Monday, July 17, 2017

Cardboard Technology

Here is a cardboard story.

This weekend, two of the children got into my cardboard stash. This is not an infraction - the children know that they are free to use my cardboard as long as they stay away from the pieces upon which I place especial value. You know, like how you let your children use some of your "regular" fabric but not the ones that cost $59.99 a yard? Cardboard is the same. 

Anyway, when I found out what they were doing, I invited myself to watch them at work. This is hard for me - merely watching, I mean; cardboarding is one of those crafting scenarios which just begs socializing and cooperation. Plus, I am well aware that good cardboard, of the sort which I like to collect, requires strong hands and strong tools to cut through, both of which kids often lack, which leads to frustration and Giving Up.

And giving up on cardboard is a Great Tragedy Indeed. 

Because while no parent with an eye toward Crafting Independence would actually rescue a child from minor cardboard setbacks, surely we would not withhold the very thing that could take them through a major roadblock and onto That Which Is More Marvelous ? After all, don't we want them to enjoy cardboard instead of loathing it for the rest of their lives (heaven forbid)?

So when I started hearing "blisters!" and "thumb cramps!" and "not straight!" and "won't stay up!" I decided it was time to intervene. Out went the wimpy scissors the kids had been ineffectively wielding (perfect for, say, cereal box bendypaper but useless for the double-wall corrugated cardboard with which they'd been wrestling) and in came the omnipotent craft knife. I am happy to say that the kids went on to finish their project without injury or emotional devastation, and we got to visit during, and talk about the indisputable wonders of cardboard and reminisce about the cardboard things we'd made and loved in the past. Huzzah - a truly perfect afternoon. 

But you want to know what the kids actually made, so let me share: it was a whole bunch of screens.

Laptops and tablets, specifically. These were props for an on-going game they're playing with the neighbors, in which everyone is a spy for the same side, united against an imaginary enemy. There's surveillance and infiltration and defence and all kinds of exciting things, employed from the comfort and safety of a tree-house, thanks to long-range cardboard technology. 

Here is one, set to an electronic-messaging program. I wasn't sure what I thought of the "explosion" key (the children drew a bomb icon) but I suppose anyone who's watched a James Bond, Jason Bourne or Batman movie might argue that explosions are a necessary part of an undercover crime-fighter's arsenal.

This one boasts a radar-esque app for long-range monitoring,

while this handles higher-detail, closer-range surveillance (Kate explains that this is from close-circuit camera footage). 

This last one is for general web-browsing, which is ostensibly how spies do their undercover research.

They also made a couple of tablets with an aerial satellite map and navigational GPS-thingy.

Here's a back shot to show you their laptop design. I was fascinated by the evolution of their ideas - rather than cut the laptop as a single piece of cardboard with a fold in the middle for a hinge, they cut it as two identical pieces, hinged together with clear packing tape. This, they explained, allowed the laptop to fully close without a fastener; a folded-hinged laptop would've sprung back open when they tried to shut it. 

A flexi-hinge laptop, however, would also not stay open by itself, so they made a photo-frame-style support at the back. 

I know that many people mightn't give a hoot about why someone makes a thing in a certain way, and prefer instead just to be shown how to do it so they can make it themselves. I've always been very interested in the why, and especially in the thought process that takes the presenting challenge to the final design. And I especially love listening to my kids' thought processes and hearing them organize their ideas and hypotheses, and the way their reasoning finds logic along linear, convergent and divergent paths. I swear I can hear them growing up in just that recounting, and it makes me smile so wide.

And finally, can I just say that in an age when everything is online and digital, I am SO glad that my kids still make physical toys, even if they are renderings of said digital tools? I mean, they could've used actual laptops and tablets, or plastic laptops and tablets, or even imaginary laptops and tablets.

But no, they made cardboard ones instead. 

Couldn't be prouder :) 

Monday, July 10, 2017

I Have Been Cardboarding At Last

It's been a very busy fortnight, but I've been working with cardboard, so it's all good. This is a commissioned project for a press release, so I can't share any photos of the completed builds, but I love how they turned out.

I always feel that I get a design high from cardboard that I can never get with fabric. 

