Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Cardboard Mailbox

You would not believe how excited I am to share the next series of posts.

Because finally: a cardboard tutorial. Three, in fact.

Here is a sad truth: there isn't enough cardboard on the internet. There is a lot of fabric, which manifests as tote bags and elasticized skirts and burp cloths and quilts and birthday garlands. And there is a lot of paper, which manifests as pop-up cards and origami and coloring sheets and airplanes. And then there is no end to slime, which is on youtube and in craft stores and Target and, well, everywhere.

Cardboard, though, is not everywhere. 😠 But it should be. Because it's free, and because it's amazing. 

In 2011, as part of my mission to Spread The Word, I wrote a post on how to work with cardboard, which Family Fun magazine adapted into an article a year later. I was thrilled that more than just my blog readers would get to learn all about cardboard. Whoo!

But still a tiny drop in the ocean. Nanotiny. 

Early in the summer, a company commissioned me to create some cardboard projects for their press release. I don't get cardboard commissioned work nearly as much as fabric, so this was an absolute treat. I designed three projects: a mailbox, a carousel and three townhouse-inspired display boards to showcase their new line of holiday greeting cards. 

Most of the cardboard projects on this blog are left unembellished so my kids could decorate them. Occasionally, I did take the time to fancy up one or two of them, like this tiffin carrier, and this Barbie dollhouse, and I loved the outcomes so much that I've often wished I'd dressed up more of my other projects. 

For this commissioned work, I got to do just that. Over the next few posts, I'll be sharing photos, as well as some deconstruction processes, to show you what we can make with just cardboard, a Sharpie and some paint. Enjoy!

The first project is a cardboard mailbox. I don't have the dimensions of the individual pieces; instead:

  • if you have access to one of these mailboxes in or around your neighborhood, you can measure it, which was what I did to make mine, or
  • you can make up your own dimensions to create a customized mailbox. You'll see in this tutorial how each piece fits against other pieces, and be able to determine related dimensions that way.

I began with the base and ends of the mailbox. One end was the Door, which was a stand-alone piece. The other End was integrated with the Base, which had additional flaps on the other three sides for attaching the Door and remaining walls.

The attached End was scored and folded up.

The curved Top of the mailbox started as a rectangular piece of cardboard. One side was the length of the mailbox i.e. the length of the Base. The other side matched the curved top and two parallel sides of the Door. The flutes of the cardboard ran parallel to the length of the mailbox. You will see this in the next photo.

Here was how that rectangular piece of cardboard was shaped into an arch - the center region was folded parallel to the flutes while the rest was left unfolded to form the straight sides.

For the sake of clarity, let's call this shaped piece the Top of the mailbox.

Attaching this curved Top to the base: I first glued one long edge of the Base,

then rolled the curved cardboard Top over the edge of the End, gluing it in place gradually.

I then glued the remaining edge of the Top to the other long edge of the Base where they met.

The Door was then glued to the remaining flap, creating a hinge.

Next, I made the fastener. There were many possibilities for this - hook and loop tape, a magnet, a button, a store-bought hasp, or even just friction from a tightly-fitting door. I used a magnetic snap. I folded a 1" strip of cardboard into this shape to make a mount for one half of the snap. 

On the portion that touches the door (this will be clearer later), I installed one half of the snap.

right side                               wrong side

Here is that mount again, and you can see where the snap is. I used paper fasteners to attach the mount to the mailbox. The two triangles in the photo below will cover both sides of the triangular-shaped hole in the mount once the fasteners have been installed.

Here is the mount attached to the ceiling of the mailbox Top - first with glue, 

and then three paper fasteners. The triangular pieces of cardboard were glued on next, and you can see them (just barely) in the photo below and in later photos of the finished mailbox. The prongs of the paper fastener were later concealed under a strip of decorative trim.

Here is the handle of the mailbox.

attached to the Door with glue and more studs/paper fasteners,

On the inside of the door is the other half of the magnetic snap.

Here is the snap system in action. You can also see the strip of decorative trim around the opening of the mailbox. It serves two purposes - one, to conceal the prongs of the fastener attaching the mount and two, to reinforce the opening of the mailbox.

