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Inner Tube Tortoise – Paper Mache

This post in part of a series where I try to make a Galapagos tortoise out of inner tubes. Find all the posts here.

So after the last post I made a couple of additional armatures using the same method as I had previously. Next step was making George’s shape.

Padding It Out

I used paper saved from parcel deliveries and masking tape to make the body.

I had my reference images out and ready to compare, and took it limb by limb.

Some things I found helpful:

  • Pre-tearing various lengths of masking tape and sticking them along the edges of the table was a must
  • Keeping the paper padding a little loose meant I could go in later and scrunch/shape it a little more, holding those changes in place with masking tape
  • Though having the shell on was a little awkward at times it meant I could more easily judge proportions

I was pretty pleased with the final padded product:

It wasn’t perfect, but definitely good enough. On to the paper mache cover!

Paper Mache

This was similar to my shell process, but took a lot longer. Which I should’ve guessed, but didn’t properly plan for. There were smaller areas, more complex shapes, and lots of changes of direction. Nearly all the strips I pre-ripped were too big, but that was easily remedied as long as I remembered to adjust the size before I got them damp.

I worked with George mostly on his back. I was a little worried about the shell getting wet or deforming but I was careful removing excess flour/waster glue before putting the strips down to prevent that happening. He got flipped over to access the hard to reach areas around the front of the shell, tops of legs, and obviously the neck and head.

I saved the head until last so avoid it making a mess, and dried him on his back as the lower shell threatened to sag – the paper wasn’t held on as well as it should’ve been in that area.

I added some lower shell details I didn’t do at the padding stage – I had no reference for these so I kind of winged it, but it seems to have worked out alright. I can see now that the front shell extension bit should go out further but I don’t mind.

He’s mostly dry in these next photos, but I’m leaving him in the airing cupboard another day just to be safe.

There are a few messy bits, but they’re in awkward areas so I’ll probably just leave them.

I debated, and am still debating, going back in to add some wrinkles. It would be easier to do if my little George were bigger, so I might just paint them on.

Next Steps

Oh yes, painting. To be fair I don’t have that much experience, so I’ll probably draw as much detail on as I can in pencil for reference points and to avoid mistakes. The 360 I’ve been using as a reference is in colour, but it’s a bit washed out so thankfully there are a lot of other photos out there to refer to.

It mostly looks like shades of brown, tan, maybe a little black.

Wish me luck.

When I showed my husband the final product he said it looked great and offered to do the painting. I politely declined. But he did ask another good question…

“How does this work with inner tube?”

Yeah… I’m not sure.

This process definitely helped me get a sense of the shapes involved, and how I might construct it, but also highlighted a lot of hurdles.

The shells will need to have a full wire structure underneath. When making my paper mache version I just wodged a bunch paper balls in there to fill up the space – wouldn’t really work with floppy, stretchy tubes on their own.

I can find tubes in the different widths required for the legs and neck, but how I join them together will be a bit of a puzzler. I might simplify his shape a little more to avoid having to attach different size tubes together for different areas of the leg (like how the back legs get a little narrow above the foot.

Assuming I figure all that out I’ll probably try to assemble it before putting it on, and hope the wire armature doesn’t complain too much about bending to make that work, but the areas where the body meets the shell might be even more frustrating as they will have to be done in situ.

I also have no idea how I’ll stuff it.

I’ll have a think while I’m sorting out the paint for my paper mache and see if I come up with anything.

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Inner Tube Tortoise – Model

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.

I say currently as there’s some interesting Jurassic Park for tortoise stuff going on to bring Pinta Tortoises back. But I digress.

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.

Next Steps

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.

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Inner Tube Tortoise – Ideas

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.

Construction Methods

From looking at the ideas I’ve collected on my Pinterest board, there are several ways I think I can approach this make.

Patchwork Piecing

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.

Flat Piecing

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.

Patterned Shells

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)

Next Steps

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.

Wish me luck, I most definitely will need it!

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Inner Tube Tortoise – Introduction

I joined my local Women’s Institute group as a way to make some friends in my local area.

