Tuesday, January 21, 2014

An Ode to Toilet Paper Rolls...

Confession time... in my garage I have 14 empty egg cartons, 5 Pringles cans,  a crate of empty toilet paper rolls, and a bucket of broken crayon bits. My husband thinks I'm a hoarder... or a borderline hoarder at the very least. I always explain that while I do have these seemingly useless piles of junk sitting around gathering dust bunnies, it's not because of an emotional attachment on my part. It's practicality.

My Junk Pile... Rich With Treasures!
He doesn't realize how difficult it is to acquire 125 dead CD's for a radial weaving unit or enough toilet paper rolls to assemble a faux chrysalis for 5 separate kindergarten classrooms. It's nearly impossible to not look like a crazy person if you have to actually buy 50 pairs of nude knee-high stockings... not to mention putting a sizable dent in your pocketbook.

My name is Jenny and I'm an elementary art teacher... or I was. As of this school year I am a stay-at-home mom to my four amazing children (including a set of infant twins), but I just can't shake the urge to hold onto baby food jars and bits of interesting ribbon, just in case. I am excited to add my voice to this blog and, hopefully, add some creative ideas for you as well.

The Humble Cardboard Cylinder

Today, as you may have guessed, I want to talk to you about the plain, ole' toilet paper roll. This humble cylinder of cardboard literally has endless uses and is extremely easy to collect. If you fly by the seat of your pants, as I am sometimes known to do, you really only need a day or two's notice to send out a plea to fellow teachers or parents for some and you will have toilet paper rolls coming out of your ears! If you find that you want to join the green bandwagon and utilize your community regularly for re-purposing household items then you might like to have a standard note like this one on hand:
Donation Request Letter to Parents
Why type a new letter every time?
This is a letter I have sent to parents numerous times for random things... like dryer lint. More on that another time! You can download a copy of mine here and use the customizable form fields to fill in your donation request, the purpose, the deadline, and your name.

Now, back to toilet paper rolls! I have used them as time capsules, as simple sculpture materials, as poster holders, as mailboxes, as stamps, as seedling pots, as simple looms, and probably more that I can't remember.

Their newest reincarnation is a fabulous-but-cheap textured rolling pin covers for some fantastic printmaking. I have bought the miniature textured rolling pins before, but it costs between $10-$15 for a set of four and if you are working in a whole class setting, the math of that just doesn't add up! Another thing that I don't like is that there are usually only a couple of pattern types available. . . stripes, dots, and waves. By making your own, the possibilities are ENDLESS!

First: The Rollers!

Cheap, durable, awesome: PVC.
Seriously, those miniature wooden rolling pins  from school supply companies are cute but they break in two seconds. I needed something tough. I went to Home Depot to the plumbing section and picked up (okay, technically my husband picked it up) a piece of 1.25 inch PVC pipe. They are sold in 10 foot lengths and it cost about $5. I had a clerk at Home Depot cut the PVC pipe into pieces for me and ended up with about 20 sections. I sanded the edges just a bit for smoothness, but it was pretty quick and easy. Basically, you can make a classroom set of rolling pins (for paint, for clay, for playdough, for printmaking) for under $10, depending on how many you need. 

Second: The Texture!

The self-stick foam sheets are ideal and easy to use.

This is where my old friend the toilet paper roll comes in handy. You can take sheets of craft foam (or if you want to make it really easy, the self adhesive foam stickers) and attach custom shapes or designs to the exterior cardboard with a strong glue. Let them dry completely!!!

Third: The Paint!

Not only are these fun, they are easy to clean up.

The toilet tubes will slide nice and tight onto the PVC pipe if you've sized it correctly (a quick suggestion is to actually take a sample of your toilet paper tubes when you buy it to make sure they fit because there is a little variance among brands) and you now have a custom designed texture roller. Most craft paint, acrylic, or tempera paint will work just fine with these. Spread the paint in a thin layer and roll the pipe several times until it is covered evenly. Roll onto paper in any combinations, designs, and colors you want! If you roll them by hand, you will get messy and while I think that's half the fun I have an alternative: Slide a medium-thick dowel through the PVC pipe to act as a handle.

Fourth: The Final Project!

Voila! Beautiful!

What I love about projects like this is that you can connect it to so many other areas. You could talk about positive and negative when you cut shapes from foam, you could discuss repetition and patterns, you could make it seasonal by using themed shapes, etc. 

What have you used toilet paper rolls for? I am SURE I can't be the only aficionado... 

 Right Brain Kid


  1. Great ideas! I see a future art lesson in the works.

    1. Thanks! I hope you can use it. The PVC rollers are fantastic with dough and clay as well.

  2. I LOVED reading your post--so witty! It makes me want to go buy some toiletpaper. :) Seriously though, thanks for the great ideas! Can't wait to hear more from you!

    1. Thank you! You are sweet. I was worried I came across as spaztastic, but witty is even better. :)

  3. What a great idea to make those rollers! A few years ago, I spent a fortune on similar rollers because I was going to hand make all my Christmas cards. . . I never did and got rid of my expensive set! However, if I ever decide to fulfill that fantasy =), I will definitely use your technique! This would be fun for my first-graders, too!

    1. Thank you! I found it was highly enjoyed by my Kindergartner just as much as me. It's fun to customize it with the foam stickers for holidays, seasons, or other themes as well. Happy printmaking!

  4. What a cute idea! As a kindergarten teacher I have my own hoard -er - stash of seemingly useless stuff. (My favorite item to collect is foam mushroom containers ~ we use them every day!) Thanks to your post, I now have a new idea for my TP roll collection!

    1. Those foam containers are awesome! I love the depth in them. Butchers are also a great resource for little foam trays that are very useful for dispensing paint... unused trays, of course!

  5. Brilliant idea!!! Not just crafty, buy CRAFTY! I love the printable, too! You are one talented lady...