How to Make Leather Juggling Balls

These are Peter Billam's suggestions for making the most personal and the prettiest juggling balls in the universe. The dodecahedral pattern is how balls were made in ancient Greece. Modern footballs are made in a similar way, though they have more faces and are reinforced with a bladder inside.
These balls as I make them are stuffed with linseed and don't bounce; I'm not sure how well they would stand up to being used in a bat-and-ball game as I've never tried - in my opinion they're far too beautiful to be hit around in the dirt. They are vulnerable to sharp objects, and to moisture. They can also get scuffed by rough surfaces. If filled tightly, they have a stage-ball feel, nothing like a bean-bag.
The patterns are written in Postscript. I find Postscript a very useful language, and write a lot of it:
  • Muscript is my music typesetting program, which produces Postscript output
  • I use Muscript to typeset my own musical compositions and arrangements
  • All the logo gifs and background gifs for my web site are from Postscript originals.
You are welcome to redistribute these patterns and instructions in any way you choose, and to use them to make juggling balls to sell if you wish :-)


Leather is available tanned in all sorts of bright colours, or you can use your old boot-leather for an extra-personal set. My favourite colours are red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet, together with white, black and various shades of brown.
Use leather about 1 mm - 2 mm in thickness; every face in a ball should be from leather with the same stiffness. It looks great to have different colours of leather, so the different leathers have to be selected to have the same thickness and flexibility. The patterns with few faces, like the Tetrahedra and especially the Two-piece balls, need some stretchability to get the right shape, and are especially fussy about the leather of the different faces being matched.

Colour Schemes

Two-piece balls (like a tennis ball or baseball) need two contrasting colours.
Tetrahedral (4-sided) balls look best with four different colours. Because each face is so large, the spectator quite often gets the impression that the ball only has one colour, so these can give more the impression of a ball that changes colour, rather than just a multi-coloured ball.
Cubic (6-sided) balls are at their best with three colours, arranged so that no side has a neighbour of the same colour.
Octahedral (8-sided) balls are great with two contrasting colours in a chequered pattern.
Dodecahedral (12-sided) balls are interesting. They look very good with four different colours arranged so that no side has a neighbour of the same colour. This would illustrate the Four-Colour theorem except that the Four-Colour theorem applies to maps on a plane rather than maps on a sphere; still, it refers to it. The four-colour patterns have chirality, though it is not obvious at first glance; it can be seen by pairing the four colours into two groups of two.
But there are also some interesting dodecahedral two-colour patterns:
  • Five-fold rotational symmetry arises with one face of colour A at the top surrounded by five faces of colour B, and one face of colour B at the bottom surrounded by five faces of colour A.
  • Three-fold rotational symmetry arises with a patch of three faces of colour A at the top, a patch of three faces of colour A at the bottom, and a belt of six faces of colour B around the equator.
  • Two intertwining spirals of six faces can give a pattern with chirality, either left-handed or right-handed. This can be derived from the four-colour pattern by pairing the colours, and so the four-colour patterns also have chirality, though this is not obvious at first glance.
With three colours, three separate two-fold reflectional symmetries arise if each colour is arranged in two opposite patches of two faces each.

Dodecahedral balls also have an excellent six-colour pattern; the two faces of each colour are placed opposite each other, and whichever angle the ball is viewed from, all six colours are visible.
Icosahedral (20-sided) balls look best with five different colours arranged so that no face even touches vertices with a face of the same colour.