I know the WI has a reputation for being all old ladies and jam making, but my group has 40+ members and a good age range. I’m in my 30s and just the other month we had a birthday party for a member who recently turned 100! It’s only a couple of hours out of my month, I’ve heard some really interesting talks, and honestly it’s been great.

The WI itself campaigns on important issues and has even featured craftivism projects in their magazine.

It’s not what many people would expect!

Every year, there’s a WI craft competition at the Oswestry Show on a variety of themes. There are individual and group categories, and WIs and their members from across the local area compete.

Of course I agreed to join in the fun. I’m taking part in a group tabletop competition based on the theme of “A Famous Person” (we choose who). We need to make “three items to be the choice of the competitors. Cookery/produce/preserves/wine/cordial/liqueur, art or craft. Flowers can be entered as a craft item or used as window dressing.”

The group picked Charles Darwin* as he was born in nearby Shrewsbury, and I’ve been tasked with making…a Galapagos Tortoise out if inner tubes! Can I do it? I’m honestly not sure. But I thought why not share my attempt with you lovely people.

Every other Wednesday I’ll write a blog post sharing my progress, good or bad.

And not long after I found out about my item, I came across this:

Mine is definitely not going to be that big!

Come back in a few weeks while I get my head around what I’ll have to do.

*I wasn’t there when they picked the person or what I was going to do. My suggestion was Sandi Toksvig, who has done some a fascinating variety of things.

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Inner Tube Skirt – Update 5: Done!

This post is part of a creative challenge for May (extended into June) to create a skirt from punctured bicycle inner tubes. You can find all posts in this series here, and all my challenges here.

Tilly was not amused by my photo shoot

I’m SO excited to share this with you. Now that it’s done I can look back on the process fondly and pretend like it wasn’t a whole lot of work, especially towards the end. The hem was so time consuming!

Connecting the Strips

I ended my last blog post having cut all the strips to make up the front and back panels for the skirt. The next step was assembling those panels.

I had some strips leftover from my obsessive period of coiled basket making, which made perfect backings behind the joins so I could zig zag across to connect. Below are the finished – well, sewn together panels. All those straggly threads needed to be tied off by hand, which took a couple of hours in front of the telly.

There were some tricky bits, and I have a few lessons:

  • Remember where you’re putting your zip! I forgot and assembled the back as one piece. Fixing it involved unpicking, which was frustrating but didn’t detract from the final piece as the holes left from the stitching got cut off to expose the zipper teeth.
  • Sewing the front to the back was the most frustrating part as the edges were so curved. It would’ve been easier to save the straightest stitching on the front of the skirt for last. The double sided tape I use doesn’t cooperate sometimes, so for those very curved sections I held the top together with masking tape too, pulling it back as I went.

My machine was not consistent with zig zags for some reason. Sometimes it would be fine, but other times I’d get loads of skipped stitches and have to go back over it again. I’m not sure if it was an issue with thickness, tension, needle, or something else. I tried adjusting everything I could could think of, and nothing fixed it consistently.

It doesn’t replicate on fabric, so inner tube may just be a bit too much for my machine to handle. I want to buy an industrial machine eventually, but I was hoping I could get by with my New Home for a bit longer so I could save more money.

I’ve got two last ideas:

  • Getting my machine serviced – I haven’t used it much, but it must take a lot to sew through inner tube
  • Try a different brand of needle, as I used to not have this issue and that’s the only thing I can think of that I’d switched.

Finishing the Hem

After main skirt was in one piece, I tackled the hem. I really ummed and ahhed about what I’d do- whether to fold it over or just cut it to length (it’s not like it’s going to fray) or back it as I did with the joins in another strip of inner tube.

My main worry was about long term stability. The hem is a point of strain and if I used an inner tube strip my fear was it would be TOO stretchy and more likely to snap the thread while walking or climbing stairs when those seams were under more pressure. Just folding over wouldn’t protect those seams at all, and may stick out weirdly due to the wavy nature of inner tubes.

So I just trimmed everything to the final length and used some black twill tape inside.

The tape does have a little give, but it’s not stretchy so it should protect the bottoms of those seams.

