Cardboard Costume Challenge 2014

Although it’s already Mid November, I just wanted to say thanks again to all of you who took the Cardboard Costume Challenge this year.

Whether you sent in pictures or just got thinking about the idea for the future, thanks for following us on this year’s Halloween adventure. I had so much fun working on our insect family costumes as well as the other costume tutorials.

I hope to see you again next year, and please visit the Pinterest Board now and then as you start scheming and dreaming for 2014. (I already have a request for a Humback Whale costume from the littlest one and a year might be just enough time to figure it out!)

Cardboard Costume Challenge 2013!


CCC 2013 the cardboard collective

YYYYEEEEEESSSSSS!!!!!  Today is the Kick-off  for The 2nd Annual Cardboard Costume Challenge!

The Mission? to inspire the making of awesome handmade cardboard costumes.

My secret agenda? Help parents reconnect with their kids (and themselves) through making…. and my even more secret agenda, rid the earth of flimsy, flame-retardant Halloween costumes destined for the landfill.

I decided that this year I wanted to adopt a non-commercial, non-competitive approach (less contest, more spirit tunnel) AND I wanted to make the event more kid-centered (it’s such a valuable design opportunity for kids.) I also wanted to encourage adults, who maybe don’t own a sewing machine, or don’t think of themselves as “creative” to branch out and try dabbling in cardboard.

Cardboard Cowboys by Leelada via Flickr

My own creative mother found the costumes entered last year so amazing she said she was too intimidated to attempt a cardboard costume! This year there won’t be any categories, sponsors, or prizes…..just an event for sharing cardboard enthusiasm and the love of making!

So what do you think? Sound interesting? You can follow posts and tutorials throughout the month of October centered around topics like cardboard hats, masks, accessories, and other costume extras plus info about tools, tips for working with cardboard, and moving from idea to finished costume.

Upload pictures of your costume in progress (as well as completed) HERE in the Flickr community and access past tutorials HERE.


There are a few prize related contests and opportunities out there that you should know about if you would like to enter a competition (with some pretty substantial loot.) We’ll definitely be rooting for you!

Inhabitat Green Halloween Costume Contest (adults)

Inhabitot Green Halloween Costume Contest (kids)

DIY’s Cardboarder Badge

See you soon!


My Tools

My Tools by The Cardboard Collective

One of the things that I love about working with cardboard is that you need very few tools to get started. This is my go-to, can’t live without, get happy just looking at ’em, collection of tools that has evolved over the past two years.

The tree-pruning-looking shears are the most obscure in my kit. They’re a type of Japanese scissor used for cutting corrugated roofing. I love them because I’m more comfortable cutting with scissors than a utility knife and these are tough enough to get through triple wall cardboard without too much effort.

Other notable tools are the screwdriver and leather punch that I use for poking holes in cardboard on play days. The glue brush and glue comb are nice to have; they save on glue and make for a better bonded cardboard project. Oh, and I forgot one! How could I live without a metal ruler?

Do you have an favorite cardboard tool?

I recently read in the fabulous “2012- Celebrating The Year of Cardboard” article at the Maker Education Initiative that there are some great electrical saws that even small children can use with adult supervision. I’d be interested to try them out someday! Have you got a secret tool in your cardboard making arsenal?

Please share!

Cardboard Play Day at Musashino Place

The Cardboard Collective

The Cardboard Collective

The Cardboard Collective

A few photos from our first ever, open-to-the-Tokyo-public, cardboard pop-up play day.

We ran the event with just recycled cardboard, a few tools, bike power, and creative spirit.

Neighboring Ito Yokado kindly helped us bring many beautiful boxes over from their store (including the fantastic red stuff which was left over from New Year’s postcard displays) and MakeDo pieces were lent to us by the American School of Japan.

