit from those eBay or Amazon vendors. And even if I did at first, I feel less sure they would have them long term.
Without seeing the machines in person it’s hard to know what the quality of the machines are, and even though they may look the same, I read several reviews on the machines saying they didn’t work with dies purchased from other places.
Trimming Shop is where I was already getting my poppers. They’re based in London, and in addition to their own website, they have Amazon and eBay pages, and may even be on Etsy. They have a huge range of rivets, poppers, and other bag hardware (amongst a lot of other things – they bill themselves online as a wedding and events supplier first).
In addition to the steel-type rivets I was using from my cheap starter set, they also had washable brass rivets, and even some odd colours and pyramid shapes if I wanted to go a bit punk. Their range was really impressive – and they had the sizes I wanted.
On the negative side their poppers were the ones that didn’t work with my setting tool for whatever reason, so I was a bit wary. I also wasn’t the hugest fan on their website, it was occasionally hard to tell what went with what, and they had this automatic customer service robot that would pop up on every single page you open.
I’m someone who has open all the tabs to compare different options (it drives my husband mad), so I didn’t necessarily want to continue using them.
I came across Green Grizzly on a leatherworker forum. Some people in the US were considering using them for the supplies – despite needing to ship things across the Atlantic.
They, too had machines and starter sets (though the one I bought doesn’t appear to be on their website any more for whatever reason).
Unlike Trimming Shop, they seem to focus on hardware and other supplies for bag making. And while looking through their website, I would often come across listings for custom orders, which I thought was a sign of good customer service.
They had steel and brass rivets in the sizes I wanted, and it was really clear with what went with what.
They’re based in Rochester, not at all far from me in Maidstone, though you can only visit them by appointment only. I found their email customer service very helpful, though at the the time their website was a lot rougher than it is now.
Making a Chose
I ended up ordering some samples of what I was looking for from both Trimming Shop and Green Grizzly. They were comparable, so I went with my gut and decided on Green Grizzly. It was somewhat of a toss up as the quality was about the same, but I found their website easier to use.
I liked the fact that they’re focused on the products I’m looking for – sewing/bag hardware – so if I ever need to expand what I’m buying in I know I can look there first.
My decision was rewarded early on when I asked if they’d swap out the steel double-cap rivets on the starter set for washable brass ones and they agreed to without any additional cost.
It was a really exciting day when my hand press arrived!
It does come with tools to attach it to a table top, but because I end up moving it depending on what I’m working on, I just use a clamp to keep it in place.
Hand press in Action
I want to do more videos of my hand press in action. On some products I use it so much I can get quite the workout. Here’s a video I shared last year on Instagram about my valve valets.
Since buying the hand press and setting tool for the rivets I use for baskets, I’ve bought a bunch of dies that have proved useful in creating other things without a sewing machine.
No more working on the kitchen floor! These require a good bit of pressure to set, but if I swap down to a lower table I can put more of my bodyweight behind it and it works brilliantly for cable tidies, samosas, and wallets.
I use the smaller ones as part of the process of setting rivets, but the larger ones have been a game changer for my valets. They allow me to bulk up the material being captured by the rivet so I can use the same size rivets across multiple products.
Rivets have proved useful for the valets and the bauble earrings I shared above. My favourite thing about the tool is that the machine applies the pressure squarely downwards. On the rare occasion it’s gone wrong, it’s my fault for not putting the rivet in the groove properly.
I’ll show off some of the baskets I used these new rivets on in my next post.
The right tool can make such a difference in your process. Instead of having to carry everything downstairs to the kitchen for that finishing touch (or accidentally take chunks out of the lino!), I’m able to take care of everything in the loft room. I’ve got fewer errors, and can feel more secure in the longevity of my products.
What tools have you found to be a game changer for your work?
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 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
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.
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.