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Cardboard Totem Boxes: pattern and video tutorial

Cardboard Totem Boxes: pattern and video tutorial

Cardboard Totem Boxes: pattern and video tutorial

All I can say, is it’s a great feeling to start with an idea, work with it for more than 6 months, and get to this place.

I’m so excited to share this pattern with you! It started basically as a way to solve a problem I was having:
How do I organize my kid’s toys? (the little ones)
which led to other problems:
How can I make something that’s just right for them?
How can I make it out of cardboard?
How can I make it strong?
How can I make it recyclable?
How can I make it beautiful?
Well, curiosity can lead you down a long and winding path.
Mine included a re-acquaintance with high school geometry, learning more about photography and lighting, the search for affordable copyright free music, video editing, cardboard sourcing, explorations in color and pattern (ultimately inspired by the divine Japanese kimono), tool and material testing and lots and lots of watching kids play (the best part)!
I ended up with Totem Boxes.

A set of sculptural stacking boxes (the base of one box fits the top of another) that double as a nightstand, stool, ottoman or table and stool set for children. You can leave them plain, or decoupage them with decorative paper.

What do you do with them?

Put your favorite stuff inside. Yarn, yo-yos, matchbox cars and trucks, Legos, rubber stamps, fancy hats, scarves, alphabet magnets, musical instruments, play-dough, cookie cutters, wooden blocks…

I don’t exactly understand the magic, but my kids love cleaning up with the Totem Boxes. They make sorting the toys like another way to play.  You can easily move the boxes to where the mess is because they are modular, and then stack them up as you go. They look good sitting in the corner of your room, if you do nothing else. To me, they are functional sculpture.

And they’re not just for kids. Someday when I’m a knitter, I’m going to make a set with a hole on the side for the yarn to feed out while I knit. I’ll prop up my heels on the boxes as I relax and make gorgeous socks….

But are they durable enough for kids to use?

Months of testing and strength to support the sitting weight of a 150lb. adult makes me say YES.

What do I need to make them?

You will need lots of strong cardboard (like the kind that banana boxes or diaper boxes are made out of) and basic supplies like a pencil, white glue, a metal ruler, binder clips or clothespins and a utility knife. You will also need access to the internet, a computer and a printer to print out your pattern pieces and directions.

How long does it take?

Anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour for the first box, but after making about 20 of them, I’ve got it down to about 30 minutes a box (without decoupage). Best thought of as a weekend project. Say, if you wanted to make an amazing gift for your 2-5 year old niece or nephew’s birthday.

Where can I buy the pattern?

The pattern costs $12 and is currently available in my Etsy Shop:

It includes instructional PDFs in US Standard and Metric with written directions and a pictorial guide with links to 3 original video tutorials. The elementary school teacher in me did my best to appeal to audio and visual learners, so if you get frustrated by traditional patterns, fear not.

Cardboard Tinkering Toys and Mobiles

Intergalactic Cardboard Space Station? Cubist Crossroads? Alice in Cardboard Wonderland? Just a few possibilities for Cardboard Tinkering Toys.

After experimenting with some tightly rolled up magazine pages, our universe kept expanding. The fun part of tinkering with the cardboard and magazine pieces is that you keep adding pieces to your building set as you go. As you fiddle, you get new ideas for ways that you can connect the magazine paper rods to one another. Add to your building set every time you play. We were able to recycle some of our old cardboard beads and cardboard alphabeads, and I’ve been saving words and images cut from cardboard boxes as well.

I also loved the possibility for mobiles…….

Here’s a closer peak at some of our components. To be able to attach cardboard rods in two different directions, I glued two cardboard circles together with the channels running perpendicular to one another. If you glue four circles together and poke a whole through the center of each one, you can get your magazine rods to attach in four different directions plus you can thread the component piece on another magazine page rod. Other great possibilities include splicing two pieces together to get x-shaped pieces that act as stands and stabilizers.

I love the “found” poetry aspect of using cardboard words in conjunction with the bold cardboard geometric shapes…. Now go play!

Cardboard’s Strengths

Although this is probably not a project many of you are jumping to recreate, I did think you would find it interesting to see how strong a few little pieces of cardboard can be.

Electra has been wheeling around on her tricycle these days, and is keen on making her bike into more of a workhorse around the house. We have a wooden plant coaster that we have also been using as a kind of wheelie body board that makes a perfect trailer.  We just needed some kind of hitch so that Electra could easily take off the trailer when she was simply “cruising.”

I measured and sketched, and then cut out this little device made of three pieces of cardboard glued together. It’s surprisingly strong- it’s able to pull a lot of weight (at least 10 kilos) without looking stressed. The trailer hooks up with some braided paper cord, which I used to illustrate the power of paper! I love continuing to be surprised by cardboard. It’s free, recycled, and recyclable and offers so much possibility. I just find it so darn cool!  What do you do with your cardboard?