Saturday, July 07, 2012

Week 27 or The Lego Box

It seems I'm not making bags so much these days as other things made out of fabric to hold things that aren't made of fabric.

Somewhere out there you may have seen a giant bag that opens up into a playmat. You put your toy with a million tiny parts in the bag. When the kids want to play, they open up the bag and, in theory, play with the million tiny parts on the playmat. When they're done, they just close up the bag and all the parts are still in it, not hidden in the pattern of the carpet waiting to bite your feet in the dark or get vacuumed up.

I run the FIRST Lego League teams at my kids' school. Right now we have two 3-gallon buckets (like a 5-gallon utility bucket, but shorter) that get dumped out on the carpet when they start building. Cleaning up takes about 10 minutes out of every hour-long meeting. Not a good use of time. I have to remind them that any pieces they don't pick up will get taken by the kindergarteners who gather in the library before school each day. Pulling eye teeth and herding cats come to mind. It would seem that the big bag would work well in this situation.

But there are other considerations. We work on the same project from week to week, so there needs to be a way to keep the project safe. The 15-inch base plates get set carefully on a shelf out of reach. Everything else goes back in the buckets, which get put in a cabinet, so whatever I make needs to fit with other square things and not spill off the shelf.  We have a LOT of blocks, especially since the school  nurse just donated her older kids' stash from home. (Thank you!!!) So I wanted something that would function more like a box and less like an amorphous blob. And something I could make 3 of, one to test at home and 2 for school.

Out came the graph paper, the giant stiff sail, some cotton webbing and a few plastic yard signs from a charity walk, a political campaign and a roofer. One thing I learned is that you don't need a big fat needle to sew with thick upholstery thread. In fact, it just makes the going rougher when you've got very tightly-woven material to deal with. And it gums up the machine something awful when the thread keeps getting caught underneath. That's also why this project has been languishing for 3 weeks.

Just the fabric, without the stiffening boards inside.
Mat is turned over from play side.
So I made a 10" (25 cm) high box to fit around the 15" base plate. The drawing is for an 8" high box, but I realized that would never fit all the pieces I need it to fit. I cut a long, narrow strip, 17" x 58", for the center panel. I cut two shorter, wider pieces (21" x 39") for the side panels, with the velcro. I cut the plastic signs to fit in the rectangular pockets, not the square corners that need to fold up.

Two days later, I added carrying straps. I marked  places on the folded panels where I thought the ends should go. I unfolded the mat and cut webbing to go the distance between the marks.

Note to self: be sure to designate which sets of handle marks go together. It would be very easy to put the straps on in such a way that the box would not fold up.

Stroke of luck: what looked like a very long handle turned out to be just the right length to meet at the top of the box and be easy to grab. Also, a good yank on the handle helps the bag to fold up.

Laziness pays off: No stiffening in the lid makes it easier to conform to the slightly wonky shape of the box.

Now imagine that surrounded by 6 kids, age 5-11, building a cookie bakery or a Trojan Gummy Bear or a bird-powered cheesy popcorn factory.

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