Twisting Balloons 102

Twistin’, twistin’, twistin’ the night away…
– Sam Cooke

Twisting Balloons 101


How To Minimize Squeaking When Twisting

  • Squeaky balloons? All the better to make mice with.
  • BSA balloons, which I really like, are much noisier than any other balloon I’ve used.
  • I also want to point out that lack of squeak means the balloon surface is more slippery, allowing for finished sculptures to untwist (if they haven’t really been finished well).
  • I have had a problem with dry hands for a long time. I have tried everything, or at least I thought I had. Well, I went into a Bath and Body store and they turned me on to a lotion called “SHEA BUTTER.” It smells good and has helped my dry cracking fingers about 50% in just a thirty six hour period. I also found that when I put some on my hands before twisting, (Unlike regular hand lotion) it actually lets my hands glide across the balloon smoothly and has no squeeking or crackling effects. It has a bunch of stuff in it. (Vitamin E oil, Aloe Vera Gel, Macadamia nut oil, Comfrey and more than I can mention.) My hands feel silky after putting it on. (Sounds funny for a man to say that, huh?) I like this stuff but it is expensive, $10.00 for a four ounce tube.

Pull the bubbles apart

  • The best way to minimize squeaking is to pull on the balloon as you make your lock twists and ear twists. The less the balloons rub against each other, the less they will squeak (and pop).
  • Pull bubbles away from each other when you are making a twist. Also, If I want to make something quietly, I sometimes place a couple fingers on either side of a twist so that the bubbles rub against my fingers rather than the other bubble. I don’t wear gloves, but I assume this is what people with gloves do that reduces the squeak.

Wear Gloves

  • According to Flash (Ken Stillman), wearing gloves to twist reduces squeaking and popping. He uses nylon gloves, although other people at his workshop said they used cotton gloves. It makes several things easier: long hook twists, stretching the balloons, popping and tear offs, etc.
  • I have found that gloves help reduce the balloon noise and popping, and on monster days of ballooning help protect my hands. Several of my clown friends wear full gloves. They are excellent balloonists and have no trouble preventing the gloves from getting caught in the balloons. When I was a beginner, I did have the problem of getting the tips of the glove fingers caught. It is probably a matter of practice though, just like everything else.
  • At some point in my early clowning days someone hammered into my head that as a whiteface clown I had to have ALL skin covered at all times and so I don’t cut off the fingertips, and it’s just something I got used to.
  • Being a white face clown I too feel that it is best to twist in full white gloves.
  • Wearing gloves greatly reduces the annoying squeaking noises the balloons make, so I wear them whenever I twist, whether in or out of clown. Plus it eliminates my fingernails and jewelry adding to the pop factor.
  • I balloon with gloves whether I’m in clown garb or working as a twister out of costume. It cuts down on the squeaky latex noises (which keeps me in a much better mood), saves the pads on my fingers (it’s easy to tell how much wear and tear twisting causes when you see how often the gloves’ finger pads wear thin!), if my fingernails are long it saves popping, and I wear rings that might cause popping (and with the gloves I don’t have to remove and risk losing them).
  • I have found that not only does wearing gloves cut back on the squeaky noise (which is appreciated in restaurant work), it also helps protect your hands from blistering or peeling.

Fit Of The Gloves

  • Make sure that the gloves fit snugly.
  • The gloves have to be extremely tight-fitting.
  • If you really feel you need to wear gloves to complete your clown “look”, you may need to make the gloves fit your twisting fingers more snugly by sewing the ends. I know I’ve done that in the past when I couldn’t find gloves snug enough for my smallish hands. I’ve worn the fingers through on more than one pair of nylon gloves.
  • I like twisting with gloves much better than without. I wear nylon gloves. I tried cotton ones, but they didn’t seem fit and move with my fingers as well as they nylon ones do. They’re usually too long for my thumbs, but the other fingers fit… like a glove (sorry, couldn’t help myself :-). Anyhow, I usually just turn them inside out and sew across the top of the thumbs so they’re snug once I get them on. Every once in a loooooong while I do get caught in the twist, but it happens so quickly that I can untwist just as unquickly, and it doesn’t happen often enough to make me quit wearing them. I do seem to wear out the area that covers the pads of my thumbs of my index fingers more quickly than the rest of the gloves.
  • If you want to twist in full gloves, I found that giving the gloves a pull at the wrist to make them really tight up at your fingertips makes it a lot easier. You’ll need to give each glove a little tug before each and every balloon, but it will work.
  • I have purchased a set of crafters gloves from our local hobby store. They are made of an elastic material that give your hands good support and keep the joints warm, while allowing good mobility. They aren’t the prettiest but my hands sure feel better at the end of the day.
  • I have not tried them yet for balloons but for magic the white gloves as used in a photographic lab eg 1 hour place for handling negatives are tight, thin therefore very good. They look like normal white gloves but are very lintless.

Nylon

  • One more help was using a good quality nylon glove, rather than the cheaper cotton gloves.
  • The gloves have to be nylon, and very tight-fitting… not cotton, not the ones with little nubs all over them.
  • I wear a polyester glove sold in most clown supply stores.

Cotton

  • I use a good grade cotton glove. They do get a little dirty and I do get marker on them, but a little Iron-out works wonders. Nylon gloves get caught in the knot and this makes a hole in the finger very quickly. I don’t have this happen with cotton.

Gripper Gloves

  • I have found complete and fingerless gloves, including ones with gripper bottoms, at our local music shop. They are designed for marching bands.
  • There are gloves out there that have the padded grip on the underside or palm area. These work real well. I used these in the begining but finally was able to twist using cotton gloves.
  • The gripper gloves are ok but I personally don’t care for them as I twist very quickly and sometimes the grippers stop your hands from sliding along the balloon.

Colored Gloves

  • I favor wearing colored gloves as they look cleaner longer than white ones do.
  • I use colored gloves (white ones get terribly dirty). Apply a product available at Fabric Stores called Fray Check to keep them from running/fraying after the fingertips are cut off.
  • I twist in full gloves – black nylon elbow length ones. I use black because it seems to stay cleaner longer and it doesn’t have to match anything. It takes practice to keep from grabbing the gloves into the twists, but it is possible. And cut off finger tips are really no big deal if they’re neat. Applying “fray-check” to the fingers before cutting the tips keeps the threads from running.
  • Anyone looking to “create an unusual look” should try something called flashgloves: one side is white and the palm is colored, from http://www.Americanband.com They also have fingerless gloves, colored gloves (cheaper than anyone I’ve bought from) and lots of sequens and glitter accessories–vests, bow ties, hats.
  • I just received a catalog with some great stuff for those balloon twisters who aren’t clowns and who like to wear something to help them look professional. It’s got lots of matching suspenders, ties, cummerbunds and tons of apron options. Lot’s of good colors too, even metallic gold or silver. It’s:
    S”H Uniform Corp
    200 William St
    Port Chester, NY 10573
    (800) 210-5295
    There’s also some good hats, even for clowns: the “gatsby” type.For some good socks or tights, for those of you who like to wear shorts in hot weather try: Foot Traffic at (800) 789-FOOT
  • A good place to look for gloves is Pricilla Mooseburger Originals. 1-800-973-6277, or visit their web site at WWW.MOOSEBURGER.COM

Cut Off The Fingers

  • I have used gloves with the finger tips cut out for six years as a clown. (The finger tips kept getting stuck in the knots or twists.) My first few nights without gloves I noted how noisy the balloons were and there were more balloons popping. With gloves the noise stopped and the number of popped balloons went down.
  • One time I cut holes in the thumb and first finger. I forgot to fray check them and by the time the event was over I almost did not have a glove left. The fabric string would get caught in the twists.
  • I’ve cut the fingers off of one pair of top quality military dress white gloves. They cost me $10.00 for 3 pair at an Army surplus store. I hemmed them, as well, with an iron and Stitchwitchery They work very well when I use them.
  • I use colored gloves (white one get terribly dirty), apply a product available at Fabric Stores called Fray Check to keep them from running, then cut them off at the tips and hem them. I have found that gloves help reduce the balloon noise and popping, and on monster days of ballooning, help protect my hands. Several of my clown friends including Yummy and Flash wear full gloves. They are excellent balloonists and have no trouble getting the gloves caught in the balloons. When I was a beginner, I did have the problem of getting the tips of the fingers caught in the balloons – so I opted to cut them. It is probably a matter of practice though, just like everything else.
  • As a clown, it looks best when you wear gloves. For twisting balloons my concern is getting the finger of the glove caught in the balloon while twisting. It seem like gloves would get in the way. Also, I’ve seen gloves with grippers on them. Good or bad?
  • Cutting the tips off of the gloves – You can either just cut off the index, middle finger and thumb of the glove or all five fingers – which ever you prefer the look of. You only need to cut them to just below that first nuckle on your finger, leaving the majority of your fingers and hand covered with the glove. I do suggest putting a little hem or at least Fray Check on the cut ends of the glove to keep them from fraying and having the threads caught in the balloons. As well as, doing this gives you a more finished look on the glove. This works for me when I am in clown and need to wear gloves
  • Cutting the finger tips off of gloves – as noted by the wonderful Priscilla Mooseburger in a recent LaughMakers article, remember to take the gloves off before taking your scissors to the gloves. Don’t want end up writing short hand…
  • For treating the cut tips of the gloves, stitching is the best answer, but if you can’t sew, a periodic application of a good quality clear nail polish to the cut edges works well.
  • I work with gloves, finger tips cut off, when in clown. Otherwise I twist with no gloves. Both ways work fine for me. I do restaurant work, so it’s usually only 2-3 hours a night, but on holidays I can be there in the lobby for 8-10 hours making balloons and keeping folks occupied as they wait. My hands really get dry and semi-raw from all the twisting. I like the glove idea.
  • To make fingerless gloves, start by finding gloves. They are available in many colors at Costume shops, Women’s accessory shops, and from mail order clown supply businesses. If you wear white gloves be prepared to wash them regularly and toss them when they’re irrevocably dirty, otherwise, I’d invest in colored gloves that are better quality. Here’s one place to buy colored gloves if you can’t find them in your area, I called and they have two different shades of pink, three of purple, several shades of blue and green, and carry many other colors:
       Potsy & Blimpo
       P.O. Box 2075
       Huntington Beach, Ca
    
       1-800-897-0749
    

    They are very nice folks, and will ship. The gloves run $7.50 (plus tax if you are in Ca) plus $3.50 shipping. If you call the 800 number, they will be happy to send out a free catalogue.

