Saturday, March 31, 2012

I Also Made The Spiral Staircase

And stuck polka dot beads in a row to make a back fence for the deck

and drew a wrought-iron gate,

which I planned to throw open to usher you in for the grand tour today. But -alas - I have no more photos beyond these, because suddenly I remembered that Kate had asked for a piñata for the celebrations tomorrow (could my time management be more abysmal?). Fortunately not a papier-mâché smash-up piñata, because that would take a miracle to get done in time. And not one of those pull-open pinatas, either, because Kate was frightened to death by the prospect of having to rush with other kids for candy when the trapdoor flew open (and cried at the last party when this happened). So tonight I made her a low-intensity, low-suspense sort of piñata instead. And I threw out all the cardboard leftover from these two projects so the visiting grandparents could have their closet AND guest room back. We now have so little cardboard in the house that I'm slightly insecure. But -oh - the catharsis from cleaning up after a massive project! I think that these days I finish projects just so I can enjoy cleaning up after. 

And now, to bed. Tomorrow we celebrate Kate and eat (store-bought) cake!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Just The Lights

More photos tomorrow, in daylight. All I will say tonight is that I wish I had time to make crown molding.  

And yes, that IS the same silhouette. The girls decided it was Ken, and that he was sufficiently beloved by all the Barbies that just one of him was not enough.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I'm Almost There

I'm not going to be all secretive about the cardboard house (already established here that I tried and failed) and do a big reveal after days of silence. Cardboard projects are not like that. Fabric projects are like that, because the WIP stages of, say, a dress, look like a pile of rags with flyaway frayed edges, and annotations like "W.S." or "R.S" as the only hope for any recognition whatsoever. Cardboard projects, though, are beautiful even in all their intermediate stages. I think so, anyway. Plus, you can stop at any point and declare them finished, depending on whether you like the shredded surface look, or the natural brown veneer look, or the painted acrylic look, or something so processed that you can't even tell it's made of cardboard in the first place. 

So..... wanna see? Here you go.
The design is based on the actual plastic Barbie townhouse that you can buy on amazon. The tiny, grainy thumbnail I had to work with, though, didn't provide a lot of helpful details, so I had to make a lot of it up.

Those dangly wire things are the lights. They took a whole day to install.

See all the wiring on the walls (more on the floors for the rooms below)? They had to be recessed into the cardboard itself.

This way they lay flat under the surface, without bumps. But it also means that with all those worm-tunnels, I have to wallpaper the house. I feel slightly regretful, because I like the natural brown-and-white color combination it is now.

Also must show you this, in case you are ever lucky enough to come by a thick box like I was: in order to fold this triple-wall corrugated cardboard, I had to cut a deep channel half an inch wide, just so it would bend. Usually I just score a line and - presto - it folds. Not this three-layer kind. 

But it is so strong, and the house is so sturdy, it feels like I've been building with wood. I love all of it, even the slightly wonky elevator shaft, with one exception: I'm not crazy about the wheel-and-axle contraption that raises and lowers the elevator. It's (the wheel) not strong enough to be smoothly rotated with that little lever, but it had to be made this way, and placed where it is, so that Kate could reach it at all. 

There's still a fair bit of work left to do - wallpaper, light fixtures, curtain rods, patio tiles, little fences, and (dare I dream it) a spiral staircase like they have in some of the more charming cities of the world. And furniture, of course. But it's come to the point in the construction where all the engineering is done and we can call in the 4,5 and 7-year old interior decorators to join the fun. I'd like Kate to be able to say, "When I was 4 years old, I asked Mum to make me a cardboard Barbie House, and she did, and I helped."

Speaking of fun, I've started reading In Search of Schrodinger's Cat (sitting at the playground, shivering in the wind, while the kids played). I've always wanted to read it, since all the guys in our Physics class at Uni were reading it. But I also wanted to be a bit rebellious, so I read Alice in Quantumland instead, which was a softer option because it was a work of allegorical fiction (sort of). Now I'm catching up. Also ordered Mr Tompkins (in paperback), which I heard is excellent. And I'm still itching to sew. I've learnt something through all this, though - anytime I get sewing-related jadedness, all I need to do is build a cardboard house. 

P.S. That first photo? A bunch of optic fibers that I found in my electronics stash. There is one low-situated light bulb that can't be reasonably made into any kind of light fixture, so I thought, well... Barbie... she's sort of a groovy 70's chick, isn't she? Apart from also being a vintage babe with I Love Lucy hairdos, I mean. She should have a optic fiber lamp-cum-dried-twig display! Pity it isn't psychedelic or even color-changing, huh?

Monday, March 26, 2012

I Think I'm Falling Apart

Shhhhhh........ but something strange is happening to me. I'm working with cardboard, and I'm missing my sewing machine. I actually feel like I want to sew clothes for me. This has never happened before. Usually I'm sitting at the sewing machine, hating all fabric, and pining for my glue gun.