The Cardboard Collective

We assembled these incredible Wind-balls prior to the play day, with Tanaka Satoshi’s design plans that you can get here. Just plain fun. We’ve now got the smaller one up as a lampshade in the girls’ room and it’s gorgeous.

[slideshow_deploy id=’3382′]The Cardboard Collective

The highlight of the day was seeing parents and children building together. Once my Japanese teacher helped me to write a sign in Japanese inviting everyone to play freely, they all started getting to it. Little houses, castles, tunnels, trains and forts….it’s all poetry to me.

The Cardboard Collective

The Cardboard Collective

The same box on wheels that I made about 8 months ago (and flew back and forth from the US with) withstood countless laps on the concrete around the grass patch. I’m thinking we could do a great pop-up based on these alone….where to reclaim some old wheels????

The Cardboard Collective

Thanks to my friends from MIA, my husband (who even made dinner after we got home) and Chris B of a small lab for coming out, bearing the cold, taking pictures (many of which you see here) and wrangling cardboard with us at the end. A true labor of cardboard love! I really appreciate your support.

I’m looking forward to hosting more pop-ups and play days in 2013 so stay tuned for more info on where we’ll be next…

….of course I hope you’ll consider having a few cardboard pop-ups in your own home in the meantime?

Adapting a sewing pattern for cardboard

It’s often handy to work from a pattern if you’re feeling squeamish about designing a headpiece for your costume from scratch. Sewing patterns are a great option if you can get your hands on an appropriate pattern for the costume you’re making. Here I’ve adapted a simple child’s hood pattern into a headpiece that is big enough to fit an adult.

1. Trace your pattern pieces onto cardboard and cut them out.

2. Texturize your cardboard by crumpling it up and twisting it, this will give your cardboard a more leather-like texture and make it easier to work with.

3. Cut thin flexible strips of strips of cardboard about 1.5 to 2 in. wide by whatever length you will need (I like boxes that are similar in weight to pizza boxes) and glue these strips one side at a time to the two pieces that you are trying to join. Regular white glue and clamps or clothespins work great for this.

4. Continue adding your cardboard seams as you put all your pattern pieces together. trim as needed.

5. Now you can begin to modify your piece for your individual costume. Here I added more pieces with the same technique by gluing thin strips of cardboard for the seam and then attaching a forehead and jaw piece.

Links to a few handy patterns suitable for costume making:

Vest pattern by the Mother Huddle

Hood pattern by Fabric link

Children’s fitted hood/hat pattern by Martha Stewart Living

Baby cowboy boots pattern by Nap Time Crafters (You could adapt this pattern for making any kind of boot-like shoe covers.)


Have you started sketching?

You haven’t started your costume yet?

Not to worry! If you’re a procrastinator like myself, just put together a few sketches (take a peek at the Pinterest board if you need some help) so you feel like you’ve done something, and start collecting cardboard like crazy until that magic moment strikes you….

Here’s a peak inside my notebook:

Idea for a bicycle costume, (that has nothing to do with any of the other costume ideas I’ve got planned.)

The box on wheels sketch that is waiting for inspiration. I know this would be perfect for taking our 1 1/2 year daughter around in for Halloween. It has great costume potential as some kind of vehicle. Any ideas?

The costume I’m working on for myself. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. I have a big, shaggy, white sheep’s wool jacket to pair with a cardboard wolf’s head.

My 3 year old daughter’s costume choice, which if I did not happen to be the ringleader of a cardboard costume challenge, I probably wouldn’t make out of cardboard. But hey, what can you do?

Other ideas I’ve been saving up….. I always wanted to go as the Chinese characters for double happiness with my husband, but it keeps getting moved to the bottom of the costume idea list…..maybe next year?

It’s not too early to start posting pictures of your process, your ideas or your cardboard pile to the Flickr pool. Sharing a little bit of your construction process can help everybody get inspired to start work on even a small part of their costume……it all adds up!

All right then, sketch, photograph, upload, collect (lots of cardboard)…



(GON-BA-TAY is Japanese for Go for it!)