It wasn’t as simple as just stitching that on over the top though. For each join I:

  • Marked just beyond the width of the twill tape
  • Unpicked my stitching to that point
  • Clipped the backing strip of inner tube
  • Redid the stitched by hand using the original holes

Why did I do this? Sudden changes in fabric width can cause tension issues and skipped stitches. Given the issues I’d already had, I didn’t want a wonky hem.

Thankfully all my work paid off and I didn’t have a single skipped stitch!

Last but not least was the waistband.

Cutting & Attaching the Waistband

I saved the waistband until last because I wasn’t sure how I would handle it.

The only quibble I had with my second fabric version of the skirt was the straight waistband. It stood away from a my body a little bit in places – probably not noticeable to anyone but me, but I knew it could be better. A curved waistband, like I had on my upcycled initial test of the pattern, would lie flush but I didn’t have a pattern piece for it.

But inner tube often curves when you cut into it, as the middle in longer than the sides. So I thought as a lazy test I’d just cut it and see what happened:

As it happened, the curve fit my body really well!

Attaching it was another tricky curved seam, but the double sided tape below and making tape above sandwich worked a treat again. I backed this seam with twill tape as well to prevent my joins from splitting.

The last few touches were the popper and label.

The Finished Skirt

Drumroll please: here’s the finished inner tube skirt! Hopefully it’s obvious enough it’s made from bicycle inner tubes, and not just very badly sewn fabric.

The gallery below shows the outside and the inside, front and back:

One of my favourite things when sewing is to make something as neat as possible, inside and out, and I’m really happy with both here. I made sure to put some writing on the strips I used inside – it’s the equivalent of using crazy fabric for your pocket bags: no one else knows it’s there but it brings me joy.

Here’s a little twirl so you can see the skirt in action!

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

This was a ridiculous thing to make with the weather as hot as it’s been. While I’m so proud of the final result, and kind of desperate to wear it out, it’ll have to wait until the temperature cools. Maybe by the time I’m fully vaccinated and feel comfortable doing markets again, the weather will be more cooperative.

The skipped stitches on my machine are frustrating, and part of the reason I’ve put a pause on making larger things out of inner tubes for now. Here’s hoping I can get this machine working again – at least for a new product I’ve got in mind.

I’m giving myself a break from these inner tube challenges for the rest of June, and probably July. While they’re a lot of fun, they do take up a bit of time, and there’s a lot of work I’d like to do on my business and my current (and future) product lines.

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Inner Tube Skirt – Update 4: Pattern Alterations and Cutting the Tubes

This post is part of a creative challenge for May (extended into June) to create a skirt from punctured bicycle inner tubes. You can find all posts in this series here, and my other challenges here.

Pattern Alterations

After the tests I highlighted in my previous posts, I was happy enough to move onto inner tubes. The new material meant a few changes needed to happen to the pattern pieces, though:

  • Remove the seam allowances
  • Determine where the strips would go and how many

Removing seam allowanced was easy, just cutting off 1.5cm all edges that weren’t on the fold. And the skirt was already the perfect length so I left the hem as it was. To preserve the work I’d done on the pattern I made a copy (with some additional length for the hem) in case I wanted another of these out of a normal fabric.

The decide on the strips, I first drew lines down from the darts that were parallel to the grainline on the pattern pieces. Areas left that were too wide for the tubes I had were split up into two or three sections to make them easier to piece. Then it was a simple matter of finding tubes in my stash that were about the right size for each strip.

Because my plan is to butt the tubes up next to one another when joining (as opposed to overlapping them), I needed the tubes just a little wider than the strips so I could trim off the slightly jagged edge I get when opening them up before washing.

It’ll mean a neater finish overall, one that I’m happy to show off in close ups!

Cutting the Tubes

Then I cut the strips as best as I could to match the pattern pieces. Here’s the back:

And here’s the front:

I love that I managed to get some writing and stripes in there. Hopefully it end up as something I can actually wear!