Want to know what I did to cope? Went on amazon and ordered Quantum Physics books. For recreational reading! When
  • I don't do recreational reading. All reading nowadays has to be done while doing something else, like eating, or waiting to flip pancakes, or sitting in the car in the pickup line at school.
  • .... really? Quantum Physics? Recreational reading? Not even when I was teaching the stuff!

I think this is what happens when I'm on a project that is taking too long. I start looking longingly at other pastures. It's a classic Grass Is Always Greener situation. Any grass. Even Quantum Physics. Ever happened to you?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

I Took A Break To Show You Windows

Yup. Not much else there. 
Those two gashes are where the floors will be slotted in. 

They're pretty windows, though,

 and recessed (necessary only because of how thick the brown cardboard is).

I hoard my white cardboard for things just like this.

Kate came and discovered me cutting the windows and asked for the little rectangle and pie-slice shaped cutouts. She collects small things, see. 
"Are you making this for me?" she asked.
"Yes." I said. "But it's a surprise, OK?"
"OK. I won't know that it's for me." She reassured me.
Such an understanding child.

"Can we show Kate the bed, then?" asked Jenna, before I could stop her.

"Oh! You made furniture, too!" said Kate. 
"Here, I'll show you how it works!" replied Jenna.

Well, why not, since we're obviously failing badly at keeping things a secret. 
I give up. Let's even blog about it to the whole internet.

So here's the bed.

It has hearts on the headboard and footboard

and a trundle.
"For sleepovers!" Jenna explained to Kate.

I think there's a useful technique worth sharing here, so you can make other similar structures, like drawers.

See - the thing slides out but it needs a sort of stop so you don't yank it out every time you pull,

which is simply a flat board that's taller than the opening.

Like so:

And it needs 'rails', but not for sliding on, like real drawers. Just a short wall on either side, to prevent the drawer/trundle from shifting side-to-side as it slides. 

And that's how we make non-frustrating drawers for children.

And now we must stop blogging and go for a walk, for the rain has stopped and the next stage is electrical wiring, which necessitates the children being fast asleep. We resume tonight!!!! 

My Arm Is Tired

Hello friends!

Off to bed but first I wanted to get online and groan about how my arm is dead. I've been working on the Barbie House. The good news is that I had a huge piece of cardboard in the garage that was just the right size for it. The bad news is that it is triple-wall corrugated cardboard. Triple wall = three layers of regular corrugated cardboard all stuck together. It's solid like wood. I didn't want to use it but it's all I've got and I know that when it's finished (if I'm still alive), I'll be glad I picked something as strong as this to make it with. I've been hacking away at it as best I can with my feeble craft knife but I really should be using a circular saw. The planning is slow, the cutting is even slower, and till now all I've got to show for all the work is one big piece of flat cardboard with five windows cut out. It took me all night to cut five windows out! There is no resemblance to a 3D house at all. 

Although! Although! Last night I did make an elevator car and one bed with trundle for Barbie sleepovers. 

I only work on it after the kids are in bed because there's no way anyone can work on something of that size and be subtle about it. And there is such a royal mess on the floor that, clearly, something is afoot. Even then, I feel extremely sorry for Kate because everyone is in on the secret except her. Today she came to the sewing room (now cardboard room) and saw the big piece of cardboard.
"What are you making?" She asked.
Suddenly everyone changed the subject and started talking loudly about random things. We couldn't very well deny the glaringly obvious but we also weren't about to spoil the surprise. I told her it was a secret and that she could help by standing next to it to see if she or the thing were taller. The thing won. And then we gave her extra hugs to make up for being such rotters to her and took her to play elsewhere in the house. 

I wish I could take in-progress photos but it's pointless at this stage. Maybe later when it gets a bit more house-like. I'll share my To Finish list, though:
Thursday - Finish windows, saw dowels and do wiring (for lights)
Friday - Do elevator shaft
Saturday - Do lights and furniture
Sunday - Assemble
Monday - Wallpaper

Why are Barbies so big? Why couldn't they be the size of Playmobil? More importantly, where are we going to put this gargantuan thing when it's finished? 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tiffin Carrier

I love it. 

You've probably heard of tiffin carriers, and even seen the modern plastic/melamine ones for sale alongside bento boxes and other tupperware-type storage containers. Or even the slightly-more-traditional stainless steel ones. But let me show you some antique tiffin carriers from my culture:
Have you ever seen anything like them? Oh, that nyonya/peranakan culture (with which one also associates the sarong kebayas and kasut maneks and amazing food)! The handiwork and workmanship! Scream.