I think it's because there's a little bit of engineering involved in building with cardboard in order to make it do what I want.

Like this - 

it's the mechanism for a turntable, with which you can make roulette wheels, lazy susans, carousels and (ugh) giant fidget spinners. 

When I'm working with cardboard, I wonder why I even bother sewing. Then I remember: oh yeah, because it's hard to draft a good sleeve cap in cardboard. And cardboard bust darts hurt. And children generally do not enjoy cuddling with cardboard stuffed animals. 

I will share more photos when I can!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Unicorn Party

Kate had a birthday party this weekend.

Her real birthday is in the spring, which we acknowledged with various family get-togethers, but it took us this long to also throw her a friends-celebration. Many reasons, but mainly we wanted to wait till the summer so she could have the sleepover party she'd wanted.

The theme this year was Unicorn(s).

Emily made the welcome signs,

and all the decorations, in unicorn-appropriate colors.

She and Jenna also made the cupcakes (Kate helped with the sprinkles - we used edible pearl glitter). 

I was allowed to make the frosting and test-pipe it on a few of the cupcakes, after which the children banned me from further helping. Party prep sure has changed around here; once upon a time, I actually did most of the work. I'm not complaining, though. 

Also changed is how we actually had themed tableware this year. Shocking, I know. Kate spotted these at Target and asked for them, so I said, "Yes, of course we can have paper products that actually match the theme and each other for a change."

This being a sleepover (translation: we had kid guests in the house for 19 hours straight, instead of the usual 2 hours), we paced ourselves and kept things very, very simple, so there was none of the usual mania that you guys are used to seeing at our parties. 

To begin, Kate had only three guests, which took some negotiating, but it was her first slumber party and we felt that she'd enjoy three good friends much more than eight or ten "fun people" she didn't know as well. 

Also, because unicorns are apparently trending at the moment, choosing the activities, decor and other party elements took far less imaginative energy than usual. Emily and Kate got on Pinterest together and picked crafts and food ideas from the general internet, then executed them indoors in a calm and sane manner, with the resident adults enforcing all the usual kitchen safety (and neatness) rules. 

So rather than a 20-something-post blog series like Emily's Harry Potter party, you get a single paragraph rundown of this Unicorn Party:

After dinner, we made sparkly pearly unicorn lip balm (we used petroleum jelly, Kool Aid powder, sugar to taste and edible pearl glitter). Then we painted our nails and put on face masks. Now, let me state for the record that I personally couldn't see how either of those spa-type activities was particularly Unicorn-y, but it appears that this theme is extremely forgiving and, in Kate's logic universe at least, encompasses all things glittery, sparkly and luxuriating. When everyone was all relaxed and gorgeous, the girls watched a movie and ate popcorn. In other words, we followed all the classic slumber party rules.

Oh, wait - I am happy to report that sometime between Gift Opening and Unicorn Spa, Mother did get to execute one of her own favorite party elements, namely the absurd treasure hunt. You know how I always insist on having this at our parties as an excuse for the party guests to run off some of their crazy energy outdoors, right? And also how I believe that while kids should be as involved in their own party planning as they want, it's a good idea to save something for a surprise on the day itself, so the birthday kid is in on the fun, too.

So this next bit was our secret - Jenna helped with the making and Emily helped with the hiding and the clues.

Here are the kids running around the yard, hunting for their Hidden Secret Packages which we stashed up in the trees for them to find.

Then they all came back indoors and opened their packages together to find these:

four Menagerie unicorns.

I mean, it's a Unicorn party, right?

Each unicorn had a distinct "cutie mark" (if you're familiar with My Little Pony, you'll know what these are) 

so the girls could tell their own unicorn apart from the other three identical ones.

The crazy manes and tails were made with some tri-color unicorn fur I found in JoAnn. 

For privacy reasons, I won't be sharing any photos of the girls' faces when they opened their packages, but there was much screaming and jumping, and squealing of names like Cupcake and Sparkles and Rainbow Baby and Baby Glitter. And later, during the movie, there were brushing of manes and Unicorn Up-dos and other things that were charming and amusing and which boring adults like me would never have even thought of. 