Here is the flag. I used one of the earlier-version Makedo connectors but you could just as well use a good paper fastener, or a short bolt and nut.

Here is the flag, with its edges taped (to cover the flutes) and then painted. Holes were punched into the bottom end of the flag 

and the corresponding installation point on the mailbox,

and put together. You might also have noticed that the edges of the Door were also taped. By "taping", I mean that narrow strips of kraft paper were cut and glued around the thickness of the Door, to cover the flutes. Cardboard flutes are beautiful, but there are times when I will choose to tape over them for a smooth finish, and for strength. The back (inside) of the Door has also been lined with the same kraft paper for a clean finish.

Some finished shots. Because this mailbox was designed to showcase holiday cards, I chose to preserve as much of the natural brown of the cardboard as I could, and so added only a little line art and paint.

This way, the cards are the main focus.

Check back soon for the other two projects!

Monday, October 2, 2017


Hello, friends!

Thank you for all your email messages and comments to my last post. I think I'm all caught up now with replying to everyone, but I'm going to keep responding to anyone who writes to me or leaves a comment, even if it's weeks and months from now, because I love hearing from you guys so much. 

I get it that sometimes when people are asked for advice, they don't know if it's an earnest request or some flippant sideways compliment, so it's no wonder they sometimes choose to laugh it off in supreme awkwardness. So I appreciate that you guys stepped up to share your stories with me, because this is parenthood, isn't it - standing with other parents to build them up and make it safe to ask for help? Brava, ladies!

More recently, I've been watching another child let go of a part of her childhood.

Kate and I have been in negotiations (for want of a better word) over Bunny for some time now. Bunny is 4 years old and Kate's best non-human friend. Bunny is also the project for which I've received the most requests for a sewing pattern. Whenever I'd broached the idea to Kate however, the answer had always been No There Cannot Be More Than One Bunny In The World. This wasn't selfishness speaking; this was sheer terror of losing something precious to the internet (teenagers would do well to learn this, actually).

At the same time, Kate loved the idea of other children having a bunny they could love at least as much as she does. And while she drew her boundaries (we don't sell our friends, Mom!) she'd often ask  - quietly, and when all the hubbub had died down - if people really liked Bunny and wished they had her, and were there many who said so? 

And so we waited; perhaps there might come a time, I thought, when she'd be ready to share this priceless friendship with the world. And when that time came, we'd be glad we hadn't hurried it. 

This year, she said yes.

(But with conditions!)

Example: the new bunny had to look quite different than Bunny herself. And it couldn't be exactly the same size. 

Very fair, I thought. So we've been making bunnies since - bunnies of all colors and textures and faces. And Kate has loved coming home from school each day to the newest iteration, of which there are many, because of all the tweaking that happened before this final version emerged.

All the photos are taken and I'm starting to write the instructions this week. It's always a toss-up between which stage feels more laborious - the writing, the prototype-drafting, or the photo-documenting of the in-progress construction. I'll just say that I'm glad the earlier parts of the process are over because for too many days there was a gigantic light tent in the sewing room, the floor itself of which was scattered with uncountable piles of furry, shedding fabric, bags of stuffing and spilled poly beads that were a menace underfoot. And the inside of my car is still covered in white fluff from when I was stuffing rabbit limbs while waiting in the pick-up line at the kids's school. 

I'm thinking I might put out a call for alpha testers soon, so look out for a post on that later this month, if it's something you'd like to do for me, okay? Don't decide now, friends - it's just a heads up for the moment; when I have more details on the time frame and the scope of the task, you'll be better able to choose then if it's something you'd be interested in and can commit to.

The seamstress part of me is ecstatic about populating the world with bunnies with whom kids can begin having their own adventures the way Kate and her Bunny have these past four glorious years. But the Mother part of me totally feels the poignancy of this moment - I am glad and sad that we're moving on from that stage in childhood when the world has walls we can see, because we were the ones who'd made them, and painted them in the colors of our imaginations.

Glad and also sad. Holding on and also letting go. Also. That is the refrain of motherhood, isn't it? 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Next Phase

My oldest turned thirteen last week.

