The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Juggling. . .

I made those. I'm supposed to be making more now.

Not only can my brother hold them all, he can juggle them to boot!

It's actually rather boring to make juggling balls, which is really why I'm writing a post about it, instead of doing it. My excuse is that, if I post about it now, I can tell everyone about the The World Juggling Federation competitions airing on ESPN2 tomorrow (that is to say, April 14) at 2:30 PM. If I post about this next week, it'll be too late to tell you all to watch it.

Making juggling balls is tedious, and sometimes a bit brutal. The tedious part is the nature of the juggling balls; the brutal part is the nature of the fabric. I'm making them out of this fabric at Denver Fabrics, which is a heavy duty vinyl. I made a dozen balls out of cheap vinyl, with no knit backing (just a fused fuzz), and the balls all discinegrated within a few weeks of heavy use. Drat. Then I bought a swatch of a much more expensive, but thin and supple vinyl. Although it sewed up nice, it ripped just as easily as the cheap vinyl. So I picked this fabric out, for it's "superior tear strength". As far as that goes, so far so good.

The bad news is that it's miserable to sew with. It's very thick, which means it's very difficult to sew the final seam. With all the bulk of many folded layers to one side, it causes the machine to skip stitches, unless you go through many contortions to prevent that, and even then it still sometimes skips.

After thusly sewing 4 pieces of vinyl together, I have to turn it right side out, which requires a bit of stretching of the vinyl, which requires a bit of hand strength. Then I stuff them; I used lentils. Most commercial and/or other crazy people making their own tend to use millet, which is rounder and lighter. However, the boys like a slightly heavy ball, and lentils are cheap, easy to find, and durable. I used to just stuff them pleasantly firm, but within 2 minutes of handing them off for use, I would get complaints that they were to "soft" or "squishy", and when I snatched them back I would, indeed, find them soft. The superior hand strength of boys quickly renders them limp. So now I have to stuff them till they are hard enough that David could use them to take out a couple of giants. Then, after they have been thoroughly abused, they soften up to "pleasantly firm."

Next comes the really fun part-- stitching the stuffing hole closed by hand. Handstitching by itself isn't brutal, but since I've stuffed them so full, I now have to force the opening closed with one hand while I stitch it closed with the other hand. I cannot pull the thread to close the hole, because that puts too much stress on the fabric, which can make the stitches rip out. As it is, I need to double stitch the opening shut, to keep the stitches from ripping out.

Doing this all once is all right. Doing this nine times in a row causes severe hand cramping, as my hand strength really isn't all that great. And, cutting out 36 completely identical pieces, sewing them all together in a completely identical way, is really utterly boring. I am not in the slightest bit surprised that Michael Ferguson got repetitive stress from making so many juggling balls (so my brother tells me). In fact, I'm impressed he put up with it for 20 years and 40,000 balls.

Fergies are six panel balls, and mine are an inferior 4 panel. Some day I'm going to figure out how to make a six panel juggling ball. The drafting of a 4 panel pattern was quite mathematical, but I can't quite wrap my mind around how to approach, mathematically, a 6-panel pattern.

My pattern makes a juggling ball a bit on the small side (though, be warned, if you are making your own, any fabric you use will stretch, so you will have to make a ball "smaller" than what you want your finished size to be). This is so that small hands can use them--see, even I can fit five into my tiny hand! Juggle five, no, but arrange and stack five, yes. I can juggle four, but so can my 9 year old brother, so big deal. (I wouldn't have to hold the juggling balls like this, though, unless I was juggling 9. For juggling five, it would be three in one hand and two in the other.)

Although these balls do seem to be extremely durable (at least so far, I suppose I shouldn't speak to early), I don't care to get any more of it for juggling ball purposes. The next fabric I'd try would be this patent leather lycra, which I think is the same type (or at least very similar) to what Dube uses for it's "Squosh Beanbag" balls. If nothing else, I hope it wouldn't be so hard on the hands, and I wouldn't have so many problems with skipped stitches. (Though, of course, I would need to use the right needle for it, I think a stretch needle.)


Anonymous Arlab said...

Have you looked at a volleyball for the six-panel method?

7:15 PM  
Blogger abigail said...

You're watching the juggling competition as I write, hopefully enjoying it thoroughly! As I'm a sucker for fun snapshots, I had to comment and tell you that I love these pictures.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Tatterdemalion said...


The competition was quite good! I won't bore you with the details, but I did enjoy it quite a bit.

As for the snapshots, stay tuned. Posting pictures was easy enough that even this technophobe, and I hope to make them a fairly regular features.

7:38 PM  

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