Tool rolls

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I have a new sewing machine. Here it is, in all its glory.I’ve been using it to make tool rolls out of fat quarters of quilting fabric, with the intention of making about 10-20 of these for friends’ children who are going back to school. They’re small projects; they allow me to practice certain skills with my new sewing machine and get used to how this machine works; and they allow me to create things that I don’t then have to keep for myself — they’re easily given away. A Fat Quarter generally costs around $2.50, so these are around $5.50 in materials (including thread) and maybe $10-15 in my time… time that I’d have to spend anyway, practicing the skills I want to be practicing.

The idea is that many children are not able to manage the ‘bunched-up’ mess of a pencil case. Too many tools squeezed into too small of a bag results in a lot of broken pens and pencils without points or erasers.

The tool roll consists of two fat quarters of fabric cut and trimmed to match each other, sewn together and turned.  One end is folded over and seamed to create pockets or tubes for individual pens and pencils; the other end folds over to form a protective cover for the tools inside.

It’s better to introduce students to the idea of order and structure for tools, early. So in a tool roll, each tool has a place: this place for a pen, this one for a pencil, a ruler here, a compass here.  THere’s a ribbon or a band or a string on the outside, that allows one to close up the tools neatly inside, as well.  This is ribbon left over from a fancy men’s clothing store in New York, from whence I received several nice birthday shirts over the years.

I’ve saved all that ribbon, never knowing what to do with it.  Now I know: Tool Rolls.

There’s a second band inside each tool roll, as well: two strips of fabric left over from the cutting/trimming process, sewn together and turned. This is then sewn down to match the tubes/pockets on the lower half of the outer shell.  The result is that each pencil or pen has its place in the case/roll.

By teaching children to order their tools in some sort of careful way, we teach them to need fewer of them, to treat them responsibly as tools, and to know how to store tools effectively.

It helps them be organized, it helps them know exactly how much of each tool to carry, and it helps them know when a tool is worn out or broken and needs to be replaced.

Tool roll

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I took a break from quilting — which can be tiring work, manipulating three layers of fabric in the heat — to make this.

It’s a tool roll.

Over the years, I’ve watched middle schoolers, high schoolers and others struggle with pencil cases. The pencil cases fill up with broken pens, pencils without points, and a variety of other broken tools. It’s dumb.  I’ve made other tool rolls, notably in leather, but I wanted to make one that I thought could be replicated in a school MakerLab pretty easily with just fabric and some simple supplies like ribbon and bias tape.   And I made this in a couple of hours, I’d say, making it up as I went.  Pretty easy, and a reasonably competent sewer could make a replica in short order, I’m sure.

The design is pretty simple but I’m going to have to refine it further before it’s ready for prime-time to teach others how to sew.  There is a pattern of sorts, in other words. But I’m going to have to refine it.

The essence of the design is two pieces of fabric, the same width but different lengths.  One is folded around the other in such a way as to form a top ‘flap’ to protect the tools inside and keep them from flopping out; and a bottom ‘pocket’ to hold the tools in place.  These two pieces of fabric are the red-with-yellow-stars fabric, and the solid blue.  (The purple is bias tape, the ribbon is from the box of a fancy men’s store in New York City that I saved for this purpose when I got a gift; and the black-and-white floral print is left over from one of last week’s quilts.  The result is a simple tool roll that holds just a few pens and pencils — enough to know that they work, that they’re good tools, and that they have a specific place to go.  Not so many that they get lost or broken.

Even unrolled, the tool roll conceals its tool kit until the last minute.  The blue fabric flips over the top in order to protect the equipment inside.  When this is flipped open or flipped back, the simple collection of tools inside becomes visible.   I think ultimately there should be room for 2-3 pencils, one of those blocky pencil-sharpeners with two shavers, a compass and a ruler, and 3-5 pens (black, blue, red, and maybe some other colors): enough to work with in an imaginative way, but not so much that it’s hard to keep track of.  And when something is broken or missing, you know — you know because you, the kid who made this pencil case, know exactly how many tools are in it, should be in it, and where they go.  That would be the idea.

So that’s the basics of the design: non-complicated, four pieces of fabric and a ribbon  And the design teaches four basic skills, too: hemming, inside-out-and-turn construction, top stitching, bias tape use, cutting on a rotary mat with a quilting ruler, and layering of stitches. It’s not fool proof by any means, but it’s a sophisticated project for being such a small thing.  I have to refine it, of course, but this is a great start.  Yay!