Cardboard Creatures & a Pinata too!


Mask Workshop by The Cardboard Collective in Tokyo, JapanOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


I had a great time with all the kids and parents that came to the mask-making workshop. Their creativity transformed a pile of cardboard and paper recyclables into a fun menagerie of hats, masks, wigs and mythical creatures. I also loved sharing my family’s long time tradition of making pinatas (this time in cardboard) with so many families who had no idea what pinatas were.

Thanks to everyone who helped with clean-up, spreading the word through email, my very kind friends who translated for me, and to everyone who came out on such a beautiful day to enjoy the fun of making and celebrating together.

Stackable Cardboard Dressers for Kids


Stackable dressers

My daughters are young and their needs are always changing. They wear a pair of shoes for 6 months then need a new pair.

They use a little chair, or a booster seat for a year or a month or 2 and then we have to replace it and either throw out the old one, find a friend who happens to need the same thing at the same moment we want to get rid of it, or put it on Craig’s List. (We have no charity shops here in Tokyo and limited recycling opportunities for large items.)

I find this kind of turnover exhausting. I wanted to create a dresser system for the girls that accomplished 3 things:

stackable dressers

  1. Recyclable so that we could recycle the whole thing, or just parts of it as the girls’ needs changed. I didn’t want the guilt of throwing away something that was perfectly good and I didn’t want the extra work of finding someone to take on our old stuff.
  2. Facilitates Independence. I wanted a piece of furniture that was easy to use and functional so the girls could easily pick out their own clothes and put them away starting from an early age (about 18 months-2 years ).
  3. Beautiful. I believe that the things in our life should be beautiful and functional. I want my daughters to value beauty, design, the arts, and momma moxie, so we tried to accomplish all of those things when we made the dressers. If you like hot pink and pattern as much as I do I hope you agree on our definition of beautiful….

The Cardboard Collective

To make the dressers, we collected kiwi boxes over the course of a few weeks, as well as beautiful papers; a mix of washi papers, origami paper, paper bags and Gallery Opening flyers.

I then decoupaged the papers onto the fronts of the boxes with water and white glue. I made a door in each box by cutting two sides about a ruler’s width from the edges of the box, and and then scored the bottom to create the door opening.

The doors of the dressers always stay shut and close easily. In a year and a half of using these boxes, the doors have never flopped open or gotten flimsy.

stackable dressers

The girls can easily open and close the drawers. By decorating each box differently they quickly have memorized what kind of clothing each box holds. (Only Dad is still struggling with this.)

Another benefit of these dressers is that they are not a hazard if they fall over in the event of an earthquake – an important consideration living here in Japan.

stackable dressers

If you’re wondering where you can get kiwi boxes, check out your local produce department. This past summer I wrote a post about how to find free cardboard here. We also use these boxes for storing our toys, puzzles, and art supplies. Yes, kiwi boxes are a definite favorite here in our apartment.


MakeDo Cardboard Igloos

On Saturday we were excited to host another Cardboard Play Day at the American School in Japan with an enthusiastic group of young builders.

Kids living in dense urban areas like Tokyo usually don’t have a backyard or nearby place where they can muck around.

Providing the space and materials for cardboard tinkering is akin to tree house building for city kids (as well as a beefy upgrade from blanket and sofa cushion forts.)

We had the most gorgeous day of pre-winter weather that you could hope for and a great turn out of kids and parents.

[slideshow_deploy id=’3160′]


I really enjoyed working side by side with the kids this time, holding pieces of cardboard together for them and taking their direction as they figured out how to attach shelving, install “TVs” and keep intruders out of their igloos.


The kids faced the perils of dome collapse and near exhaustion from sawing cardboard doors and windows all day, but we still we had to kick them out by 2:00 so we could cleanup and go home…

Looking forward to putting on another cardboard play day again really soon!

Cardboard Mermaid Costume

There wasn’t much time during the frenetic week leading up to Halloween to share the details of the cardboard mermaid costume with you, so those of you who have been wondering what happened to the pile of brown cardboard fish scales, well here they are in technicolor:

The mermaid costume was my favorite of the cardboard costumes I made for my family and myself because it involved a whole different approach to working with cardboard- threading together many cardboard pieces to create a kind of flexible cardboard skin. The costume is very securely held together, so one of the problems, in fact, was that is was a little hard for my daughter to move around in.

Remember the sage advice I passed on to you at the beginning of the challenge about creating a costume that you could sit down in? Well, we had a few problems in that department….