  • You can purchase a product called Fray Check at any fabric store. It is inexpensive to use and very effective. Spread the product on the finger of the glove just below where you are going to cut the finger, then let the product dry. Cut the finger – OF THE GLOVE – off. Fray Check keeps the glove from running. If you sew, you can turn the edge under and hem, but if you don’t sew, the Fray Check will work fine, even after repeated washing.
  • I bought fingerless gloves from Joe Soprano at Fun Services in San Diego. They were weightlifting gloves but I find them great for twisting and helping to keep the latex off all but the one asks me why I am wearing weightlifting gloves, they just assume that they are clon gloves or that I must be wearging them for a reason.tips of my fingers. . they are a white base and have purple, fushia, or light blue on them, as well. They are Ektelon (from when the company was located in San Diego), and they are very sturdy. The gloves are white leather with coors and only, I think it was, $2 a pair. . worth it for a try and they don’t wear out very fast at all. I use leather cleaner to clean ’em off.If you all want to order some of these way cool gloves, here is Fun Services Info:
    Fun Services
    Owner: Joe Soprano
    Tel: (858) 695-9499
    (800) 835-5900 In California
    Fax: (858) 689-0655
    Email: funserv@aol.com
  • When I feel very sensitive I wear fingerless gloves. They are weight lifting gloves and they look very nice. these gloves are all made of leather and they only cost like 3 or 4 dollars per pair.
  • I wear fingerless gloves all the time when twisting. My preference is for leather ones that I buy at the local leather clothing store at the mall. The ones I use are sold as driving gloves. They take some getting used to, and have to be broken in, but I like using them.
  • I have found complete and fingerless gloves, including ones with gripper bottoms, at our local music shop. They are designed for marching bands.
  • You could cut the tips off yourself, however you will want to bind the edges somehow to prevent them from unraveling while twisting.

Gloves? I Can’t Stand ‘Em!

  • I use the heat of my hands to mold some of my balloons and it doesn’t work very well if you have gloves on.
  • The friction from rubbing the balloon, with or without the gloves, usually is enough to create the heat you need to form shapes.
  • Besides wearing gloves, you can cover your finger with a thin cloth – I used to use a juggling scarf – and it makes pulling out your finger very easy. I only use it on deep hook twists.
  • I have tried to use gloves, but it really slows me down.

Use Powder

  • If you do not want to wear gloves, you can minimize squeaking noise by putting some baby powder on your hands. Before I wore gloves, I kept a little zip lock bag of baby powder in my balloon apron, you will have reapply often if you are making a lot of sculptures.
  • Powder has been on all the balloons you ever bought (but probably in much smaller quantities). It prevents the balloons from sticking to one another and too themselves. After all, they’re just tree sap!
  • “Baby powder” comes in two forms I know of: talc and cornstarch. Which one do you use? I find the talc to be too slippery. Also, use very little of the stuff – it’s very easy to overdo; you’ll have no squeaking and figures that don’t hold together either.
  • A lot of people do use powder to reduce squeaking, and that works just fine for those people. I’ve found that it makes it easier for some sculptures to untwist. I also don’t like the mess, and after a while, the powder on my hands starts to irritate me. I need to wash them off more often when I get powder on them.
  • I got a bottle of “Liquid Talc,” a lotion produced by “Bath and Body Works.” This stuff works like a charm when I have really clammy hands and I have a lot of balloon breakage. It goes on like a lotion, and evaporates within about 20 seconds. It then turns your hands into a powder-covered texture that’s really smooth. Your hands are turned into twisting lightning! It’s fairly powdery, and can mark up if you wear black clothes. The bottle says it contains Rosewater and Evening Primrose Oil. I’m sure it must have a little Shazam in it too. Here are the details from the bottle:
       Mfd. for Bath and Body Works
       97 West Main St.
       New Albany, OH 43054
    
  • FYI, Bath and Body Works is a national chain, but is usually only found in the larger, more upscale, malls. They have a suite of products in each of their scents (you can get body spray, bubble bath, shower gel, and lotions to match your liquid talc scent of choice). I don’t know how hot you guys are to smell like vanilla, raspberry, apple, peach, flowering herbs, etc. But the liquid talc is way cool. They do have some products in fragrances for “men only” but I do not know if they make liquid talc in the “butch” smells. (I doubt it, though) Why not simply use regular talc, you may ask? Well, since you apply this as a lotion, you get a thin, uniform layer of talc that you don’t see rather than patches of white, and a lower potential for white powder to fly everywhere if you get bumped with the shaker open. (plus it’s way cool, kinda funky, and smells purty)

Holding a chain of multiple bubbles (“String of Pearls”)

  • On long bubble sequences, if you always twist the same way, you only have to hold on to the first bubble, and the last bubble. I hold on to the first bubble with my little finger and palm, then feed the bubbles through the thumb and first finger.
  • When I make mine, I start with the first three bubbles scrunched into my hand, then I sorta turn the 1st bubble around in my hand an grasp it with the ring finger and pinky with the rest pointing out and around from that side of my hand. This anchors the end, and frees my thumb and 1st two fingers (sometimes 3) to continue twisting. I do the same when making ‘pearls’/’grapes’ bubbles. This is the best way I’ve found to do long sequences of bubbles, and you also don’t have bubbles come undone in the middle of a sculpture. (P.S. this is how I teach my students how to twist bubbles – i.e. a challenge, see how many bubbles you can hold)
  • The fastest way I have found to make a “string of pearls” string of small bubbles is to roll the body of the 260 down my leg with one hand while the other hand holds the bubble. The first bubble of the string also has to be held, either by the bubble hand or by being attached to a held sculpture. By rolling the body of the 260 the same distance down your leg each time you get a uniform number of twists between bubbles. If the twists aren’t even the line of bubbles tries to make them even and some bubbles may untwist. The pearls hat is not the fastest hat to make but it is popular. I figure the pearls take about as long as a fancy poodle.
  • I inflate a 260 no more than halfway and begin twisting round bubbles. The trick is that you have to hold the first two until you reach the end and can twist the beginning to the end. I have a lot of fun saying that the purple strands are amythest beads, the reds are rubies, the greens are emeralds, etc… Girls of all ages love them. After all, “the only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize” (Shirley McClaine in Steele Magnolias).I would note that it is a bit tough on the wrist and can simulate a carpal tunnel syndrome, so be sure to flex your twisting wrist after each strand.

    A variation on this is that I will inflate the balloon a bit over half and use the large section that you are unable to twist into pearls to become the head of a swan when I turn the strand into a bracelet.

  • Need a string of pearls arch for your daughter’s “Wedding-Barbie?” Start with 18 gauge wire and bend over the ends to eliminate the sharp points. Insert the wire into a 260 and inflate half way. The first twist is a tulip twist making sure to capture the end of the wire in the twist. Then continue making small round bubbles along the wire and pushing them back up into the previous one. The tension of them pushing against each other will keep the bubbles from untwisting. When coming to the end of the wire, use the last bubble to twist latex around the wire, just covering the end. Then pinch twist the last bubble, pop it and tie off. With the wire inside to maintain the shape, this is a natural for table decor.

Shaping/Forming A Long Section Of Balloon

Swan Neck

  • The easiest way to get the neck to bend is to take the uninflated portion of the balloon (the part you left for the beak) and hold it against the neck, essentially folding it over where the air ends. Give the neck a quick squeeze forcing some air into the folded over section. This quickly forms the curve of the head. There are other methods you can use, but this one works every time for me.

