I’ve been making little goodie bags for years, as party favors, or for customers to buy when they want to be creative at home. They’re perfect for a spontaneous session when the client doesn’t have time to accumulate the materials for a project. I call them Art Maker-Paks and I’ve dubbed the contents “Miscellaneous Madness”.
My Art Maker-Paks come in 6 sizes now – 1, 2, 4, 6, 10 and 16 ounces. Each has an instruction card inside with some ideas on how to use the contents of the Pak. I purposely keep the wording vague, because I don’t want to limit anyone’s imagination by making specific suggestions about what to make or how to construct anything.
To fill an Art Maker-Pak, I walk around my studio and pull from the 50 plastic drawers filled to the brim with 80% upcycled and repurposed materials, mostly sorted by color. After 10 years, I now have a few bins that are entirely “Miscellaneous Madness”. Those have resulted when I’ve had a pARTy! in the studio and haven’t had time to resort the guests’ choices into their respective color bins.
With COVID-19 restrictions, I haven’t been able to open my shop for parties. My studio could probably safely fit me and maybe 2 other art-makers 6 feet apart, but it would be a scramble to keep social distance because the space is narrow and we’d all be crossing back and forth between the bins on both sides and the glue gun at the far end. It would be difficult to safely choreograph the dance.
So instead, I’ve been selling Art Maker-Paks on Etsy and locally, and donating a lot to various local charities and nonprofits. I never had to make more than 6 bags at a time to keep my inventory up. Recently, though, I was asked to make thirty-six 3-ounce bags for one customer. Now I needed to assemble a large number of bags efficiently.
“Wow”, I thought, “I guess it’s time to figure out how to do mass production!” So I set to work trying to invent a system. Step 1: pop open 36 bags. Step 2: punch holes in 36 business cards. Step 3: Cut 36 pieces of ribbon. Step 4: Write, print and cut 36 instruction cards
The bags are cellophane and rather floppy until they are about half full of fun stuff. I figured I needed 36 containers of some sort to support the bags until they could stand up with the weight and shape of their contents. I viewed the containers like parents to my little bags – they would hug them until they matured and could stand on their own.
Looking around my studio, I came up with 24 cardboard fruit boxes – 12 large and 12 small. You know – the ones that carry cherry tomatoes, strawberries, and other fruit at your local farmers market. Then I found some small galvanized buckets, Asian food containers, and flower pots. Voila! 36 spiffy containers to cradle my Art Maker-Paks.
Then came the process of filling the bags. After a few attempts to drop one of each item in 36 bags, I decided I needed to set up a way to grab 4 or 5 things at a time to make the pace go faster. For this project, it didn’t matter if all the bags were almost alike. None of the recipients would ever see any of the other 35 bags. That made my work a little easier.
The question was: Did I have 36 of enough items to fill a 3-ounce bag? With a little creative spark on my part, I found a few things I could cut up into 36 pieces. For the rest I used multiples of some of my favorite items I had been gathering for years: puzzle pieces, hardware, little toys, colored paper, fancy office supplies, shells, rocks, beads, machine parts and electronic bits. Plink, plunk, plop. Part of the trick was to make sure none of the contents of the bag obscured the instruction card.
Things seemed to go slowly at first. I’d think I had about a quarter of what I needed, and then I would realize that feathers and cotton balls weigh nothing, although they do fill up space. When the bags seemed half-full, I’d weigh them on my Salton scale, and sigh because I’d vastly underestimated how far I had to go. But as the bags began to be self-supporting, the process seemed to go faster, and before I knew it, I was right at the 3-ounce mark.
Next step in the mass-production was to pull the plastic strip covering the tape off each bag and stick it shut. Then punch a hole in each bag. Then came the part that tried my patience – getting a skinny ribbon to go through a double-sided hole in a cellophane bag. Finally it dawned on me that I could use an awl to push the ribbon through. Whew! Problem solved. Meltdown avoided.
Once I had all the ribbons nicely threaded through the hole, time to attach the business card and tie 36 tiny bows. Thank goodness I had just given myself a pedicure that day but had run out of time before giving myself a manicure. I think if I had not had long fingernails I would have driven myself crazy tying those ribbons.
Fortunately, I just happened to have the perfect wooden fruit crate for carting the bags off to my customer. I didn’t know it at the time, but 18 bags fit in the bottom, and 18 perched safely on the top, peeking just over the lip of the crate. I can’t wait to see her face tomorrow when she sees them. FLOOF Mass-Production for the win!