One piece is still to cut: the waistband. There’s part of me that doesn’t think I’ll need it. Another part wants to alter it slightly to be curved so it fits better against my body. It gets attached last anyway, so the delay doesn’t impact anything.

Next Steps

We’re getting to the final stretch: next is assembly!

I fully expect there will be issues when I actually join the tubes together- especially in the length of each strip. Did you notice how wavy the tubes are in the pictures above? That’s because the centre of each strip is longer than the sides – which makes getting a consistent cut really tricky.

I’ll start sewing from the top and will just need to trim when the whole thing is assembled. Depending on how messy it looks, I may put a bottom band on but I haven’t decided.

Next update should be a finished skirt!

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Inner Tube Skirt – Update 3: More Testing!

This post is part of a creative challenge for May to create a skirt from punctured bicycle inner tubes. You can find all posts in this series here, and my other challenges here.

Surely I’ve tested enough already?

No! As I mentioned in my last post, I’d made so many little tweaks to the pattern to make it fit the skirt I upcycled, I decided to make another test to be certain it would work.

And here it is:

I’m honestly not sure why I turn into some kind of dancing clockwork person, but I love how Tilly barges in at the end in the lower right corner so it’s the winning take!

The Fabric

Before I go into more details about the finished skirt, I want to talk about this fabric.

I absolutely love it. I found it back in 2019 at a charity shop in Ashford – in fact, the same day I found the rainblow Dinosaurs at the centre of this weekend launch! It was a good day of shopping. Looking through my photo archive, I even found the original photos I took of the fabric:

When I go charity shopping, I’m on the lookout for stuff for myself, my business, and my sister-in-law Jacq, who’s behind the fabulous A Good Talking To (which specialises in replacements for single use items made with second hand and remnant fabrics). I’m constantly asking her opinion on interesting things I’ve found and things she may be able to use.

This fabric caught my eye because of the amazing design. Most anything featuring that wonderful mustard colour is already halfway in my shopping cart.

The length really sold it to me, though. Yes, that’s 63 x 310 INCHES, meaning about 787 cm of fabric that’s also nearly 10″ wider than the standard fabric widths found in most shops. At just over £1 a metre, it would be a crime not to pick it up, even though I had no idea what I was going to do with it.

Thankfully it’s cotton (burn tests are useful for figuring out fabric content), but it was probably meant for curtains given the length and the fact that it’s on the stiff side.

But there are some clothing patterns where that structure isn’t a bad thing, and a slim skirt like this is one of them.

The Skirt – A Lesson in How NOT to Place a Pattern

I knew I wasn’t going to pattern match, so I didn’t pay that much attention to what went where. But I should’ve realised that with a very large, graphic print like this, it’s important to know where things will sit so you don’t put something in an awkward place.

You also want to make sure it’s not close – it’s got to be deliberately not matched.

But I rushed through and my skirt now features:

  • Front: a handy arrow on the front at the hem that points up to my crotch (this could’ve been much worse to be fair)
  • Side: an awkward repeat
  • Back: a grid that centres squarely on the middle of my bum. Better yet, that intersection is a few mm off!

But all that being said, I still love it and will wear it regardless. You see much worse things in shops. I’m especially proud of how neat the inside is, so even stuck a Team Sikel label in there:

French seams and binding (and an overcast around the zip)

What I Didn’t Get to Practice

One thing I was hoping to attempt this time around was an exposed zip, which I want to have in the final make. The construction would be different here, but I’d at least see how it’d look.

I did not read my trusty Reader’s Digest Guide to Sewing before cutting out my fabric though (really worth picking up if you find one in a charity shop – it covers so many things!). The very first line in the exposed zipper instructions is: “The exposed zipper can be applied only where there is no seam.”

Oh well. The centre back seam meant I went with an invisible zip, which is fine for this test. I’ll still go ahead with the exposed for the final!

The Takeaway & A Timescale Adjustment

I’m pleased with how this skirt looks on me, and am happy to keep going on with the pattern as is. It will need a bit of tweaking to work with inner tubes, but I don’t need to do any more tests.