Making A Heart From A 260

  • You should choose which method you like, according to what your goals are. Personally, I like the general, softer-looking method for butterfly wings, and the heart and flower combination creation. If you want to put a stand-alone heart on top of a pole or on a hat, etc., the T. Myers method will make your creation look great!
  • Note: The general problem with this method is that the end result looks slightly soft. Meaning: the point between the lobes of the heart is a soft curve, rather than a point. It doesn’t look like a ‘crisp’ heart-shape. However, I have never seen anyone mistake this shape for anything other than a heart.
    1. Leave the balloon slightly under-inflated, so that you can tie the nipple and the nozzle together, creating a circular loop. (slightly obvious) Note: In all of the methods, the point of the heart is formed by the above knot. The two lobes of the heart are formed opposite the knot.
    2. Find the mid-point of the loop (opposite the knot) and pull that area of the balloon downward towards the knot, creating a (slightly rounded) “M” shape.
    3. Now your goal is to stress the heck out of the balloon at each of the three points of the “M”. You can repeatedly squeeze the balloon, pinch it, pinch a small area and twist it a few times, etc. etc. etc. You may have to do repeat your method a couple of times. Also, you might need to manipulate the balloon slightly to make the lobes of the heart appear less angular and more rounded.
  • If you’ve been practicing your snakes and making curly-Q’s (see the Blowing up a Balloon section of the Guide) you might want to try this: During inflation, Jesse Biddlecome (working with a large pump) created one well-placed curly in the center of the balloon. So that when the ends were tied together, he had a corkscrew in the middle… kinda like the matchbox race-car track where the car goes upside down. He did this very quickly, I’m sure that there is a key to correct twining of the balloon about your fingers, to achieve this feat. Also, I’m not sure how much this extra step adds to the fundamental structure of the heart, or if it’s just a slick refinement for added showmanship.Note: Because of the extra twist at the point between the lobes of the heart, this method creates a really crisp, well-defined heart.
    1. Tie a 260 into a circle. (see above)
    2. Twist into 2 equal bubbles.
    3. Curl both bubbles together down from the twist. Curl up less than half of its length, like a snail shell. When it looks like a comma, hold it. Soften the outside of the bubbles on the curve and the sides of the curve by rubbing the balloon on your clothes.
    4. When you let go and open the 2 halves apart it should look like a heart. If not, make it look like a comma and rub some more.
  • It’s an acquired feel. People who milk cows have the idea :o) Blow up the balloon and tie the ends together. Find the center and pull it down as if you are about to make an M. Squeeze the center area but do not let go. Now with your free hand, move like a pump the left outside of the balloon up and down a couple of times. Now do the same thing with the right side. In slow motion, let go of the center. You now have a heart.
  • Apparently you are not doing the pinch bend well enough. Form the balloon into the heart shape
    (/)

    Now pinch all the air out of the top V, but only at the pointy part. The fingers must pinch the sides of the V, not the front and back part. Now that you have it pinched, twist the pinch part and release.

  • there are several ways, but I prefer T. Myers’ way. I will describe for you the way I do it in different words than he may have used. Inflate the 260 leaving a 1″ tail. Burp and tie off. Now tie the 1″ tail to the nozzle creating a big circle. (The tied section will be the bottom of the heart) Next, find the half way point of the circle and twist only the one side to create a long bubble-roll it a few times.(This will be the top of the heart) Now, hold it sideways and roll the top down in a curl formation so the whole thing looks like a comma, (a rounded type kind of comma like you had to do in grade school). With the other hand you need to pull the bottom of the heart down, and kinda of work your hand up and down it a bit, as if you are milking the bottom of the heart. If you have held the rounded part tight and milked the bottom you are now ready to release and open up the heart-the two long bubbles should now have curves going into the middle. It should maintain its shape.P.S. This drove me crazy until I learned how to do it. I would feel so dumb because I could not make a nice looking heart. It is not hard once you get the hang of it. Some people do it without the crease in the middle (using a different method) but I like the look better with a crease and it maintains it’s shape.
  • I’ve found that most people make making a heart with a 260 entirely too complicated, with all the squeezing, and “milking motions,” breathing hot air on it, etc. None of this is necessary in order to make a perfectly-formed heart. First of all, I don’t care for the T. Myers method (actually, I believe, originally from Mike Decker): I’ve found that the 260 heart with the twist in the center of the “V” tends to want to flop back and forth on me. The method, or style, I use does not have this problem… it’s more stable. And here it is: after the 260 is inflated and tied end to end, find the center point, and with the right hand pull this center section down towards the knot. With the left hand assisting, fold this center section into a “v” shape (or “u” shape), hang onto it with the left hand, releasing the grip of the right hand. Now take the right hand and (here is where wearing gloves really makes the next step easy) grip this center section, and at the same time, squeeze and pull down in ONE easy motion (the gloves make this move very easy-too much friction with bare hands). It doesn’t take rubbing or stroking or breathing hot air on it, just one “squeeze and pull.” Instantly you have your 260 heart. Add to it what you will to embellish it, and you’ll all set.
  • Inflate a 260 and tie the ends together or you can twist the ends together with small bubbles. Then put the balloon circle against your chest. Wrap your arms around the outside of the balloon, like giving it a hug. Pull down the middle of the top of the balloon. Bring it down and then with both hands squeeze all the air out of those two pieces of the balloon. Then let go to let the air rush back into that part of the balloon. Now all you should have to do is round the points in the two arches of the heart.
  • Wrap the middle of the balloon around your finger, with equal portions of the balloon straight before and after the wrap. Blown up, it sort of resembles the end of a safety pin. If you pull the 2 sides of your safety pin apart, it will try to make a twist at the loop. Help it make the twist in the center, shape a little and you have a heart.

Other Bends

  • 260 spider legs can easily be bent in a very realistic manner using the technique Aaron Hsu-Flanders describes (in his book Balloon Animals) for making the “V” in his 260 heart, or the head on his 260 dinosaur sculpture. In addition to these applications, I routinely employ this technique whenever I wish to produce a sharp angle with a rounded point while preserving the smooth texture of the inflated 260 around the bend (like in neon sign light tubes where twists are not used to make the bends). Angles > 90 degrees can be produced and they are permanent. I find it extremely well suited for realistically reproducing the wing contours of large, popular sculptures such as butterflies, birds, dragons, bats and airplanes.
    • At the point where you wish to have a permanent bend, fold (bend) the balloon back on itself and grasp both halves in your left hand.
    • With the right thumb against the side of the middle joint of your index finger, pinch the latex on the outside of the bend.
    • Pull and twist to locally stretch the latex on the outside of the bend.
    • Release from both hands ‘et voila’, the balloon is bent.
    • Angle adjustments are easily made by more stretching during the process, or by manipulation after the process.

    Aaron Hsu-Flanders’ books are bound (not pamphlets), so they can be found at most libraries.

  • An alternative and very useful method is to create the angle in the leg segments using two opposed ear twists of different sizes to form the socket of a ball-and-socket-and-ball joint. However, for spider legs, I prefer the method described previously.

Double-helix balloon poles

  • To quickly make two balloons twisted tightly together, Tom mentioned in his newsletter to twist them in on each other as you twist them together. What I found that works really well for me is this: Twist a 1″ bubble at the nozzle end of each balloon and then lock-twist them together. Start with the lock-twisted bubbles in your right hand (I’m right handed), and then open your left hand, palm facing the two balloons. Put the twist (the center where the two balloons are being twisted together) in the palm of your hand which is facing to the right. One balloon is over the space between your thumb and forefinger and the other extends down the base of your palm towards the floor. Push in slightly so the balloons are almost at 90 degree angle from the twist being created in your right hand. Then start rotating your right hand to make the twist. To get a tight twist you have to push the crook of the twist a little into your tight palm and also use the friction of your palm or fingers (right hand) to twist each balloon itself as the two are being twisted together. Also, once you do a straight twist that is locked at both ends, the balloon makes a lovely twist in the air if you throw it like a spear. Or twist a hook into one end and it’s a candy cane.

Making Balloon Fabrics (Weaving)

Balloon Fabric Resources

  • Larry Moss presents a Tutorial on making Balloon Fabrics.
  • Marvin Hardy’s “260Q Decorator” book has directions on weaving.
  • At Marvin’s web site, there are directions for sale for a number of weaving sculptures.
  • There is a book of lecture notes by Mike Decker which has instructions for a woven hot air balloon.
  • Larry Moss’ book, “Twisting History” has directions for basic weaving.
  • The Autumn 1996 issue of “Balloon Magic – The Magazine” includes instructions by Marvin Hardy for weaving a top hat (260Qs) and a Christmas tree (350Qs). Call Pioneer and ask about back issues.
  • I put up a web page that shows a weaving technique. It’s far from comprehensive, but it might help someone get started. Aim your browser at http://www.willinet.net/~gardner/baloon13.htm.
  • You might check out Mike Decker’s video – THE LECTURE – on page 53 of the T. Myers catalog. It has a Hot Air Balloon that uses weaving.
  • The basket on the cover of DEWEY’S ZANY BALLOONS is woven. It’s on page 83.
  • The Balloon Magic Magazine has had a couple of great woven items (top hat and Christmas tree) in the past. If you can get your hands on those back issues, you’ll learn a lot about weaving just from learning those two figures. I know I did. Call Pioneer and ask them about back issues.

Balloon Fabric Hints and Ideas

  • Royal Sorell demonstrated his spiral weaving technique at IBAC. Try this for starters:
    Inflate 5 different color balloons (any number of balloons will work), leaving a 4″ nipple.
  • When you are done, each balloon will end up looking like this for a left hand spiral (note that for this discussion, my balloons start with a bubble denoted “!” and end with a bubble denoted “i”):
       i_
         |_
           |_
             |_
               |_
                 !
    
  • or like this for a right hand spiral:
                _i
              _|
            _|
          _|
        _|
       !
    
  • and a planar, 5 balloon right hand weave will look like this:
                     _i
                   _|
                 _|_i
               _|_|
             _|_|_i
            !_|_|
           _|_|_i
          !_|_|
         _|_|_i
        !_|_|
       _|_| *
      !_|    \
     _|       \_______ This vertical is where you first get
    !                  all 5 balloons connected into a circle
                       if you are making a tube.
    
