2012 Spoonflower Staff Challenge Pt. 5: The Ocean Mobile

MAR 10, 2012

This is the fifth in a series of posts describing the projects that are part of our 2012 Spoonflower Staff Challenge. Voting begins on Thursday, March 15, 2012.

Lindy’s Introduction:  When we first heard about the contest project, Stephen B. and I (Lindy) started exploring all sorts of ideas. We agreed that we both wanted to do something sculptural and artistic with the fabric. Stephen mentioned this amazing large scale puppetry group in town, and the thought of creating something that could move sounded intriguing. Then over a weekend, I happened to be viewing some photos that I’d taken from my recent trip to the beach. I started thinking about the ocean and the waves, so I began sketching. Stephen thought the ocean was a great theme to play with because of the movement involved. Using some of my sketches for inspiration, I drew repeating elements in Illustrator and formed a striped type of design which could easily be cut up for our project. I finished the design in shades of blues that reminded me of the ocean and its waves.

Building the mobile/structure in Stephen’s words:

Coming away from the first conversations with Lindy about our project, I knew that we wanted to create a fabric “something” that included movement, but I didn’t know what. Lindy had the skills to turn design ideas into graphic files in Illustrator and her water/wave theme gave us some direction. Despite working in Spoonflower’s customer service department and dealing with graphic file issues every day, I possess very little skill in graphic design and knew that my contribution would need to be more conceptual and physical. Charged with the task of figuring out what to make, I began to think of rotating music boxes and kinetic sculptures and got lost online with all of the amazing links that I stumbled upon.

Meanwhile Lindy had come up with these great watery design ideas and created the files in Illustrator. We printed some test pieces to see how these would look when printed. The fabric looked great, with colors and design elements that would be excellent printed individually or as complements. I was now in the deep end, with all of this watery fabric and no clear sense of how I was going to assemble this into a project. Overwhelmed and unable to land on a basic design idea for how to construct or re-purpose a moving structure onto which a rotating fabric “whatsit” could be placed, I began to falter. I did what every good artist does when searching for inspiration.  I made a mess.

I began to cut the fabric into strips so that I could apply a liquid fabric stiffener to give some structure to the fabric, but was not sure what these pieces were actually going to wind up being. I wrapped the goopey strips around canisters thinking that they would dry and hold the cylindrical shape. The fabric dried and did indeed become stiff, but lost any quality of water-like movement that it might have once had. The testing showed me that I was farther from the goal than when I had started, so I did what any good artist does when the goal gets farther away and the mess gets messier. I cleaned up the mess and scrapped the plan (the one that didn’t really exist).

By then I was realizing that I am not a good artist.  I’m just good at making messes with art supplies. Like any not-so-good artist who is struggling to appear creative, I sought ways to “borrow” an idea from a “good” artist. I heard that a local university art museum had just opened a Calder mobile exhibit, and I knew that the movement I’d been looking for would be possible if the fabric could be incorporated into a mobile. Thanks, “Sandy”!

I was back on track, ready for more messes. A bit intimidated by my poor beginning with the fabric, I went to the hardware store and did what any creatively challenged average Joe trying to create a mobile does.  I bought wire. I bought 16 and 14 gauge wire and began cutting and twisting pieces which could be hooked and hung together. The heavier gauge wire seemed to be too stiff for the kind of bending that would be necessary to get the multiple arms of the mobile shaped and hung just right, but when I began to test these pieces with more weight on them I found that the lighter gauge wire bent under the weight. If you consider making a similar fabric mobile (or any type for that matter) choose wire that will not bend under the weight. In the finished project photo the arms can be seen to bend under the weight. The intention had been for these to rise, swell and crest like waves, and for the colors and movement of the fabric pieces to suggest the movement of water.


The wire mobile structure was built separately and then the fabric rings were added and balanced. This can be done with a pair of needle nose pliers and any durable solid wire (including coat hanger). Wire pieces can be cut to the desired length and a loop can be created anywhere along this length of wire by grabbing the wire with needle nose pliers and twisting. Hooks can easily be made on the ends of the wire lengths so that the hooks and loops can be used to begin connecting several pieces together. It will now help you to establish a point from which you can hang the wires so that you are actually working on suspended pieces. The general rule of thumb for mobiles is to start balancing from the bottom and work upward. In our case we had assembled numerous fabric cylinders of varying sizes and weights so there were many choices for balancing the arms.

To assemble the fabric rings we cut down the fabric into strips varying from 5 inches to 30 inches. We folded the strips right sides together and stitched down the long edge, then turned these fabric tubes inside out (photos below). A piece of the lighter gauge wire was inserted into each sleeve to provide the structure that we needed to create the cylinders. We turned in the cut edges of fabric at the ends and bent the wire in the shape of a circle so that the fabric piece became a cylinder. These hoops of fabric became the hanging elements of the mobile. These were hung by stitching heavy duty thread to span across the top of the hoop with a bit of slack left to hang the hoop.

To assemble a mobile, suspend the bottom arm. Experiment with achieving balanced placements by varying the sizes of fabric hoops that you use and by altering the wire arms by changing the placement of the fulcrum loops, snipping off wire, or adding pieces of wire to extend the down off of the hooks at the ends of the arms. Once the first arm is balanced you will need to remove it from where it is being suspended so that you can attach the next arm that will be above it. Hang the balanced bottom arm onto this next arm up and repeat the balancing exercise. Continue this upward until all arms are hanging and balanced. There will inevitably be some tweaking that will need to be done before the mobile can hang and move nicely. In life and mobiles there always is.

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  • Oh very effective!! You guys are having fun with this aren’t you! Personally, I’m looking forward to a week off doing the contests… 😉

  • With a bit of a redesign those could have been a shoal of floaty voile jellyfish (much lighter for a mobile) or, going in a more solid direction, a betentacled tangle of cephalopods.