For those who share my interest I have written an instructional guide and technical treatise on designing, assembling, and sewing the fabric sphere panel structures pictured at the top of this page, as well some additional variations.
The focus of this document is on making juggling beanbags, but I also provide information on how to use the designs to make footbags, and about making cloth balls for other purposes. My patterns and formulas could theoretically be used to make balls of any size from flat panels of any material, and I provide the mathematics and theory behind my panel designs so their shapes can be improved, or altered for specific applications or materials (see especially Chapter 5 of the first PDF).
The guide is very extensive, being almost 700 pages, but is divided into separate PDF documents: one for each panel structure, and a root document with an index to the others and supplementary chapters and appendices.
I have tried to make this work accessible to readers lacking technical knowledge, making it easy for them to simply print the patterns and sew the beanbags without having to wade through technical information, yet also include all the information that will enable those with a mathematical background and interest in the geometry and design theories to delve deeper and satisfy their curiosity and understand how these designs are created. The boldfacing I use throughout the documents are an attempt to enable readers to scan the documents quickly and glean the most important information.
The original motivation behind this guide is that nobody (that I know of) provides definitions of the pattern shapes of spherical beanbags so they can be drawn in any size or improved upon. In the case of the typical 32-panel design used for footbags, which is composed of pentagons and semi-regular hexagons, nobody seems to have a good answer to the question of how to size the patterns to produce a desired finished size.
My guide answers that. Each beanbag design document not only includes ready-to-print patterns in six sizes, and instructions for scaling them for other ball diameters, but also formulas to calculate the pattern dimensions for any ball size, and illustrated instructions for drawing the patterns (by hand and with a CAD program). Each design also includes mathematical definitions and structural analyses of the pattern shapes (including four variations of the 32-panel structure), and explanations of how I developed the designs. In Chapter 2 there is a section on figuring out how much you need to adjust the pattern sizes to account for things like gather applied to the seams, or your material choices.
With the exception of the regular polygons, I designed all of the panel shapes myself using math and extensive experimentation (I have made 143 beanbags so far for this project). All designs up to 14-panels use curved edges to produce better spheres (the 12 and 14-panel designs did not have curves in my first edition guide), and most of the polyhedral designs have modified face shapes that produce better spheres. I discuss the mathematics and techniques I used to create the designs so that someone with the aptitude for it could follow my process to create new designs, or improve mine.
This hobby began in the mid-1990s when I developed an interest in figuring out the 4-panel orange peel ball design. In 1998 I progressed to the dodecahedron. Then in 2012 a renewed interest in the hobby inspired me to write the first edition of this guide so I could share what I had learned about making juggling beanbags with others. That inspired me to figure out seven more designs over the course of the next couple years (I added the remaining designs in subsequent editions).
Then, in May, 2020, I began working on the second edition. I was motivated by a couple of Reddit contributors in this thread
from six years before, one of whom recommended my original guide but noted that my octahedron panels were too steeply curved. That motivated me to correct and improve my panel designs, and to make much needed improvements to the guide itself. I spent six months creating the new guide and experimenting with improvements to my panel shapes. The 67 beanbags I made in that time are almost as many as I have made over the course of my life before this project! I have been continuing to improve the guide since then.
I published the third edition on August 18, 2022, which split the guide into individual PDF documents to make it easier to browse and edit. It also included the new 30-panel design and various improvements.
For the origin story, read the "How I Developed This Design" section of the 4 & 6-Panel Orange Peel Ball Chapter.
Information and advice on fabrics, thread, template material, filler, beanbag size and weight, fabric markers, stitching and knotting techniques, and finishing techniques. (Chapter 2.)
Ready-to-print patterns in six sizes for each design with instructions for scaling the printout for other sizes, and step-by-step directions for drawing the patterns (by hand and with SketchUp), with formulas for calculating the pattern dimensions given a desired ball size. (In their respective design chapter documents.)
Illustrated instructions for assembling the beanbags and 269 illustrated color arrangement ideas including the balls and the assembly layouts (examples above), with 87 arrangements for the 32-panel structures. (In their respective design chapter documents.)
- A list of other people's online tutorials for making juggling beanbags, footbags, and other fabric balls. (In the Introduction.)
Fabric ball project ideas with photos (Christmas ornaments, decorative centerpieces, baby toys, etc.). (Appendix I.)
Full, illustrated explanations of how I developed each design and the mathematics behind them, and comparisons to alternate patterns in some cases, including Marylis Ramos' patterns ("Sewing Patterns for Jugglers" Orange Segment Series and Polyhedra Series). (In their respective design chapter documents.)
- Examples of other designs and variations. (Chapter 4.)
A chapter on the theories and mathematics I use to modify polyhedra and to design curves for polygonal panels to produce optimal spheres. It includes tutorials on how to calculate "Isovertex" face angles and "Equidistant" transformations, and on how use the Tangent Chord Angle Theorem to calculate arc radii that produce specified tangent angles at their intersections. Accompanying the latter are explanations and examples of why circular curves do not necessarily work best, and how to design non-circular/Bézier curves that work better (particularly for the orange peel ball). (Chapter 5)
- Step-by-step instructions for drawing spherical polyhedra in SketchUp. (Appendix II.)
- An appendix illustrating how I create the HDR photos of my beanbags. (Appendix III.)
- A list of the juggling beanbag manufacturers whose websites I used as resources for this work. (Appendix IV.)
This is a solo project, so I need input and reports of errors or things that need clarification or improvement. Also, if you find these documents useful, please let me know and send photos of your work, as I could use the encouragement! This guide has been many years in the making, and I am still editing, improving, and expanding it. I would love to know people are making use of it and enjoying it!
You can post comments or questions below (my comment system has options for both public and private messages), or participate in or private message me in my forum threads on Reddit
or The JugglingEdge
, or email me. My email address is on the cover page of each guide document and at the top and bottom of this page as an unlinked image file so it will hopefully not be harvested by bots. You will need to type the address yourself as it is not clickable and cannot be copied and pasted.
If my work is of value to you, please consider donating using the PayPal button below (you do not need a PayPal account to donate). Due to severe chronic depression I have been unemployable for the past decade and am supported by family. It would be very rewarding and helpful to earn some income from this guide, and it would offset the cost of hosting this website.
I am not monetizing the guide or this website in any way (apart from donations). I considered trying to sell it, but for various reasons that is not practical. I would rather give it for free, anyway, and let people contribute if they wish. I wrote this guide because I enjoyed it, and because I wanted to share this information with others.