  • To make a spiral tube:
    • Twist the knot of balloon 1 (or a 1″ bubble next to the knot) into a twist located 9″ (or 10″) from the knot on balloon 2,
    • Twist the knot of balloon 2 into a twist located 9″ from the knot on bn. 3,
    • Twist the knot of balloon 3 into a twist located 9″ from the knot on bn. 4,
    • Twist the knot of balloon 4 into a twist located 9″ from the knot on bn. 5,
    • Twist the knot of balloon 5 into a twist located 9″ from the knot on bn. 1.
    • Twist connect the balloons every 3″ so that they form connected helices of “L’s” with a twist at each right angle.
    • Twist up the spiral tube by going around CW for right hand or CCW for a left hand spiral, as if you were knitting the sleeve on a sweater out of successive neighboring pairs of balloons. When you use up each balloon, twist in a new one at the last twist you made before you got to the end, or tie the new balloon to the end of the old one.
  • To vary tube diameter, increase the length of the bubbles. To really change the tube diameter, twist more balloons into the centers of the long bubbles and keep saying “knit one, pearl two…” 🙂
  • Royal and Patty Sorell use a weaving technique they call Gymping (remember Gymp in Summer Camp?) It’s similar to Marvin Hardy’s weaving with one major difference, you twist each balloon to the one next to it and constantly create tubes that spiral up. Kind of like those old knitting tubes. Each section is a tube of a different diameter. With weaving and our Gymp-ing methods, the key is when you start, use all separate colors so you can get the pattern down and understand what the balloons are doing. It’s easy once you get the hang of it!
  • I have done a LOT of weaving of clothing for various costumes. (Wedding Dress for IBAC, Belle Dress from Beauty and the Beast for Halloween, Tuxedo for a Bridal Show….) As with any clothing, I suggest weaving it on the person directly. It insures a better fit. If you’re weaving it for yourself, try to get someone else to weave it around anyway – it will still work better than trying to weave free-form.
  • For a vest. I start at the top, and work down. Start by forming the armholes and back of the neck with single balloons, and connect across the top of the shoulder. You’ll want to connect across the front of the neck too, for the purpose of shaping. But, this balloon will be removed later, so make sure it’s either a separate balloon, or that it’s really well tied off. Create the “V” with two ‘spoke’ balloons. Using uninflated 260’s to hold the front together after you weave a row will help with the shaping – just cut them out when you’re done.Tie on the rest of your “spoke” balloons across the shoulder and around the armholes. Then, start weaving! For me, the hardest part of weaving clothing is the inital structure. Once I have that set up, I can do anything.
  • Balloon weaving is an an excellent technique, makes the balloons quite strong, and they actually end up lasting a lot longer than normal as well. I’ll give you the general idea on how it’s done:
    1. Inflate 5 balloons (let’s assume their color is blue), leaving at least 3.5 Inches uninflated. Tie them together at the knots.
    2. Twist an ear twist from any one of the five balloons, and push it into the center of where the balloons are tied together. Repeat this process with another balloon of the five, centering that one on the opposite side. You should have five balloons, tied together at the knots, with an ear twist in the very center on each side.
    3. Measure up approximately 1 inch on one of the balloons and tie in a CLEAR 260 balloon, now go up 1 inch on the next blue balloon, and twist it at that 1 inch point. Measure with the clear balloon the preceise distance ACROSS from the first blue to the second, and put a twist in the clear at that point. Now attach blue balloon 2 with the diamond clear. Repeat this processall the way aroundto blue balloon # 5, and then do it from balloon 5 to balloon 1. Once the clear balloon has made it back to the blue balloon 1, break the excess, knot it into placem and cut off remaining hanging excess.
    4. Go up one inch again on blue balloon 1, tying in your next clear balloon, and repeat the process you have just finished with your first clear balloon. Should any of your balloon ever grow tight or fall short in length, a new balloon of the same color can be added on, and the process continued.

    At the end of this piece you will have a hexagon shaped balloon, with the balloons from the center (spokes) being blue (you can make them any color though), and clear balloons going around holding it in place. For a more rounded wheel, merely tie in more than five balloons in the first step.

  • When I twist a Vase, I start from a circle (top of the vase) and work my way downward instead of the other way around. I do this, because if I start with a starburst and work from the bottom up, I have trouble keeping it flat. My way, the bottom is not a “starburst,” but just the balloon bent inwards with an ear-twist, then deflated to length and attached to the eartwist on the opposite side. The bottom of the vase is like an asterisk then, but the space between the balloons is sufficiently small to give it a “full” appearance, and besides, since the vase rests on it, you can`t see it anyway.
  • I have done some experimenting with weaving a flat object out of 260’s, like a wall hanging. The resulting object likes to curl up into a big ball, if left to its own devices. The only big tapestry I finished had to be pinned to the wall every three inches along each side to keep it from curling, and it had to be tacked in the middle to prevent bumpiness.

The “Eyes” Have It: Miscellaneous Eyeball Methods

  • To add white eyeballs try this: make two 1-inch bubbles with a white balloon. Pop-off and toss the rest of the balloon. Tie a knot in the remainder so the air doesn’t escape, tie the two ends together, so the two bubbles are lock-twisted, and now add them to your creation where the eyes should go.
  • Use a yo-yo as the eyes. This gives a great eye-type look because the centers tuck in to form a pupil on each side. The groove that runs around the edge holds the crest balloon nicely! Also, you can put pieces of colored balloons, small round bubbles or something else in the dimples to make different types of eyes.
  • My favorite thing I picked up from T. Myers was using two small super balls in a clear heart or clear 260Q to make googley eyes. Google eyes with inserted superballs (or balloon balls) look best if you unwrap the clear latex cocoon from them after insertion.
  • Make a black balloon ball (just like you would make a pregnant poodle, but you detach it). Then you put the black ball into a blue balloon, but you don’t push it all the way in; leave a small black circle showing. Detach it. Now you put it into a white balloon leaving the black, and some of the blue showing. Detach it. Voila! A very realistic eyeball!
  • Make a small black bubble with a tail of uninflated balloon on it and place it into the center of a tulip twist in a white balloon. You can also use this to make a snout with a black nose on the end. We can call it a black olive twist. (The green olive/twist is for a martini 😉
  • Marvin’s eyes: made from bee bodies with the ends cut off after inflating (in Balloon Magic 321 book).Inflate a 321 as you would to make an apple. Squeeze a bubble into the colored tip (aka poodle tail). Tie a knot at the base of the small bubble so the air will stay in it. Now do your apple twist. Roll the apple toward the tip. The bubble will rest inside the end of the “apple.” I think this makes a great nose or eyeball, depending on how it’s used. The closest I’ve come to Pooh so far has used this kind of nose. I’ve tried a couple of other things with it too. You can attach it to a round balloon to get a big face with a snout, or you can make a standard teddy bear with this nose in the middle of the face. If you twist the little bubble in half before pushing it into the apple, you work it off to one side and you have a couple of nostrils for the snout of some animal. Actually, if you want a little wheel for say a carriage or lawnmower, this will give a little wheel and have a hub.
  • Ever put air into the tip of a 321? I’ve seen that done, but not like this. Fill the 321 as much as you would to make an apple. Make a half inch poodle tail. The air won’t stay in that bubble unless you tie a knot at the base of it. Now make your apple twist. You’ll still have this bubble on the end of the stem. Now roll the knot on the apple back into the balloon far enough that the tail bubble is resting inside the apple. You have an eyeball or a nose. If you twist the little bubble in half before pushing it into the apple, you work it off to one side and you have a couple of nostrils for the snout of some animal.Now, like I said, you can get this effect another way. You could just make this bubble out of scrap of balloon and tie it to the 321 or other balloon before making the apple. Actually, if you want a little wheel for say a carriage or lawnmower, a Geo donut is a bit excessive. This will give the little wheel and have a hub. I can’t think of a more efficent way to do that.
  • OK, how about making one of these eyes, stuffing it into a transparent balloon, peeling off the encapsulating layer of latex, and then twisting the balloon into a “seeing eye dog!”
  • The WAY COOL gang makes a “bug eye” that Arlene puts on her frog hat. A 160 little bubble tied with a knot and then an inch of balloon with another knot Ox—x then it is inserted into a 260 apple twist. I’m sure you know it by another name. Normally you would then tuck the knot into the tulip twist but when you need to attach it to something the knot gets pulled out and the lumpy knots are exposed. It can also be done with a 260/350 combo.

