I’ve written in the past about how I make the most of inner tubes, and how I use up scraps. While I touched on how I’ve use the narrow inner tubes to make baskets, I wanted to expand on how I got to the method I’m working on now. This is the first in a series of posts about inner tube baskets. Read them all here.
It all started with this basket:
Dimensions: 30cm across, 13 cm tall
Material: 11 inner tubes!
Finished with: Heavy duty Gutermann thread
I’m getting a little ahead of myself, though.
It REALLY all started with a kind of tube I wasn’t able to use to make my core range of products. The narrow road bike inner tubes, even when cut open, wouldn’t be a useful width. So beyond a few keychains, and the odd strap for a light duty bag, they just built up in my inner tube store.
I’d been thinking about basket weaving with inner tubes for ages before I ever attempted it. I was inspired by baskets made with other unconventional materials, like blinds.
When I finally got up the nerve to try it, I was basically winging it. I collected a bunch of inner tubes that were about the same width and arranged them on the floor. Everything was done freehand without any kind of form for support- to be honest it was a bit frustrating. But I used lots of bulldog clips and patience to get things to stay in place.
The toughest bit was finishing it off. While a lot of traditional basket weaving materials are already stiff, or stiffen as they dry, these inner tubes would always remain a little floppy. I settled on sewing Xes using heavy duty upholstery thread.
Each one is separately tied, and the process very nearly put me off basket making entirely. It took ages and was really tough on my hands, as in some places I was going through 8 layers of inner tube! Thankfully I had a thimble, and just tackled it in stages, in the evenings in front of the telly.
I do really love how it turned out. But I knew if I wanted to do them for my business I needed a better way to put them together. Ideally one without a lot of ends that needed sewing to keep the basket secure and together.
Where is the basket now? I still have it, but I don’t have a photo in situ. Why? It’s storing unphotogenic things in my bathroom.
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.