The Making of Paper Towel Roll Art

IMG_1243A few years ago, I started to see art on the web that was made out of paper towel rolls. You’re probably seen the pieces before. They usually involve cutting rings from the cardboard roll, pinching the ends, and forming them into a flower or branch shape. While I wasn’t sure that I wanted to duplicate these pieces, I was pretty sure I wanted to use cardboard rolls to make something. We started saving rolls until we had 30 or 40, which took about a year with the accidental throw aways. I looked at them every now and then, and I probably had 1,000 thoughts on what they may become. Then, one day after starting my Etsy store, I decided to get to work.

To be honest, I didn’t even know what the piece would turn into when I started it, which is quite unusual for me. I just sat down and started cutting wavy strips, after cutting the rolls up the middle to make a flat piece of cardboard. I cut these out for what seemed like an eternity, and got a serious scissor cramp in my hand. During this seeming eternity, I decided I would dye the cut strips!

IMG_1242I am a bit teal obsessed at the moment, so I started there. I mixed 3 slightly different colors of dye, and placed stacks of the cardboard strips in it for a minute before flipping them to dip the other side, I wanted color variation, so I didn’t worry about every single piece being covered completely. This is a good thing because dying in stacks prevents dye from reaching certain parts of the center of the stack, and dying strips individually would take… well, pretty much another eternity! Aside from this, it’s important to remember than any dye you use will combine with the brown of the rolls to make the color more brown, so blues are always going to look a little green, and so on.

This is the point at which the project took over my house! If you leave the cardboard in stacks after dyeing it, they will NEVER dry, so you have to spread them in piles! I even put a bunch on cookie cooling racks that I placed over the air conditioner floor vents to dry faster. The drying process took a solid day for the first piece.

IMG_1172Then, I decided to form the strips into something resembling an old garden rose. You know, the ones with 100 petals that look like ranunculus. The pieces dry stiffer than they started out, so I knew regular glue would not dry fast enough to attach the pieces in a circular fashion. Because of that, I pulled out my trusty hot glue gun! Starting with a tightly coiled strip, I glued strips around and around until I ran out of strips. I actually thought, based on the mass of cardboard strips I had, that the piece would be quite large when done, but it ended up being about a foot in diameter after 4 hours and about 8 large glue sticks of gluing.

Despite the hard work, I fell in love with the piece. The only thing left to do was to coat the piece in polyurethane to protect it from moisture and make it stronger. I used 3 coats of tinted poly and did my best to get it into the crevices of the piece. This is not a job for your favorite paintbrush, as it tends to ruffle the bristles quite a bit. When all was said and done, I had a piece that I loved to add to my new Etsy store!

IMG_1174I honestly thought I would never make another of these pieces, but it got quite a bit of attention and interest from people and businesses (many of which thought the pieces were made of metal when seeing them!). Now, I have a ton of help collecting paper towel and toilet paper rolls from friends and neighbors, and I have made quite a few of the pieces. I get rolls by the garbage bag full and cut them into strips while watching TV (how’s that for a beautiful mix of lazy and productive?!). I’ve also improved my gluing technique to the point where a 12 inch piece takes me less than hours to put together. I really love making these now!

One surprise that came out of community collecting of rolls is that I got some toilet paper rolls that were white! They dye more true to color, which is great! The down side is that these rolls IMG_1246Fare made in 2-plys and tend to try to separate when gluing. Despite this, they make a different effect than the brown rolls, and that effect is beautiful!. Because I loved them but thought they would look odd mixed in with the browns, these are now used to make completely different pieces.

If you are interested in trying your hand at this, feel free to ask questions. If you like it but don’t care to do the work, you can find them in my Etsy store (brown rolls and white rolls). Either way, happy crafting and art loving, and than you for reading!

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