You can see the back of the costume here, which was covered with a cape for warmth, as well as to hide the paper cords. It’s possible to create a costume that is seamless, but because we had to take my daughter in and out of the costume a lot, I didn’t work too hard to make it all fit together perfectly. I’m thinking of adapting this costume into a downloadable PDF someday, so I’m going to keep expanding on some of the new ideas I tried while making the cardboard mermaid gown.

We painted the scales with regular watercolors, which worked beautifully and gave the costume soft, romantic coloring. I loved the fact that every scale was a little bit different because of the blending of the blues,  greens and yellows.

The great thing was that the costume was well loved, and my daughter just beamed on Halloween night, scooting carefully around from house to house with her sister Little Red Riding Hood.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Cardboard Wolf

I finished the wolf mask!

Just in time for some shopping and a little adventure to the Kawasaki Halloween event!

[slideshow_deploy id=2761]

Sadly, we had to come home early and didn’t get to see the parade, just the costume contest. We thought our costumes were pretty clever until we saw the Rocky Horror Christmas group costume. Amazing!

Halloween may be a relatively new holiday in Japan, but in the land of anime and cosplay, dressing up is taken pretty seriously.

5 minute Cardboard Petticoat

While I realize not every costume can be best created out of cardboard, I wanted to inspire you with a little idea for some covert cardboard.

At one point I tried to construct a full blown petticoat out of cardboard, but after more than one failure, I thought there must be a better way…..

Surely this is a trick that every mother should have up their sleeve? A kind of Julie Andrews move akin to pulling the drapes off the wall and stitching up a dress, except you’ll pull a strip of cardboard out of your recycling and make an ever-puffy twirly skirt…..hopefully while singing?

Just staples and a long strip of cardboard is all you need. Make sure that the corrugations in the cardboard run parallel to the skirt’s hem and you’ll get a smoother contour.


Wolf Mask: Sneak Peak

Happily, all the different kinds of cardboard I’ve been saving have been put to use in the making of this mask.

Especially exciting is the bag of torn-up egg cartons that works as wolf fur.

For more inspiration:

Check out this Flickr photo set from a participant in the Cardboard Costume Challenge named wrnking. T-Rex head under construction.

How to make cardboard bug eyes

These cardboard apple box liners have so much potential. I love their color and texture which works perfectly for insect or reptilian costumes. I’ve seen these liners in pink, yellow, purple, white and brown. Ask the stockist at your grocery store’s produce department if you can take a few home.

This a costume component easily made by any child who can handle scissors, so a perfect start for a kid’s first self made costume.

How great would these be for a bed bug costume?

Mr. Pumpkin Head

[vimeo 50462470 w=550&h=310]

[stop motion animation: The Cardboard Collective family / music: our friends Lullatone]

I wanted to squeeze one little Halloween decoration project in before we roll up our sleeves for the Cardboard Costume Challenge on October 1st!

SO, here’s a project that is inspired by two of my favorite Japanese artists Tatsuya Kameyama  and Atsuko Nakagawa who go by the collective name tupera tupera.

We got the work x create books by tupera tupera for my daughter when she was about 2 years old, and they were the best sticker books ever. You can still buy them in the US through Muji’s website here. (FYI I have no affiliation with Muji, just a fan)

These sticker books were so beautifully designed, I couldn’t stop looking at them myself, and so I got to thinking about making something that the girls could use to change the faces over and over again.

About a year ago, I came up with a project called the Cardboard Marquee that basically utilizes this same concept for making two pieces of corrugated cardboard “stick” to each other. You might have missed it since I had about 2 followers then (neither of which was my mom BTW)…..

To make this project you’re going to need to secure plenty of pieces of corrugated cardboard that “link up.” You need to test your cardboard pieces for compatibility unless you have cardboard from identical boxes.

Go for the strongest cardboard with the widest corrugations that you can find (and still cut through with the tools that you have on hand.)

This is basically a cardboard version of a felt-board, so don’t expect these pieces to have a death grip. They are perfect for little kids to play with, but sometimes the flutes/corrugations get a little flat, so if that happens, I suggest poking a chopstick or skewer inside them to help reshape the channels.

Get your big piece of cardboard and strip one side of the paper covering the corrugation. This will take a little work, and I usually use a chopstick to help pry up the paper. When you’re done, cut out and paint your pumpkin shape.

To make the facial features, I first cut them out of magazine pages and other recycled papers that I have and then glue them onto the cardboard. It’s very important that you always have everything lined up with your cardboard channels vertically, so you don’t get say, a lazy eye, unless that’s what you’re going for.

Strip the paper off the back of your facial features and you’re ready for a truly dynamic and fun Halloween decoration for young and old!