Tokyo Toy Museum


{If you are reading this in google reader, make sure to click back to the blog to view the slideshow}

On Saturday we went down to one of my favorite places for children in Tokyo; The Tokyo Toy Museum. Housed in a renovated elementary school building in central Tokyo, TTM is home to a superb collection of toys, both traditional and modern, from around the world. The museum has several floors with rooms and play spaces devoted to different age groups. This past weekend the museum hosted a matsuri (festival) showcasing retail toys from a variety of special toy makers, toy making workshops, activities, games and performances.

One of the highlights for us was visiting the new, or at least new since our last visit, 0-3 years room, filled with beautiful wood and cloth toys. The space felt both serene and joyful at the same time. How do they do that?

Electra loved the sculptural pieces of cedar that had been carved and sanded until soft, into earthy slides and tunnels. Isis was fascinated by the fabric balls and otedama (Japanese bean bags) that had wandered into the white concave space she spent most of her time exploring.

I am again overwhelmed with inspiration after our visit to Tokyo Toy Museum, and am hoping to post about many, many TTM inspired cardboard playthings soon!

My favorite picture from the day.

This is the toy hospital. Where your favorite toys find new life. Staffed by retired electricians, hobbyists, and other kindrid spirits.

How to Make Cardboard Books

The first cardboard book I ever made was for Electra’s first birthday. It was filled with photos of her learning to walk and of places we had seen on day trips around Tokyo. Electra loved the book so much that she pulled off most of the pictures and peek-a-boo flaps I had pasted in. The beauty of the book was that we could easily add new pictures and tape to make any repairs. A second book ensued filled with photos of Electra helping out around the house doing things like sweeping, peeling garlic, putting groceries away and watering plants. It was a wordless book that opened up an incredible amount of dialogue (for a 1 1/2 year old) about our day to day life. We still love to look at our cardboard books together now, 1 year later and we have added many many more cardboard books to our library.

How to Make Cardboard Books:

In addition to cardboard, you will need washi tape or masking tape to make a book.

Cut your cardboard pages and cover.

Tape two pieces of cardboard together.

Tape four pieces of cardboard together.

Trim up any washi tape that is hanging over the edges.

Start layering tape across the spine of the book to bind it.

Cover the entire spine with washi tape.

When you are done it will look like this.

Now add washi tape in the other direction along the spine of the book.

Now add washi tape in the other direction along the spine of the book.

Add your own personal flair.


Hello world!

We’re shouting out to you from the suburbs of Tokyo! An amazing city that we are learning a little bit more about every day. I live here with my husband, and two daughters, in what I call a tiny Tokyo apartment. Actually by Japanese standards it wouldn’t be considered tiny, but compared to living spaces back home in Michigan, it’s small.

The inspiration for this blog is a book I read one day at one of the wonderful city sponsored play houses for children aged 0-3. I don’t yet know exactly how to translate the name of the book because I am still a “young Jedi” of the Japanese language, but, in short it’s a book all about making cardboard furniture for children. To be sure I have always been obsessed with cardboard and already had many many pages in my scrapping journal devoted to this humble, yet noble material, but this book was a real springboard for me.

After figuring out how to order this book on Amazon Japan in Japanese with the help of a few friends, my husband and I set out to make our first set of table and chairs. To our surprise they were perfectly sized, light enough for a 1 year old to move around, recycled and recyclable, adorable and amazingly sturdy. Is there anything more divine? And the best part was that I felt an incredible sense of joy and (still do) every time I look at those table and chairs. Mostly because my husband and I lovingly made them, but also because we built something really durable and fun without having a garage, a basement, a workshop, or even a car.

I hope that this blog will inspire you to make something out of cardboard for yourself or your child, that reduces your impact on the earth, and brings you an incredible amount of joy.

I now have my cardboard goggles on. Prepare for brilliance.