Raisin Twist

  • I read in a book (about camping) how to tie a rope to a tarp without putting a hole in it. Find a suitable rock, hold it through the tarp, and tie the rope around the lump. I just applied the principle to a balloon surface.
  • To attach one Geo, heart, or round balloon to another, save the knots from broken balloons, and drop them into the balloon before inflating. After inflating, grab the knot in a little piece of the balloon where you want to tie on, and twist it to make a little nub to tie on to. (Otherwise, if you drop a BB or a small hex-nut into the balloon before you inflate it, the BB will fall to the lowest point. Grab the BB through the wall of the balloon and twist to form a nub that you could attach a balloon to.) The Balloon Dude in California makes an awesome elephant with a Geo, using this technique, the nose comes out of the hole and the ears are attached as described.
  • We named the twist a raisin twist and it goes like this: tie a square knot in a scrap and break off the knot, drop this into an un-inflated balloon and then inflate and tie, grasp the “raisin” between the index and thumb, pull out slightly and twist, lock it by attaching another balloon to it. Using this twist, I was able to take home the First Place trophy in the advanced multi-balloon comp. (I made a momma sow suckling a piglet).
  • Tie several knots on top of each other in a bit of balloon scrap and put it inside the balloon. Grab this “bulky knot” on the outside of the balloon, and twist a couple of times. You now have a point in the balloon at which you can attach another one. Attach the balloon before letting go of the raisin twist, or it will untwist and the bulky knot will pop back into the balloon.
  • If you’ve tried the raisin twist with no luck (the balloon breaks or develops a leak), try 11″ rounds inflated to about 8″ – 9″ max. I’ve had no problem this way.
  • Use a raisin twist to connect some bug food to a Geo for the frog sitting on the flower. Fun.I use this technique for attaching arms and legs to a body made out of a round balloon.
  • Pulling a bubble in the side is also another twist that is separate from the Raisin twist. So it appears we have two new twists. One, the side twist first mentioned by Mark Balzer, and a second twist, the Raisin twist, mentioned by Brit Anders and John.I am not trying to say we should all be trying to invent new twists, but when they come along they should be discussed and see the importance of them. In all reality, the inventor sometimes is not the one who fully utilizes the invention, but only opens a door through which other creative talents use it for a spring board for more creation.
  • Raisin – Yeah, I looked in both volumes of Sands. I really searched it, of course I still could have missed it, but the only reference that I could fine was the use of a nut or bb, match head, etc was when it was used on the outside of the balloon. In his apple twist section.In George Sands’ book, he discusses how to use a match head or piece of paper to create a knot like affect on the nipple end of the balloon in order to create an apple twist. He does not discuss pulling a bubble from the side or putting something in the balloon. So I think you all three should smile and glow a little for the creations you have developed. No swelled heads please.

Belly Button

  • Also called “the belly button technique,” involves dropping a washer or coin into the balloon, inflating and position the “coin” where you need it. Put it at the top of the balloon to suspend the balloon from the ceiling and tie your monofilament around the “coin” and hang it, you could also use this technique by off-centering the “coin” and positioning it where ever you need it & using it like link-a-loons. This technique, as well as many others are discussed in detail in the QBN-CBA curriculum.
  • This Bellybutton effect is also known as a “raisin twist” by the twisting community. Basically it involves dropping something smooth (like a small clothing button) into the balloon, then grabbing it from the OUTSIDE and tying a loose loop (smaller than the button) around it to trap it inside the balloon. Once the object is trapped there, you have a way of tying onto that section of the balloon. A single bellybutton can be used to distort balloons into apples or cherries. More make cool Martian heads or potatoes as I’ve described above.
  • Drop a broken piece of a balloon inside of another balloon. Now inflate, with the broken piece inside. you can now twist up this balloon, and by pulling on the broken piece, attach another balloon to it. The beauty of the raisin twist is that it allows you to tie in another ballon without having to put a twist in the original inflated balloon. If you twist the new balloon into the “raisin” that’s being pulled out of the first, you can the make 2 ear twists and set them at opposing sides. This feature also allows you to tie 260’s into balloons that aren’t able to be manipulated, such as round balloons. If you need to see an example, go to the photo section. Look under my name (Jimmy Leo) and you will see a photo of santa. This technique was used to give him his large belly (round balloon) while still allowing the attachment of his arms, legs and head.
  • For the belly button method, what do you suggest I use as the “button”? Use a one cent coin or a shirt button.
  • We go to the local fabric store and buy actual big plain white buttons, but in a last minute pinch I have used a “washer” and a small air filled latex (a five incher blown to 1 1/2 inches. The most important tip I can offer is this:When you stuff the button into the balloons – before you wrap the mono line – take a 11 inch latex of the same color, cut off the neck and stick on top of the 3 footer to offer extra padding. That way if the mono line cuts into the latex from wear ( Air conditioner blowing it , fans, etc.) it will cut into the extra piece of latex and not your 3 footer. It is a lot easier than it sounds. Remember to use thick wired ribbon to complete the look!
  • If you want to learn more about bellybuttons or other distortion effects, the information is also on videos #3 (Exploding Balloons and other Special Effects) and #11 (Balloon People with Jim Skistimas) of my (Bruce Walden) Balloon School series of instructional tapes.

Distortion Effect

  • “Creativeja” asked how to make a potato out of a balloon. It will likely look best as a distortion effect, so here’s my suggestion…
    1. Take a 3′ ivory.
    2. Turn it inside out.
    3. Attach 3 or more bellybuttons (see below) in different areas.
    4. Tie the bellybuttons together with cord – leaving several inches (maybe 18 – 30″) of slack between them.
    5. Turn the balloon right-side out.
    6. Inflate SLOWLY. As the balloon inflates, the cords tying the sections together internally will stop them from inflating first and distort those areas into “eyes”. Tie off the balloon when the desired shape is obtained.
    7. Use just a little brown spray paint (Design Master works well) and spritz the eyes so they look like dirt. Add a little to the other areas as desired.
    8. Please pass the butter and sour cream!

Side Bubble

  • One day, I thought about the fact that out of all the different shapes I did and have seen others do, I never saw anyone twist a balloon from the side. So, I made a claw out of my hand and pinched a bubble out of the side. I’ve only been able to get a small bubble that way and I couldn’t think of how to lock it.
  • Yeah, I (Mark Balzer) invented the “twist a bubble in the side of a balloon” trick too, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it also was first done a long time ago. None of the twisters I met at the 1995 IBAC had done a side bubble, so I demonstrated the concept at the 260Q Jam Session, and then provided an application with my jet plane sculpture. Within a few hours of his seeing it, Sean Rooney (one of the most amazing balloon artists I have ever had the chance to meet) was already twisting 2 side bubbles in a 260, _in_the_same_cross_sectional_plane_!!!! I wouldn’t have thought of that. (Wow, what dexterous fingers he has… he eventually got 3 in the same c-s plane!) Sean is a fan of “Pure Sculpture” (balloon sculpture without any non-latex support structure) and thought the technique would open up a lot of attachment possibilities.

How To Tear Apart A Pencil Balloon

  • This is the technique Marvin Hardy taught at IBAC for tearing apart a fully inflated 260 so you end up with two pieces and you’re holding onto the torn ends.When you try to tear something, most people just move their hands a couple of inches apart, as if tearing a piece of paper. This limits the amount of force that you are putting on the object, because you are subconsciously trying not to let your hands fly apart when the object rips.

    Instead, do it this way: Quickly pull as hard as you can while thinking about spreading your hands, elbows and arms as far apart as possible (don’t worry – your hands won’t go flying off your wrists!) Get your shoulder muscles and the momentum of your moving arms into it.

  • Marvin said it’s a martial arts thing – like the difference between holding up your hand and asking someone to punch it, and then on the second attempt, asking them to punch THROUGH your hand. The latter punch will always be more forceful.
  • I had lots of trouble with this myself until Marvin told us all why. Since then, it has worked for me every time and I no longer hesitate to do it. Additionally, if you make a twist and then break the balloon apart at the twist, the air can be released without a loud popping noise. This is good for when you don’t want to disturb others, when you make a mistake or when the balloon has a hole in it.
  • There is a way to separate an inflated balloon into two without deflating it that I use all the time. I think I learned it from Mike Decker. Just twist the 260 in the middle, hold it out in front of you, with one hand on each side of the twist, and with a quick, sharp snap, pull the balloon (the two sections) in opposite directions until it breaks apart. This may take some practice, as most people tend to not pull hard enough. Now the tricky part is to re-tie each section.
  • You should apply a technique I believe is from karate; as you part your hands, don’t just aim to separate them a few inches but go for several feet. It’s the same as punching through a target. This increases the energy, making it much easier.
  • Be sure and hold the balloon firmly when you snap it to break it. If not, the part that is not held firmly will pop.
  • If you do a pinch pop series first you won’t be left with two untied inflated balloons, but will still be able to easily untie the pinch twist to tie it when you are ready. You can even let some of the air out if you want before you retie it if you need to do that. It is much easier than trying to hold one of them in your mouth while retieing the other. It is also easier than re-inflating a balloon that no longer has a nozzle.
  • If you do a pinch pop series and then break it, neither section will deflate. Then you undo each pinch part and retie it so it will stay secure when you go to use it for another sculpture.Also, retied ends tend not to hold their knot as well as manufactured (rolled) nozzles, so you should wrap the tied end back into your sculpture if possible.
  • Arleenie and Yummy’s method: Say for instance you have a fully inflated green 260 you want to split into equal halves for palm tree fronds. To each side of the halfway point where you want to pop it, make a small bubble to fit in the palm of your hand. Leave some air in the center bubble to make the popping easier if you want.
                      A     B        C     D
          ____________  ____  _______  ____  ______________
        >(____________)(____)(___!___)(____)(______________)==
                         /       ^       \
                        /     middle      \
                       /      of 260       \
                      /                     \
                  hold this              hold this
               bubble in palm          bubble in palm
             of your left hand       of your right hand
    

    Make sure you tightly hold the twists at points A and D when the popped part deflates; it’s your fingers that stop the deflation there.