What I have realised is I’ve given myself too much to do this month. The Fri-Yay surprise launch this Friday has occupied the time I’d normally be doing a lot of other things (such as sewing for myself and working on random creative projects like this). And if I were to forge ahead with my current end of May deadline:

  • I probably wouldn’t make the deadline
  • I wouldn’t enjoy the process
  • I’d probably make mistakes and waste materials

So I’m giving myself a break. I’ll finish the skirt by Mid-June. It was only going to be for me anyway, and it’s important I do it as well as I can and learn throughout the process.

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Inner Tube Skirt – Update 2: Testing

This post is part of a creative challenge for May to create a skirt from punctured bicycle inner tubes. You can find all posts in this series here, and my other challenges here.

Prepping the Pattern

Before creating the skirt out of inner tubes, I needed a pattern to work from. The skirt in my head is a mini, which I often buy secondhand but have never made for myself. In my last post I mentioned two promising patterns to hack from Peppermint Magazine’s Sewing School: the Wool Pencil Skirt and the Wrap Skirt. These patterns are PDF and can either be printed out in letter/A4 or sent out to a copy shop or printing service for a larger format.

While I was initially leaning towards the wrap skirt, after seeing the pattern pieces in front of me I thought the Pencil Skirt would work better with inner tubes. So I started with that, though as always I made a few changes to the pattern:

  • Cropped about 6 inches off, front and back. Didn’t measure, just held it against my body and guessed tbh
  • Removed the slight taper
  • Graded between sizes: cut out the size 12 but added 0.5cm to the front and the back centre of the main pieces (and 2 cm to the waistband) so they would match my measurements.

Sewing The Test Skirt

While I thought this pattern would work for the inner tubes, it’s always good to make a test garment before using your proper fabric. To make my project even more eco friendly, I decided to use secondhand clothing to make my test. I event had the perfect skirt to start with, which was far too big on me:

I loved the colour, the corduroy, and the buttons running down the front. One of my favourite things to do when upcycling secondhand clothes is to reuse as many of the features from the original garment as possible. Besides the buttons, I decided to reuse the waistband and the front pockets.

I mostly made this while on the phone handsfree with my parents, running around between my sewing machine in the loft, the iron in the bedroom, and the cutting mat on the dining room table. You can understand why I have no in-progress photos.

How did it turn out?

The Final Garment

Ta da!

I’m so pleased! As hoped I was able to keep a lot of the elements from the original:

I didn’t have matching thread, so I used a brown…which doesn’t stand out too much. So while I did flat felled seams on the sides, I avoided top stitching the pockets and the waistband, and even hand blind stitched the hem.

There is one unintentional remnant from the ‘before’ skirt: You can see a ‘shadow’ on the back from the original pockets.

I don’t think it’s too noticeable while I’m wearing it, but I’m hoping it’ll become a little less visible after a wash. The original back had a yoke, which didn’t work with the new pattern, so I wasn’t able to keep those pockets where they were. I’m debating whether or not to add them to the back now. I’ll wear it once or twice before to see if I really need them- it might make the skirt look a little too casual. It’s kind of dressy as it is.

It also ended up just long enough. So instead of folding over the hem, I used some scraps of a yarn-dyed cotton in my stash I really love.

Fun with Facings

That little facing trick is something you can easily do at home to lengthen something you’ve bought as well…though there might be some slight colour variation on the bit that’s been folded under.

And last but not least, I added a cheeky Team Sikel tag:

Upcycled garments get a Team Sikel tag

And while I absolutely love this, I’m going to make a second to get a feel for how the back zip works, and to ensure the fit is there before I start on the inner tube version. There were so many little on the fly tweaks to make the features of the original skirt work. After some recent weight loss I could use a few more skirts in my closet anyway.

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Inner Tube Skirt – Update 1: Ideas and Plan

The winner of this month’s challenge

In case you missed it, after last month’s footstool, I put up a poll on Instagram for you guys to pick my creative challenge for May. Clothes for my lower half won! I’ve decided to try a skirt.

I was intentionally vague on the poll as if my primary idea goes wrong, I have an even easier backup (a half apron/tool belt) that will still meet the brief.