These patterns have the faces bulged out slightly, so that the corners meet flat, and the ball comes out with as spherical a shape as possible. Even the "cube", with just six faces, comes out spherical enough for contact juggling - the diameter is constant within +/- 1.5 mm. Only the "tetrahedron", with just four faces, is too lumpy for contact juggling; it has a shape a bit like an egg with four ends. It's a smooth shape, it feels good in the hand, and is very jugglable - but it's not spherical. The "two-piece" pattern is fussy about its leather; if the stretchability is exactly right it can be very smooth and round.
Patterns are available in Postscript and PDF for
  • Two-piece ball (like a tennis ball or baseball), 50 mm diameter, 55 gram ball, 2 faces, 1 seam, 76 stitches, in Postscript or PDF
  • Two-piece ball, 55 mm diameter, 75 gram ball, 2 faces, 1 seam, 84 stitches, in Postscript or PDF
  • Two-piece ball, 60 mm diameter, 95 gram ball, 2 faces, 1 seam, 92 stitches, in Postscript or PDF
  • Two-piece ball, 65 mm diameter, 115 gram ball, 2 faces, 1 seam, 100 stitches, in Postscript or PDF
  • Tetrahedron, 60 mm diameter, 90 gram ball, 4 faces, 6 seams, 102 stitches, in Postscript or PDF
  • Cube, 60 mm diameter, 90 gram ball, 6 faces, 12 seams, 108 stitches, in Postscript or PDF
  • Cube, 65 mm diameter, 115 gram ball, 6 faces, 12 seams, 120 stitches, in Postscript or PDF
  • Octahedron, 64 mm diameter, 110 gram ball, 8 faces, 12 seams, 144 stitches. Postscript or PDF
  • Dodecahedron, 60 mm diameter, 90 gram ball, great for four and especially five and above, 12 faces, 30 seams, 180 stitches, in Postscript orPDF
  • Dodecahedron, 64 mm diameter, 110 gram ball, great for juggling three and four, 12 faces, 30 seams, 180 stitches, in Postscript or PDF
  • Dodecahedron, 70 mm diameter, 135 gram ball, great for juggling three, 12 faces, 30 seams, 180 stitches, in Postscript or PDF
  • Icosahedron, 70 mm diameter, 135 gram ball, great stage ball, extremely colourful, fiddly to make, a real prestige object, 20 faces, 30 seams, 270 stitches, in Postscript or PDF
Save the pattern to disc (Shift-Click in Netscape) and print it out at will.
Then, glue the pattern to the back of the leather with a light glue (like a glue-stick for paper), and dry pressed flat. Pierce the holes with an awlaccurately in the centre of each dot. For each face, cut out with sharp heavy scissors down the centre of the line, and peel the paper away from the leather.
The Two-piece pattern has some holes marked with little circles; these align the two pieces when sewing, so put the first thread through two alignment holes before peeling off the paper.


Sew using waxed thread and two needles. The seams will end up hidden inside the ball, but you can start inside-out until the last couple of faces. Stitch in lengths of one, two, or three seams and then tie off with a surgeon's knot (see picture). Always pull tight as you go; keep everything evenly tight, and check the seam is straight. If the seam crinkles up when you pull tight, jiggle it back straight again before continuing.
With a couple of faces to go, turn the ball right-side-out while you still can, and stitch everything up except for the very last seam by folding the ball so that the seam you are working on sticks out. Pull tight as you go. If you fold the ball right, you shouldn't be forced to pull tight with one thread over the end of a thumb held inside the ball.


The last seam is more complicated because the filling process takes place during it, and because it has to be pulled tight and tied off from outside.
Use one thread as usual, but make it a much longer thread. Start sewing normally, pulling tight as you go, until the remaining lips of unsewn leather are just big enough to admit the small plastic funnel; then pre-thread the remaining holes loose, with a lot of slack in the loops between the lips. This leaves just two ends exposed and ready to pull on later.
Insert a small plastic funnel between the loops and through the lips, and pour the filling in. Ram the last bit in with the blunt end of a pencil with two blunt ends. Ram lots in - the leather should be stretched, inflated.
Then pull the thread ends till the loops have no slack, remove the funnel and keep pulling. When the last seam is tight and looks the same as the other seams, tie off the ends in a reef knot, and poke the knots and the stray ends inside the ball to make them as invisible as possible.
For filling, birdseed (unhulled) millet is commonly used, though the seeds slowly crumble making the ball gradually softer; also, some people are allergic to millet. Sesame seeds are longer-lasting, but linseed is the best of the seeds. Crushed walnut shell is still more hard-wearing and moisture-resistant; it is sold in pet stores as "bedding" for birds and hamsters, and is also used in place of sand as an abrasive for sand-blasting. Rice is too heavy and is not durable. Plastic pellets are completely moisture-resistant, but I prefer juggling with the feel of the natural materials.
Your first few balls will take you about a day each, it speeds up after that.