    Stick your thumbs in the middle part and hold them against your index fingers and with a quick “snap” pull the balloon apart. If you put your thumbnails right up against each other, dig them in and yank them apart quickly, it’s a snap. It pops easily, and you really don’t have to pull too hard for it to work. The twists on either side will keep the two separated parts from deflating. Immediately after snapping it apart, pinch or hold tightly at points A and D and let the bubbles deflate. If it makes you feel more secure, you can take the part of balloon left between points A and B or points C and D and wrap it around a finger once or twice while you knot the now separated ends of whichever side you didn’t wrap.

    The idea is basically the same as for a pop twist, but you don’t have to go to the trouble of making ear twists. Like anything else, it takes practice. After you do it enough times, you’ll get to where you skip the A-B-C-D twist and just go for the middle and snap! You do not have to have any bubbles for this to work – just pinch the balloon between your fingers or finger and palm of each hand to prevent any air from escaping. I looks really COOL !!!! and I always get ooooohs because it looks like you did something great! Plus you get a nice POP for extra drama (you don’t get the pop if you just twist and pull the balloon apart the Marvin Hardy way). It is really fun to hand one of the inflated halves of the balloon to someone and ask them to hold it. Of course, they can never grab it in time and it deflates leaving you with a great opportunity for humor.

  • I learned how to tear off a remainder of a balloon from “Hats all Folks,” a John Holmes video. The technique involves holding the sculpture in your left hand with your left thumb and forefinger holding the point where you wish to break it. Pinch the remainder with your right thumb and forefinger with your thumbnail digging in to the balloon. SNAP your hands apart. You will have an open nozzle in each hand. I release the remainder and tie off the part I want to keep, then reinflate the remainder if I want to re-use it. It’s a lot easier than it sounds. The key is to snap it rapidly.
  • I showed Tom Myers the technique referred to in the paragraphs above and he shook his head saying “No… like this” as he showed me a refined version of the method, making it ABSOLUTELY NO EFFORT AT ALL to break the balloon in half. I was so surprised when I first did it his way that I almost burst out laughing. He perfected the technique for a trick where he breaks the balloon in two behind his back. Anyway, here’s the trick: Balloon inflated tight, not burped or soft; grip the balloon with fingers over, index fingers side by side and touching each other. Then as you press your thumbs in (squeezing the balloon against your index fingers) move them apart, letting the friction between the balloon and your thumbs stretch the balloon wall lengthwise (and here’s the trick) until it is fully taut and you exhaust its ductility. Then like magic the balloon is just two pieces which don’t even leak any air because you’ve got the broken ends pinched off. It is simply amazing. See the next section for uses.
  • I use yet another technique to separate a balloon in two inflated halves. Fully inflate a 260 and tie it off. Pinch it with both hands at the point you want the break. Keep your thumbs right next each other and push outward with your thumbs. The pressure of your thumbs as they separate will break the balloon. With practice you can do it really fast and it makes a great effect to break a balloon over your knee and wind up with 2 fully inflated halves.
  • How to tear apart a pencil balloon: Use a fully inflated 260, but do not make it tight. Always remember that balloons are weakest where they are widest. In other words, a filled balloon breaks easier than an unfilled one. Duh! But what I am trying to say is DON’T TWIST IT. A lot of people try to pull a balloon apart at a twist. By twisting it, you are concentrating the balloon’s whole strength at one spot. I grasp the balloon between the thumb and forefinger of each hand. My thumbs are curved down, as if to give a really vicious pinch. This flattens the balloon at each spot, between the tip of the thumb and the side of the forefinger, leaving the latex still expanded. It also seals in the air. Next, I use a front to back scissors motion to break the balloon. Sort of like a “rubbing our hands together” motion. The motion is always perpedicular to the flattened side Try this in front of you, until you become proficient. I have noticed that the more air trapped in the flattened bubble between your thumbs, the louder the pop. I always put the balloon behind me, and grunt like it takes effort to pull it through my body, to cover the snap.
  • I have read lots of references lately to using part of a balloon, tying off and then discarding the rest. How do you do this without uninflating the part you want to get rid of?
  • There are a number of ways to do this… some twisters carry scissors just for this purpose (the little tiny Swiss Army Knives with scissors are great for this). Depending on the amount to discard, you can tie a knot first, then cut off the rest (this works well when using only a small portion of the balloon, such as, for eyes). Some people just tear off the extra piece with their finger nail, or with their teeth. Most of the time I will cut off the end, allow the extra portion to deflate, tie it off well, then cut off and discard the rest of the extra portion (the part not needed). Many times these “discarded” pieces can be used for other figures, or portions thereof.
  • About finger nails, I’ve got a “long” thumb nail and a “long” middle finger nail (right hand) to break off and cut off my balloons.

Tearing Thru the Body

  • I do a trick that Tom Myers showed me; one balloon behind your back passes _thru_ your body, up both sides to your head, then shoots off in 2 directions… I think it’s described in his “Giant Tazmanian Man-eating Devil” book.
  • Tom writes: You know, I’m not sure where the balloon through the body came from. I use it as part of my running gag/routine The Giant Tazmanian Maneating Devil and it is described in the booklet by the same name. It is also described in the book Life On The Living Room Circuit from which came the running gag. People were buying the book just to get the Taz Routine so I printed the routine up separately and sold it for less. It’s entirely possible that I came up with this balloon through the body but I’m not so sure that I would lay claim to it.My logo (me 10 years ago) is a picture of me in the middle of doing the balloon through the neck. In the trick, your hands are obviously holding the ends of a 260 broken in half. This is especially clear in the logo. What is not clear in the logo is that it is a trick.

    There are a couple of things that make the trick work.

    1. The ability to break a balloon behind your back without the audience knowing you’ve broken it. I have a theory about the balloon being easiest to break at it’s weakest point. How to easily push your thumbs through a wide spot in a 260 is described in the books. This method breaks the balloon without much motion and alows you to hold the ends without losing air.
    2. The effect. The motions are:
      1. Show full 260.
      2. Place 260 behind back held in the center by both hands with the 260 ends sticking out both sides. Secretly break and hold the balloon in the center.
      3. The hands keep their hold of the center of the 260. The hands then start sliding around your body toward the front, still holding the same spot of the balloon (of course it is broken but the audience doesn’t know so it looks weird).
      4. The hands meet in the center front of the body with the balloon apparently still in one piece.
    3. A set up. If you say “I’m going to pull this balloon through my body” the audience would figure out what you are doing before you are done. To keep them off balance, I call this The Incredible Stretching Balloon. Some of the audience actually believe I am stretching the balloon around myself until I pull my hands away from the front. If they thought I was telling the truth and I was stretching the balloon, then by pulling my hands out from the front, I must have pulled the stretched balloon all the way through myself. – But wait, he’s still standing there and there’s no blood. He tricked me. Why the…. How’s he going to get out of this. Oh, he’s making fun of himself. Ok, ok, that was funny.
    4. A blow off. You can’t put the balloon back together so this trick is missing final proof and is really a bit. A 5 year old can figure out what you did. I hold the ends together and pull it away from my body and hold it up with both hands pretending it is still one balloon. Usually I get this moment of silence or a couple of kids going “you’ve got 2” – It takes most of the audience a second to figure out what happened and just as they do I go from TA DA to WHAT? with the balloons accidently coming apart. Then I play with the balloons sticking out of my head and end up letting them go. I decide where they go. The change from TA DA to 260 sticking out of my eyes and ears then flying off is cause for laughter and applause.There’s some funny stuff you can do having the balloons go in and come out different directions. If you can pretend the balloon is actually going through you (without screaming in pain) it can be quite funny.

Tools for cutting a pencil balloon

  • If you are having trouble with tearing apart a pencil balloon, take a look at the Implements of Destruction section for a list of tools that twisters use.