I am henceforth officially the parent of a teenager.

I promise, though, that this isn't going to be one of those nostalgic and overly-sentimental posts I am apt to write whenever I think of my children Growing Up.

I am actually a bit excited. See, for years, all the young people I've ever had dealings with were teenagers. Like youth group and the girls in the dance team at church, and my high school students when I taught Physics. Loved them. Loved that age so much.

When I was a guidance counselor in Minnesota and Singapore, I worked with both teens and children and discovered that while both were intensely rewarding and enjoyable, given the choice, I'd still pick teens. I remember wishing that when I became a mother, I might somehow give birth to teens rather than babies, because surely I would be frightfully awkward with humans who couldn't hold conversations and with whom I'd have to instead make blubbering sounds and devise bizarre hand games just to say hello.

Then: motherhood.

Real motherhood, with real babies and real blubbering.

Not gonna get all weepy here (I promised, right?) so let's just say that I've loved having babies. And toddlers-in-potty-training. And preschoolers. And just. . . Children. And - would you believe it - when I see some stranger's baby staring at me, my hands fly to my eyes and my mouth says peekaboo, and the baby might even smile at me, and I don't even think about how socially ludicrous that is because it really isn't.

To say my children's existence has forever changed me is a huge understatement; I'm not even the same person to whom I might make a comparison. There's very little of Old Me left, and yet I'm More. And all the things I thought were a big deal back then - Barney vs. Sesame Street, CrySelfToSleep vs Cosleeping, Nursing vs. Formula, SterilizedBottles vs Whateversinthedishrack - aren't even on my radar now.

Even "what's your favorite age?" isn't a question that crosses my mind any more. Every age rocks. Every age is better than the one before because these are my kids, who are People with Personalities, and each day, week, year, they're becoming more like their true selves, the ones I didn't even have a clue about when they were just born and toothless and inarticulate. Of course I have fond memories of the baby years with the fuzzy heads and wobbly bums. And of course I've saved all their early stories (the ones written entirely in capitals and consonants) and drawings of the family (all shaped like pickles). But the future excites me. And teenhood, with its possibilities and sweetness and vulnerability and strength, is right there at the top of the list. 


While I've been a mentor and teacher to other people's teens, I've never been a mother to my own. So many of you guys are way ahead of me in this, though and there's so much to learn from you. I want to hear your stories, your advice, the things you are loving or have loved about being a parent to a teenager. So would you leave a comment to encourage me, caution me, or even just come alongside and confess that you're about to step over this brink yourself and you're scared pantsless but agog at the same time? 

Two other things:

One, while trying to think of birthday presents for my new teen, I thought I'd write her a story. Now, this was a risky endeavor because it could've ended up being a Lame Story. Or it might actually have been a Half-Decent Story but maybe a story as a birthday gift for a teenager isn't cool. Whatever. Was I going to take the risk anyway?

I wrote the story. 

It was satire, because teens like satire and irony (at least I did as a teen). And it's set in her school, which was even riskier, because well, middle school. And I wrote her and her friends into it, too, which was the riskiest of all, because it meant descending into my unreliable memory bank for catchphrases and observations and signature gestures from all the playdates they've ever had, which is - even at 1 am when my brain is most alert - a gamble.

"Please, God, let her like it a little bit," was my prayer as I stashed it in her backpack to find on the morning of her birthday. When she got home, she said I was "spot on" about her friends. And then, because she thought it was funny, she read the story to them.

Ridiculously relieved. 

Note to self: motherhood is Risk. Therefore, grab it by the horns and run with it. 

Two, I am making bunnies. Oddly cathartic. More details to come!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Convertible Bucket - Deconstructed

Last week (-ish), I showed you guys this bag I'd made and polled you about whether to turn it into a pattern or do a quick deconstruction. You voted - and a deconstruction it is!

Made a second bag this week - one, for in-progress photos, 

and two, to show how it can be made with regular straps in place of the rouleau kind. 

Apart from the strap variation, it's the same bag - carry it over the shoulder as a tote,

or convert it into a backpack

and carry it one-shoulder style

or over both.

The inside is fully lined, and has two pockets - one zippered

and the other not.