You’ll be able to find all of this month’s posts here.

Why a Skirt?

A skirt is a relatively easy sewing project that many people start with on their me made clothing journey. I thought it’d be a good first attempt for sewing inner tube clothes, as I can take a simple sewing pattern and make adjustments to it to fit the needs of inner tube.

I’m going to go with a mini as I often wear them with leggings anyway. Assuming it works, the skirt may make it into a semi-regular rotation. If it doesn’t, it’ll use fewer inner tubes than longer skirt.

I’ve made several skirts before, and they all tend to be upcycles. Here’s one I made from a pair of trousers a few years ago:

Limitations

Sewing inner tube isn’t like working with normal fabrics. While I start with strips, the centre of each strip is longer than the sides. So if I were to create a huge sheet and cut out from it, that fullness would distort the pattern pieces, and I’d have to repeatedly keep cutting, creating a lot of little scrappy waste.

Some other thoughts:

  • Whenever possible I want to create pattern pieces as close as possible to the pieces of inner tube I’ll be using.
  • Inner tube is rather bulky, so I won’t be creating a drawstring or elasticated waist garment. It’ll need to be relatively fitted with some stretch and ease provided from the inner tube itself.
  • That bulkiness also means it doesn’t like to fold neatly – so it won’t be the normal sew the right sides together process of sewing. Instead, I’ll be overlapping strips to construct the pieces and seams.
  • I’ll also need to add a waist stay out of a stable material – that’s a reinforcing piece to prevent fabrics from stretching out. This will help keep some pressure off at the waist, and will hopefully protect my stitching lines.

Plan

My idea is to make a few test skirts out of regular fabric to have a pattern that fits me well. I’ve got a few patterns in my collection that I want to start with:

I really love Peppermint Magazine – they regularly release new patterns as part of their sewing school at low cost (they recommend a donation). They’re a great place to experiment with different styles of garments if you’re just starting out

Both of these would just need to be cropped and maybe minor alterations to the location of darts, but they’re something I’d wear anyway so I’m excited to give them a go. To be honest, I only have one or two minis that fit after some recent weight loss, so it would be good to make some!

Hopefully they’re something I can translate into inner tubes easily.

If these don’t work with tubes, I’ve also considered a gored skirt. Gored skirts are made out of identical panels. The benefit to this is they’re all symmetrical, so it could be easier to construct. BUT:

  • it would also cause a lot of skinny strips of waste, which I wouldn’t be able to easily use on other projects.
  • it’s also more suited to flared skirts, which would be less suited to a mini, and not necessarily work with the level of bulk I’ll have because I’m using inner tubes.

Still, I’ll keep this idea on the back burner though if my initial plan doesn’t work.

Next week I should have some fabric test garments to show you, I’ve even got some fun secondhand fabric to use on the project!

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Footstool Upcycle – Update 3: Weaving and Done!

This post is part of a series documenting a creative upcycling challenge to update an old footstool with a new punctured bicycle inner tube top. See all posts here.

Assembly and Gluing

I skipped a weekly update, as the only thing I’d done was finish polishing the footstool. But over last weekend I finally glued the thing back together!

I thanked past Kelly for so thoroughly labelling all the pieces in areas that wouldn’t sand off. It meant things came together easily. Though I only have two clamps, so I had to glue over two days.

Just before I glued, I did a little test of my wrapping idea (which I wrote about in the previous post) to make sure it would work. I realised I was running out of time and I didn’t want to be scrambling for another solution with only days left of the challenge.

Thankfully I did the test, as besides proving my concept, it gave me a very important insight.

The mortice and tenon joints on the footstool are round. If I wrapped the inner tubes at tension around the cross bars (going across the top only), it might eventually break the glue and cause them to spin. With the other bars still glued, I doubt the thing would come apart. But my idea needed a slight tweak to help preserve my weaving as long as possible

I decided to basically create bands around the bars, that went across both top and bottom of the cross pieces, so the tension wasn’t in danger of spinning them around. I would alternate which side the ends of the tube were on, to distribute the chunkiness of those extra layers.