So anyway, those tiffin carriers (tiffin is a word originating in British India, meaning "light meal") of yore were my inspiration for the artwork on this cardboard version. I don't often decorate my cardboard projects because they're almost always for the kids, who then get first dibs on embellishing. But this one is mine. And I peranakan-ed it as best as I could with a modern Sharpie.

Back in Singapore, we called tiffin carriers "tingkats" (meaning "tiers/floors" in Indonesian/Malay). They aren't used for transporting food as much now with the advent of disposable styrofoam and plastic food boxes. But in the old days, as a child, I remember food brought to our house in stainless steel tiffin carriers bybicycle-riding delivery people . They were (and still are) a popular way to have meals catered to one's home, particularly when one was shut-in or generally unable to cook. Very useful for postpartum mums! One can still order weekly/monthly tiffin meals off extensive multiple-course menus from various companies as we did back then, but they cost a lot more now. I've often wished we had this here in the US, especially when I had my babies, but I suppose that's what pizza delivery is sort of, or Chinese take-out. Not anywhere as charming, though.

I've wanted to make this for... I dunno..... a year, at least. Wasn't quite sure how to get the handle to stay on securely, while still allowing access to stacking and unstacking the tiered containers. So I slept on it - for this many months. Then this week I needed a warm-up project before tackling the massive Barbie (or 12-inch-dolls, as we must more PC-ly call them) townhouse for Kate. So this is my Get The Motor Running project. Enjoy!

I'll walk you through the more interesting parts of this project, especially since these have applications for other projects. 

First are the containers themselves. They are circular, which might be intimidating to some, but fear not! This is one of probably many methods, but it's one I like and use all the time. The post important thing to remember is to cut the side of the cylinder so that the flutes are parallel to how you'd roll the cardboard to curve it.

Now roll the strip of cardboard. To get it to curve smoothly, you'll need to be diligent so that the cardboard is bent along every flute.

Wrong                                     Right

Then glue it on using this old tutorial.

Here's a new technique to make seamless joints. You can use it with shapes other than a circle, too, but it is an improvement that's most noticeable with a circle because circles have no corners at which to hide seams. This is what a regular overlapping joint looks like. Very crude and abrupt, but I use this all the time, too. 

For this tiffin carrier, however, I needed the joint to be seamless so I could fit cylinders within cylinders as part of the design (more evident later) and also because I wanted a smooth outer surface to draw on.

To do this, glue the side of the cylinder onto the base as you normally would, but leave the first inch or so of the beginning of the strip unglued. When you have come around to where you began, do not glue the overlap down.

Instead trim it off to about half an inch, and peel back the liners from the middle layer of flutes. 
Then cut off  the extra 1/2" overlap of just the flute layer, leaving the liner layers long for overlapping. Apply glue to the inner liner, tuck that under the starting end of the strip 
and stick that down. Notice how the flute layer meets perfectly at the seam with no overlap. Then glue on the outer liner layer for a seamless finish. 

Folded loops were glued to opposite sides of the containers

to allow them to slide on and off the frame of the carrier.

An important part of the design was to have the containers stack into one another without shifting around or, worse, sliding off. 

To achieve this, a foot was added to each container,

which was just a smaller, much flatter circular "container" stuck onto the bottom of the main one.

The lid was made to fit onto the containers the same way. 

With these techniques, you can make any cylindrical structure - think pots and pans for kids' play kitchens, coffee pots, blenders, cups, mugs.......

The frame was cut out as a single piece in this shape:

Again, a very important consideration was the alignment of the flutes: they were parallel to the length of the "arms" so that they would not bend or fold accidentally during the process of slotting the arms into the loops of the containers. The arms were simply folded up to accommodate the containers.

The handle was a single strip (with the flutes in the same alignment as the arms of the base) folded into this shape.

An extra piece of cardboard was added to each end to accommodate the paper fastener. 

Then the back face of this extra piece was glued to the bottom of the frame arms, enclosing the prongs of the paper fastener so they are hidden and unable to get loose.

A carrying loop was glued to the top of the handle. Note that the handle was held in place by snug fit between it and the knob of the lid (technical term = static friction).

The lower the headroom of the handle, the flatter the knob needed to be. However, the handle still had to clear the edge of the lid when it swiveled off:
so it was just a matter of ensuring that freedom of movement first, and then stacking as many small circles as needed to make it stay put. I figure that the snugness is going to wear off over time, in which case I'd just stick on another circle (or two).

And that's all to it. As always, building with cardboard is just half the fun - the other half is designing workable elements to the whole structure to it make a sturdy and non-frustrating toy for the kids.

And prettying it up at the end, of course!

This one is right at the top of my favorite cardboard projects (for now). It's not going into the recycling bin anytime soon!

Now (SIGH) to get started on the townhouse. I've never procrastinated doing a cardboard project by making another cardboard project so, even for me, this is a groundbreaking example of laziness.