General Twisting Tips

  • Don’t be limited by the belief that the length of one balloon makes a difference. You can add another balloon anyplace there is a knot or a twist. If you run out of balloon before you run out of creativity, deflate the balloon to the last twist, tie a knot, add another balloon, and continue. Two 350Q’s make a 3-100.
  • There have been three hurdles I have had to overcome so far.
    1. I limited myself to one balloon figures for about three years. It was a real awakening to realize that I could use more than one balloon.
    2. I thought I had to use the whole balloon. So many figures are much better using only a part of the balloon, like the frog, ear rings and finger ring, and wrist corsage or lapel flower.
    3. I thought I had to start at the front – nose or head to make animal figures. The Unicorn, the Rhino, and a number of other figures are so much better if you start at the tail.
  • Unicorn – I remember one I thought was impressive (topologically) and I think it may have been by Scott Davis where it was a horse with an ear twisted tail brought back to connect to the head to make a horn and you did a pop twist to separate the head from the tail. It got me thinking that you don’t always have to think linearly when making balloon sculptures. I also know someone who adds a horn (can be a different color) to a horse.
  • Mike Decker says to use that one extra balloon, it will make the customers seek you out among all the other Balloon Benders
  • Let your imagination and your creativity fly. They are the only limitations you have.
  • A wise man once said, “I can make 300 balloon animals – all of them dogs.” There’s some truth to this statement. Elongate the neck, and you’ve got a giraffe. Twist a pair of bubbles in the middle of the giraffe, and you’ve got a camel. Make a dog with long ears, short front legs and longer back legs, stuff the forelegs into the back legs, and you’ve got a rabbit sitting down. Your imagination can take it from there.
  • It is the smoothness of the performance that counts. If people are entertained by your performance, whether the figure you make is basic or detailed, the figure you end up with will not matter.
  • Always twist in the same direction. So, if you switch hands, you need to switch directions as well to ensure that all the twists are still in the same direction.
  • My figures (although not as intricate as others) follow a rule of “less is more.” I guess it’s because of my origami background. I remember Robert Harbin, an origami expert who also invented the famous Zig Zag Girl Magic Illusion telling me that it is not necessary to “go crazy” with folds. I let the eye, brain and imagination to “fill in the rest.” I am not trying to duplicate exactly (clone) the popular characters but rather to emulate them.
  • If the balloons are popping too quickly, here are three ideas:
    • Don’t leave your balloons in the car or anywhere warm.
    • When you blow them up, let a little more air out of the balloon before you tie it.
    • Don’t tie your knots so tight.
  • I just started doing 6 petal flowers, and at first I popped every one. But I just kept trying and have finally started getting the “feel” of it. I had a local clown suggest that putting the flower down by your thigh and NOT LOOKING at it helps and I found that when I did this it worked! Yesterday I did my first event where I did this flower and only popped two in three hours of twisting. Pull the petal bundles slightly apart as you twist them.
  • A few years ago, I saw a very skilled balloon twister making cartoon-y figures. His figures were of the more ‘quick and dirty’ variety, (meaning they incorporated fewer balloons and less details) but somehow the quick figures all still managed to convey the identity of the character he was aiming for. I purchased his sylvester, and took it home to disect it. I never could get it right… I could do the twists, match the colors, and view the proportions, but my best attempts looked more like an anamaniac than sylvester. Time passed, and I began to become familiar with the work of another twister, Royal Sorrell. I learned that the difference is in the subtle proportions. How long are the head/ brow lines, how large are the eyes, how are the pupils drawn, how do you give the cheek/ whisker area it’s recognizable shape? These are the very proportions you must understand to create well-known figures.
  • If 260’s are breaking, let more air out before tying the neck and work them soft. Fresh 260’s can make a difference but every batch is slightly different. It’s unavoidable to break a bunch before you get comfortable with the handling of the 260’s. You can know all the twists, but it’s still just time before you can handle the balloon in a way that shows it who’s boss. Also, make sure you’re using a good quality balloon.
  • Need a longer 260? Fully inflate the balloon and tie it off. Then holding it in one hand; run your hand down the entire length of the balloon to stretch it out.
  • How to make those squeeze stress relieving balloons: I believe that they are good quality (ie, the “helium” quality) decorator balloons, full of beach sand (or maybe styrofoam pellets, or even split peas). If you can’t see a knotted nozzle, then they are made of two balloons, one filled with sand and placed into a second balloon so that the nozzles face different directions. The outer balloon’s nozzle is then cut off w/o tying. They are often printed. Best thing to do is just to go to the mall, buy a few and cut them open.
  • Wally Leslie got on TV by twisting with his feet.

Minimizing the Deflation Rate

  • When twisting, if you work with a tight balloon and keep bubbles as tight as possible the figure looks better, longer.
  • I find that greater pressure in any balloon does give it better longevity. However, they are also more prone to pop in the hands of ruffians, leading to higher attrition rates.
  • There are so many variables in dealing with balloons (thickness, imperfections, temperature, pressure, etc.) that unless you have a test lab to work with, all you have are *perceived* variations and conjecture. O.K., I perceive what appears to be a faster rate of deflation in balloons with more twists than in balloons with few or no twists. Scratch theory #1 that the balloon is stretched thinner at the twists. Hum… O.K., how about “twisting bubbles tends to increase pressure in that area/ bubble, thereby increasing rate of deflation due to combination of membrane stretched thinner (in body of bubble, away from twist), and increased pressure.” Practical experience: bear ears tend to deflate faster than sides of head (due to higher pressure in tighter twist?) Or is it just that the ears *appear* to deflate faster due to relatively smaller size/ volume? Also the rate of deflation appears to vary. Ever notice how most sculptures tend to *droop* relatively quickly, and then stay slumped for far longer than the initial rate of deflation would indicate. I conjecture that as gas escapes, the balloon contracts, membrane/ walls thicken and reduce rate of deflation.
  • Insight into soft and hard bubbles? O.K…. when they are soft the rubber/ color is thicker/ darker than hard/ pressurized/ stretched-thin bubbles, therefore making them harder to *insight* into. (sorry, couldn’t resist.)
  • You can make a specific bubble (any bubble, not just ear twists) take more abuse by giving it more rubber. Twist the bubble larger than you need then untwist just enough to squeeze some air out of the bubble. The idea is to get the same size bubble with more rubber.

I’m Not Looking!

  • Here’s a tip that Marvin shared at IBAC – practice twisting figures blindfolded – entirely by feel. Then you won’t have to watch what you’re doing and can always be making eye contact with your audience….
  • I recommend that you practice making balloon figures blindfolded – not blindfolded balloon figures. Once you can make a good figure without looking at hour hands, you will be able to maintain constant eye contact with your audience. When you do that, each figure seems to appear as if by magic.
  • Rehearse everything you do in front of a mirror. When you can perform a trick well enough to fool the person in the mirror you are ready to do it for the public.
  • I like to watch my audience more than my twisting, so I usually inflate without looking, by feel. An easy measurement for sizes is using your hands, fingers etc. for different measurements, for example, the width of my fist, across the palm is about 4″. If I hold the end of the uninflated balloon in my left hand, in a fist, with the tip just at the left (little finger) side and inflate it, I know I will wind up with a 4″ uninflated tail. To the audience it looks as though I am stretching the balloon, while I am really just moving my hand away as I blow. I can feel the pressure change as the inflated section approaches the fist. Want 7″? For me, width of fist with thumb extended.
  • Was it Roger Seigel who in his book shows you how to blow up two 260’s at once, tie one handed knots, and then twist a complete poodle in each hand without ever bringing your hands together? Now that’s impressive!
  • I heard about one guy who twisted behind his back. I have done it several times and the kids get a kick out of it!
  • Ken “Flash” Stillman and I did a routine for the instructor’s night show at the W.R.C.A. convention last November. Competing twisting balloons, inside a laundry bag, blindfolded, with thumb-cuffs on. Ken won.
  • Creating balloons behind your back was a popular idea in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Street performers, birthday performers (who even had contests by giving out balloons to a line of kids.)

Practice, Practice, Practice

  • Just a quick word about practice and how many balloons per person. There was a very famous pianist – Paderewski – who once said — If I miss practice for one day, I know it. If I miss practice for two days, my critics know it. If I miss practice for three days, my public knows it. I practice a lot.
  • The general phrase “USE IT OR LOSE IT” applies to balloons as well. You will not lose it completely – it’s like riding a bike. But you will lose (and have to work to regain) some of your sharpness and speed. I don’t practice hardly at all because I am always working. That hurts me in the sense that I am not coming up with new ideas like I should. I do come up with some new ideas that customers request, if I can visualize it I will try it, but I need to spend more time coming up with actual balloon ideas myself. I’ve advanced my art greatly from the Balloon HQ list and the Guide backed by lots of practice and personal fine tuning.
  • When I practice at home, I usually make it a point to sit out on the front porch and this usually attacts enough of the neighborhood kids to take care of most of my balloons (both successful and not so successful). I have lived in the same place for about 10 years and the kids will usually spot me as soon as I start. I have even got a few of the kids really interested in twisting and they practice with me and learn the art. This gives a lot of satisfaction.
  • Being a relatively new twister, I am doing a great deal of practice sessions. I usually do them at a local bar, or restaurant. I have a few places that I go to often enough that I am considered a “regular”. This is where I go to practice. The wait staff knows me on sight, and they don’t mind me making a large number of balloon creations. They usually snag many of them for their own kids. I’ve found that a bar, rather than a restaurant, works better for this. They are used to having someone tie up a table for several hours, and I usually have other patrons wandering by who will ask for a special creation. I often wind up leaving the bar with several drinks in me and more money in my pocket than I started with…