This new method meant there was another decision to be made: should I weave the tops and bottoms together or separately?

In the end I decided separate: the extra tension would just annoy me, and it might be difficult to get a neat finish as the two layers might not want to lay together. Or if I got them looking nice to begin with, they might shift during use.

Weaving the Top (Finally!)

I did a few time lapses as I went (not for everything), as I realise my descriptions may only make sense to me. The videos are at a weird angle – they’d look better vertical, but that doesn’t play as nice on Youtube. Here are the steps I took.

Step 1: Wrap the cross bars in inner tube strips.

The grippiness of inner tube is the crux of my plan. It’s the bane of my existence in a lot of ways, so I thought I might make it work for me for once!

The inner tube bands could slide against the wood, especially as it’s been sanded and polished under where I’m weaving. By putting this base layer down, I made a foundation that would help hold the bands in place.

2: Put the bands on the short sides.

I don’t have a video on the bands going on. TBH I was feeling a little overwhelmed with the thought of having to do all the things. I cut myself some slack and told myself I only needed to do 15 minutes, but I enjoyed it so much I just carried on.

Basically I wrapped the lower part of the band around the crossbar first to hide the end from easy view, then brought the upper part around over it. I held the bands in place with the clamps I normally use to keep the table cloth on at markets. They were so useful.

3: Wrapping the bands in place on the short sides.

The clamps came into their own here, when I realised I could just clamp the tails of the bands (not the bands on the crossbars) and need fewer hands to hold everything in place.

I made Xes with strips on the three faces where the bands lay against the frame, wrapping in new strips as I needed. This ended up a little messier than I hoped it would, especially between bands where the layers built up and where I needed to wrap things in, but it’s not so noticeable during use. I love the way it looks, now!

The tension of the strips on top should hold the ends of the inner tube bands against one another, and the inner part of the bands against the first step’s wrap. The grippiness should hold everything in place!

On both of the short sides I had long tails left over, so I decided to carry that to the longer edges and save me having to weave more in.

4: Arranging the long sides.

I decided to make the most of the writing and patches on some of the tubes I had available for this side. As I’d decided to weave the tops and bottoms of the bands separately, doing this loose weave had to be done twice.

At this point I stopped for the day. I could see how the footstool would more or less look in the end, and wanted to give my hands and arms a break. Though it wasn’t as intense as weaving a coiled basket, it still puts a strain on my hands to keep that tension.

5: Wrapping the long sides

All that weaving prep really paid off, as I “just” had to tension and wrap the longer sides the next day. I wrote a majority of this blog post the day before I finished to take the load off in case I was running late. That sentence is a bit funny now.

This was a bit trickier as I had more bands to wrangle with fewer clamps, and less space to feed the tails of the strips through. The tube with the patches had a very short tail, so that required a bit more finessing, but thankfully the first set of Xs I do are on the bottom so I didn’t have to juggle a three-handed job for long.

And all that leaves is…

The End Result

It’s just brilliant. I love it so much!

Here are some close ups and other angles:

I loved how I was able to feature writing and patches on the top of the stool, to show off the material’s history. One funny little side effect was air got trapped in the longer inner tubes, which ended up slightly puffy in some areas. It’s not especially noticeable, and I don’t mind.

If I see another footstool, I’ll probably pick it up to have another go. I’m still debating whether or not I’d try a chair, I’ll have to see how this weave holds up over time.

It’s also a little stretchy, as I didn’t go full tension on the tubes.

Lessons & Going Forward

What was really great was having this challenge. Though I did take my time, especially during sanding, the accountability really helped me push through and actually complete it. I’ve learned a new way to use inner tube, one that I can potentially take forward in my business.

I’ve decided to do another challenge for next month. If you’re looking at this on 30th April check out my stories on Instagram: I’ve got another poll for you to help me pick!

The idea is to keep these monthly challenges going forward as long as I’m enjoying working on them and have an idea. I’ll hashtag everything on instagram #TeamSikelLab so you can follow along with all my experiments.

Once a winner is chosen in my poll, I’ll write a bit more up about the challenge and what my next project will be.