Here is the bag turned inside out to show you the snaphook lanyard for your keys.

Let's get started. A gentle reminder: these instructions are meant for to make items for personal use or gifts only, and should not be used for commercial profit in any way. 

Because this is a deconstruction, I didn't stop to take measurements of the various pieces. However, here are the finished dimensions of the bag:

  • Base diameter: 11"
  • Height: 13.5"
  • Infinity strap: 68" x 1"
  • Pockets: 8" wide and 7" deep

The bag is essentially a two-layered bucket. The base is a circle and the body/walls are a rectangle. The outer layer has piping along its lower edge. I pieced the main body as a printed lower section + a solid canvas upper band, which was about 3" wide.

The inner layer (lining) is also a circle and a rectangle, pieced in the same way as the outer layer. The two pockets are attached "in the flat",

and a snap hook lanyard attached to one of the body's short edges in preparation for being sew into the side seam.

Like so - the rectangular body is sewn into a cylinder, and then the base is attached to the lower edge to create a bucket.

Here is the outer layer also sewn into a cylinder, with the piping basted on after.

This is the snap-panel that converts the straps into their backpack configuration. It's essentially a 6" x 5" rectangle with snaps along its longer sides as shown. It's attached close to the lower edge of the body cylinder with a 1"- wide rectangle of stitches. I also centered it about the body's side seam.

When the snaps are fastened, the contraption becomes a tube that holds the straps in place.

After attaching the strap-conversion-contraption, the base is attached, and the outer bucket is completed.

The inner bucket is placed inside the outer bucket, their upper SAs folded to the WS and both buckets are sewn together around their openings.

The double-layered bucket is finished. 

The next stage is installing the grommets. These are what I used - they are about $10 for a set of 8 at Joann and about $11 on amazon.

The upper band is divided into 8, to accommodate the 8 grommets. This bag has a circumference of about 36", so the grommet spacing is 4.5".

To space the grommets, we started at the seam and measured-and-marked half that grommet spacing on either side. This was to ensure the grommets were installed on either side of the seam and not on the bulky seam itself. From either of these markings, we continued to measure-and-mark 4.5" sections all around the band.

The grommet pack came with a very useful template for tracing the circular holes.

Installing these grommets was easy - there was no need for a special installation tool, just the heel of your hand pressing the two halves together on either side of the circular hole in the fabric. 

Here are two halves of one grommet pair. The outside of the grommets are smooth; the insides have edges that snap together. The pack came with instructions for how to snap the two halves together.

This is the completed bag-with-grommets. All it needs now is the infinity strap.

I'm deconstructing the regular flat strap here, to show you how much it is like any typical strap you'd make for any typical bag. I cut two strips of fabric 69" x 2", reinforced the WS with fusible interfacing and sewed them together along one long edge.

Here is the seam showing the two strips sewn RS together.

However, the last 2" at either end were left unstitched.

Bring the WS of the strips together, fold in the remaining SA to the WS and edge-stitch along both long edges to create a standard strap. Again, leave the last 2" at either end unstitched.

Thread the almost-finished strap through the grommets of the bag, then bring those ends together and, with RS together, sew the ends as shown. Turn the strap RS out and finish edge-stitching the remaining sections.

Here is the finished bag with the infinity strap threaded through the grommets and connected at the ends. 

Let's revisit the first prototype, the one with the rouleau infinity strap. That rouleau strap was made exactly the same way as the flat yellow strap above, except
  • the fabric was much softer, to accommodate the cord inside, and
  • a single strip of fabric was used, instead of two, with a width sufficient to wrap around the cord.

This is the cord I used. 

This coiling cord comes in various diameters - mine was 1/2". 

A pack of 100 ft was about $25 at Joann.

The method is similar: sew a tube to accommodate the cord, turn the tube RS out, thread the cord through the tube (I used a large safety-pin and had to be very patient), hand-stitch the ends of the cord together (or heat-seal the ends, if you know how to), then sew the ends of the fabric tube together as we did with the flat yellow strap.

I made the bag with the yellow strap purely for this tutorial and don't intend to keep it, so if you'd like to buy it, you can find it here in the shop