I also never thought an equine Menagerie animal would work as well as this has. I mean, horses are sleek, lanky, long-necked creatures which wasn't exactly like the classic round, squat Menagerie profile. Which is why, in spite of Kate drawing a horse in her original concept sketches, it never made it into the shortlist for the pattern, much to her disappointment.

Well, here you go, Kate. So glad I was wrong. This Unicorn has turned out to be one of my favorites (and Kate's)! 

Friday, June 16, 2017


CARDBOARD today!!!!

I'm so excited I could scream.

One of unfortunate side-effects of my kids growing up is the decline of cardboard festivities around the house. So many of our cardboard creations in days gone by were inspired by my kids at play, or just wanting to build things with them with materials that were cheap (or free), and that could be manipulated by very little hands. Now that they’re older and so much busier with school and sports, we don’t get to play with cardboard nearly as much as we should. So I must find other ways to get my cardboard fix, and other kids to whom to introduce this miracle crafting material. 

This summer, for instance, I'm working on some craft projects with the kids at our church. Not all of these projects involved cardboard originally but I turned them into cardboard projects anyway. Because why not? Duh.

Now, one of these projects is a torch, which the preschoolers are making. 

Sometimes, preschoolers are relegated to crafts of the embellishment-only variety, because they’re younger, or because there is often a large group of them with not enough adult helpers to ensure everyone gets the help they need. This is very practical, by the way, as any one who’s had to facilitate a large group of young’uns in close proximity to colorful and messy craft supplies will attest to. But sometimes, people forget there’s cardboard. It's dreadfully tragic. Because cardboard levels out the playing field. And cardboard with simple electrics kicks up that playing field a notch. Whoo! 

The really interesting (at least to me) thing about today’s craft isn’t that it’s easy, or even that it involves batteries. I mainly want to share it for a very simple, no-glue technique that has many applications beyond this torch. 

First, let’s look at what we’re using to make the torch: a cardboard toilet roll and a battery-operated tea light. We want to somehow affix that tea-light to the top of the tube so it can shine out. 

Note that while the tea-light is small enough to fit within the tube, it’s too small to stay in place without falling all the way through to the bottom. 

We could stuff the tube with crushed paper, or glue a circle of cardboard close to the top to make a shallow chamber within which the tea-light can sit, like we did with Rapunzel’s Tower in this post.

Or we could use geometry and scissors. 

Here’s the geometry - first change the cross-sectional shape from a circle to a triangle by squishing the sides like so. 

The sides of the triangle now fit more snugly around the tea-light, albeit at the expense of newly-created hollow corners.  


We're going to use those hollow corners in the next step.

Now come the aforementioned scissors. On each of the folds that creates a corner of the triangle, cut two slits a little deeper than the size of those hollow corners. Mine were about 1/2” deep and 1/2’ apart. To accommodate the height of the tea-light, I positioned the upper slit about 3/4” below the top edge of the cardboard tube. 

Push inward between the slits to invert the cardboard bit like so. 

Do this on all three sides.   

You’ve created little corner props, like shelf brackets.

Now the tea-light will sit on these little props, in its chamber, without falling down in the tube. It’s still not wedged-tight but this is exactly what we want, because we’re going to add the fake flame now.

We used yellow and orange cellophane paper but tissue paper and even thin sheer fabric like chiffon would work just as well. 

Scrunch up the cellophane around the tea-light (we switched the tea-light on first)  

and wedge it into the chamber.

Finished torch. No glue, no mess. And if an adult were to cut all the slits beforehand, as well as the pieces of cellophane paper, all the kids would need to do is push the little cardboard props inward, wrap the tea-light with the cellophane paper and stuff it into the top of the tube.  

Incidentally, to switch the light on and off, we just lifted the whole tea-light-cellophane bundle out of the chamber and flicked the switch through the cellophane paper (no need to unwrap).

If, however, you enjoy the higher risk levels associated with small children and glue, you could wrap the outside of the roll with decorative paper as an additional step. 

I found some wood-grain paper for this. 

Voila - wooden torch that actually works.

Can also be diversified to lighthouses, fake candles, night lights, castle turrets . . . and the push-in cardboard prop technique has even more applications wherever you need a quick shelf support!