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Recycled Balones

A child in a pink floral coat wraps an orange string around a colorful paper ball. An adult holds the string in place, assisting the child.

Participants at MCA Family Day, May 12, 2018

Photo: Meg Noe

by Diana Gabriel

with Grace Needlman


The past few days have brought an accelerating pace of public-space closures across the world. As more and more cultural events are canceled, it can be easy to dismiss art as a luxury we can’t afford in trying times.

If you need a reminder of the importance of creativity in the face of anxiety and isolation, just pick up Leo Lionni's classic picture book Frederick. The other mice don't understand why Frederick stares at the sky or gathers leaves while they stockpile corn, but when they're huddled inside in the depths of winter, he tells them stories that paint pictures in their minds and warm their hearts. “I do work,” says Frederick. “I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days.”

Chicago artists have been gathering rays of sunshine, and despite the warming weather, it looks like these are the cold dark days we were preparing for.

We know that staying home is an important way to keep our communities and ourselves healthy, but that knowledge doesn't make the stir-crazies go away. Expressing yourself, playing, and engaging your imagination and hands are great ways to stay inspired, connect with your loved ones, and reflect on your feelings while you're cooped up at home. Art at Home is a series of simple, fun activities created by Chicago artists that you can produce with whatever materials you've got on hand.

—Grace Needlman

Soccer (or futbol) is a worldwide sport, enjoyed by all types of people—rich and poor alike. In many cultures, people who can’t afford professional or store-bought balls (or balones) use whatever is around them to make their own. From Africa to Central and South America, people have been using old clothing, rags, and other recycled materials to handcraft toys for centuries. While all are slightly different, the concept of recycling, wrapping, tying, and building stronger communities is the common thread between them.

—Diana Gabriel



  • Newspaper or other recycled paper
  • Plastic bag
  • Old wrappers and old clothing
  • String, shoelaces, strips of plastic, or dental floss
  • Packing stickers


An informational illustration demonstrating how to make hand-made toy balls from recycled materials.

Drawings by Angella Kilabo. Graphic design by Rosario A. Aybar.

1. Collect recycled materials from around your home.

2. Crumple up newspaper and other recycled paper into a ball about six inches across.

3. Wrap the ball a plastic bag, compress all the air out, and knot the bag as tightly as possible.

4. Start wrapping old clothing, wrappers, plastic, string, shoelaces, etc. around the ball.

  1. Keep wrapping! Think about the colors and textures of the materials you're using. The tighter you wrap, the bouncier the ball.


Recycled Balones video still

Video courtesy of Diana Gabriel