Create, Create, Create

  • How do you all come up with new creations or make an animal without directions??
  • A lot of my stuff came by accident. While making something else, I’ll look at a step and say ” gee that looks like a ….” and I’ll file it away in my brain. Think about the shape and direction that you want the balloon to go. A lot of things are based on other things. All birds seem to start the same.
  • Creating new or different sculptures can be as hard as you want to make it. Mike Decker once told me that things grow from something else. I had made a love bug to demonstrate decorating technique, but he saw a turtle in it. There are only so many twists, no matter what you call them. There are many ways to put them together. This is starting to sound like Mike’s Comedy College lecture. As for myself, I sometimes get an idea, and it doesn’t turn out right. My wife will say “that looks like a….” And I will reply, “not much, but lets do this to it!” Practice brainstorming techniques. Ever really looked at clouds to see what they reminded you of? Let your mind go, but don’t force it. You may be pleasantly surprised. It may even come back on it’s own.
  • Take a look at what you’re doing and upgrade it somehow. It’s my experience that people will PAY for quality and novelty.
  • Britain’s Christopher Horne CBA told me that every Wednesday evening he religiously spends 2-3 hours locked in his workshop “playing” with balloons and ideas. The great Marvin Hardy inflates a gross of 260Qs and “experiments” every night before bed. They are dedicated to their profession and their art. We don’t all have to become Christophers or Marvins, but we all need to keep looking for new techniques and experimenting. It’s your business – your creativity – your talent – your responsibility – and the good part….. Your money when it’s sold!
  • First of all PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Start with variations on figures you know how to do. I also use a kind of brainstorming technique. I start twisting random twists. For one thing, it helps to develop my technique, and sometimes I get stuff that starts to look good. I then continue on that idea, and see if I can develop something out of it.
  • There are some basic “parts” you can combine. e.g. A head can be either a 3bubble-birdbody or a 4bubble birdbody. Arms and legs can be done with a separate balloon or a pinch ‘n pop series. A hook in a balloon can be made by making a pinch twist., a foot is a loop plus a pinch twist, and so on…
  • If you develop a number of basic “forms,” you can adapt and combine these to make new creations. It is a trick I learned from doing origami. It also has a number of basic forms, which are used for different figures. I use the same technique for making many of my “technological” creations… The same basic form can become a Colonial Viper or an X-wing fighter, or a different spacecraft altogether, even a racecar.
  • Luck also has something to do with it. As I am twisting something, turning it round and so on, I just might accidently come up with something you could use for another creation. The trick of course, is to remember it.
  • I love my books and I review them all faithfully every 2 months or so. I have not yet bought a book that I didn’t learn something from-even the simplest of books had something for me. If I buy a $10 book and get one creation that I will eventually do a thousand times–that easily translates into a thousand or so dollars–and seems worth it to me.
  • Woah, you’re asking where does the fountain of creativity spring from? Now, I’ve been ballooning for… years really, but it’s only recently, within these past 6 months or so that I’ve been doing it for “work” that it’s really… uh… blown up.When I first started really getting in to it I would think balloons, eat balloons, breath balloons, and sleep balloons. Anyone taking that literally, try biting your ear for a half an hour. I would literally lay down at night and think about what could be possibly made and how to make it. Usually my best designs came in unexpected places. I suddenly realized how to do Jar Jar Binks in the middle of programming class. I created taz in the middle of a boring sermon at church. (Don’t tell my bishop.) Not that I had balloons at either one of these places, but I wrote down my ideas and tried them the moment I got to my balloons. Usualy it didn’t work, not the first time, but I kept playing with it, then tried it out at restaurants, the showed it to other balloonists. Then they showed me how to improve them.

    I’ve created other things, but it needs to be an obsession. See a movie and think, I could do a balloon from that. See a TV show and think, I could do that. See a kids lunch box and say, I could do that. Go to the zoo and think, I could do that. Then do it. You’ll probably spend a bag or two worth of balloons trying out new ideas, but that’s just the way it is. Any balloonist at any time will have no less than 1 balloon creation in their house in any level of deflation at all times. It’s a rule, read the FAQ. You gotta be a balloon freak. Then, and only then will the muses grant you inspiration.

  • Here are a few of my (Ralph Dewey) thoughts on creating new and original balloon ideas. There are several ways that I approach the issue. Some of my first ideas came from attempts to improve an existing sculpture. By trial and error, I would keep modifying and changing parts until I had an improved version. Ideas can also come by accident or by suggestions from the crowd. Several times when the audience was watching me work, they would comment that they thought I was going to make something else. For the sake of an example, let’s say I was making a swan. About midway into it, they thought that I was making a butterfly. Later on I would use that spark of an idea to attempt making a new style butterfly. I remember one situation where I was making a flower and my daughter told me it looked like a turtle. It did look a little like one. So I gave up the flower idea and I tweaked on it until I had a good looking turtle.I have found that some days the creative juices are not flowing. I can experiment for hours and nothing comes forth. But every once in a while the new ideas coming flooding out. On those days, I try to ride the crest of creativity until it quits. I quickly write the ideas up and make some rough drawings. If I don’t, I may not be able to remember them later. Usually those new ideas will need to be tweaked and modified until I’m happy with them. I strive to make them realistic looking and I also try to make them the easiest way possible.

    Making the balloon creations repeatedly helps me discover the most efficient way to construct them. Often I go after a creation from scratch. For a visual stimulus, I get a picture, a coloring book or a simple graphic of something and deliberately try to make it. Often I’m able to piece it together from previous ideas. The feet may get borrowed from one of my sculptures. The head is basically like another design and so forth and so on. Several of my one-balloon human designs are similar. For example, the astronaut, the peg-legged pirate and the knight all have the same basic body structure. Having a lot of previous designs to draw from makes it easier to create new balloon animals.

    I’ve found out that cute animals are often the most admired by the public. I recently designed a great looking bike, but it was an inanimate object. People don’t equate it with a likeable personality like they would a dog, cat or bunny. Adding a cute bear to ride the bike would make it more appealing to the crowd.

    One-balloon creations are usually more difficult to come up with than multiple ones. The benefit of the multiple ones is that they can be pieced together. If one part pops or deflates, often you can repair it. A one-balloon creation, on the other hand, may not be able to be repaired. Sometimes one-balloon creations require precise planning to end up with the correct amount of balloon. Having too much or too little balloon toward the end means that it’s not going to work out. Remember the balloon artist’s motto, “Plan ahead.”

    Some people have a God-given creative talent, but most do not. However, I have seen lots of people develop a certain amount of creativity by immersing themselves into the art of ballooning.

  • When I create something new, I make the item any way I can. Then I analyze it and see where it can be simplified. My goal is to create a recognizable character quickly and easily. A lot of times I will see that less is more. Allow the mind to “fill in the blanks.” Minimalist attitude works best for me. Those of you who have my AIRNIMATIONS tape know what I’m talking about. Although the figures look complicated, they are not. My balloon lecture has a section on creating new figures.
  • Using the large variety of twists (standard bubbles, loops, pinch twists, split pinch twists, tulips twists, roll thru’s, inserts, pop twists, weaving, spirals, coils, etc, in various sizes and combinations, you can do virtally almost anything thought of in a balloon creation.First of all, why limit yourself to just one size balloon? or even one type? Balloons come in several sizes of pencil or twisty type balloons, and also Geo-blossoms, Geo-donuts, hearts, and also rounds. Even more types out there waiting to be discovered. How ’bout it: noses, lips, eyes, ears, elbows, knees, hands, feet, or even a spacer to keep that balloon from folding over (or to make it fold over). Take a pinch twist and slit it into 2 bubbles same size or different sizes from another and it makes even better hands (it’s now got a thumb). Tulip twisting a balloon makes a nose/ nostrils, eyes, headlight, smoke-stack, base of a sword handle, or even the barrel of a laser pistol. A roll thru makes a body, head, or limb larger than a single balloon would. Take that roll thru and not just make three equal bubbles, but combine a two or more bubble combo on one or more sides of a roll thru to make legs on a body of a bug, fins on a fish, or bony plates on a dinosaur. Inserts not only can make meatballs inside a puppy but make a great toy just by itself. They also make a tail of a rattlesnake, googlely eyeballs, or an unseparated insert can make a head inside a space helmet. Taking several balloons and basket weaving make your possibilities endless. Taking two balloons or just a folded one and spiraling it can make a mermaid tail or just another part of that BIG goofey hat. The same idea could be done with three balloons and braiding them. Last on the list that I can think of is take a balloon and just make a tight coil around itself locking it together by the tail, tying the axle or another balloon to make a snail shell, a big bicycle wheel, or the control module to the starship enterprise.

    These are just a few ideas, experiment, look at balloon pictures and see what could you improve upon, or look at an animal and see what body part looks like what balloon twist or combo of twists. Even if the balloon doesn’t look like what your trying to d, it might be the beginings of another creation (my first failed attempts at a frog turned into a really great looking monkey with minimal adjustments).

Cheat Sheet

  • I carry what I call a “cheat sheet” with me. I don’t do balloons many balloons on a daily basis and I can’t remember all of the twist, of all of the figures/hats/etc that I know how to do. So what I did was make up a data base, easy to sort, on my computer to keep track of them. The name of the item is in one field and the description is in the second field. I have made up a code to remind myself how to make a particular item. This is not a set of instructions for the figure, but just the basics to jog my memory. It shows the bubble sizes needed to make and item but not how to put them together to make the figure. You still need to remember how to make the item. The list is also VERY handy to look at when I can’t think of anything “different” to make, as it reminds me of all of the things that I can make.The first number ie. 8, is the number of inches of balloon to leave uninflated. This is usually the part for me that is the hardest to remember, especially if I haven’t make it for a while.

    The following numbers represent the size of the bubble to twist and the order to twist them in. I rarely make 5″ bubbles so for this chart 5 equals a 1/2″ bubble and 15 equals a 1.5″ bubble. This made for a shorter “code”.

    The letters after the numbers indicate if that particular bubble is an ear twist, fold twist etc.

    Here are some examples of some of the items on my list. I used simple ones that you probably know.

    • Poodle 8, 1-5-15-5-1-1-5-5-1-3-1-5-5-1
    • Deer 8, 1-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-2-3-3-3-3-3
    • Squirrel 6, 1-5e-1-5e-1-15-5-5-15-1e-3-2f-2f
    • Peas in a Pod Balloon seeds in a green 260
    • Hat – Spike 3 straight balloons twisted in middle of top of helmet hat

    I placed the following “ledger” in the footer of the database to remind me again. f = fold, t = toe, e = ear, h = hook, p = pop, tu = tulip, bb = bird body

Twisting Balloons 101

The first half of this chapter is called Twisting Balloons 101.


MB 12/21/95
LM 7/31/96
SKB 12/01/96
SKB 01/06/97
SKB 02/11/98
LM 02/17/99
SMB 09/14/00


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