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Another tutorial

Making Round Beanbags

external image bbag.jpg

If you can use a sewing machine, you can make nice looking, durable, spherical beanbags to suit your personal taste. These instructions are intended for those with little sewing experience. The author had next to none until he learned to make beanbags for himself and friends. This document represents what was learned in the process of making 60 or 70 beanbags over the last few years.
You'll need:
  • fabric
  • thread
  • filling material
  • a sewing machine
  • scissors
  • a needle
  • a funnel
  • a small scale (a dietary scale is ideal)
First, choose your fabric. Look at bargain and scrap tables in a fabric store and you'll find a large variety of colors and fabrics at very low prices. If you are going to use more than one color, try to find the same type of cloth or your beanbags will stretch out unevenly. Cotton cloth of moderate thickness works well.
Now prepare your pattern. Here are some patterns. Choose one, print it out, glue it to a piece of tagboard, (the back cover of a spiral-bound notebook works well) and cut it out carefully:
4 panel, 2.25 inch diameter
4 panel, 2.5 inch diameter
4 panel, 3 inch diameter
6 panel, 3 inch diameter
The rest of this document assumes you've chosen a 4 panel pattern. I'll leave the differences between making a 4 panel and 6 panel beanbag as an excercise for the reader. Actually, I've never bothered to make a 6 panel beanbag myself, but it shouldn't be too difficult if you are sew inclined. Sorry about that- ever since I've been juggling, I've had an unexplained attractions to puns.
Next you'll need to trace and cut out your cloth panels. You may want to make only enough for one beanbag at first to see if you've chosen a good size and fabric. If you like the results, make a bunch more. In any case, iron your cloth. Use the cardboard-backed pattern to trace out as many panels as you will need (4 for each beanbag you'll be making) using a felt tipped pen. Cut out the panels of cloth.
Time to sew. Set your sewing machine for a fairly small stitch. Choose a strong thread of a color that will blend well with your cloth. Lay one panel on another, with the surfaces you want on the outside facing each other. In the example shown, the cloth is brown on what will be the inside of the bag and white what will be the outside. Sew a seam 3/8 of an inch from one side of the panel, starting and stopping by doubling back a bit to secure the thread, like this: (the seam is highlighted in blue)
external image bbseam.jpg
Cut off the excess thread, and firmly fold the top panel in half, like this (the seam you've just done is hidden under the fold on the left.)
external image bbfold.jpg
Lay down a third panel and line it up carefully. Use the same method to attach this panel to the piece as you used to stitch the first two together, being careful not to sew past the center of the panel. When you are done, the piece should look like this:
external image bbseam2.jpg
Again, fold a panel over to expose half of the newest panel, lay down the fourth panel and sew it on the same way. Sew the last edge in two seams, doubling back at each end of each seam to secure the thread. Leave a section about 3/4 of an inch long unsewn:
external image bbseam4.jpg
Fold the beanbag so you have equal layers on each side (4 layers of cloth on each side.) Stitch back and forth a few times near where the seams meet. This will ensure that there are no leaks in the ends of the beanbags.
external image bbzigzag.jpg
Next, prepare the bag for filling. Cut off any excess threads, and trim the excess cloth about halfway to the seam (avoiding the thread-securing stitches.) This trimming is optional, but it will help produce a smoother, rounder beanbag:
external image bbtrim.jpg
Turn the bag right-side-out through the gap you left in the final seam. Pushing it from the other side with the eraser end of a pencil works well.
Next, choose your filling. A great choice is finely crushed walnut shells, which you can purchase at gun shops that carry reloading supplies. It's available plain and treated with polish. Do not use the treated type, as your beanbags will leak puffs of waxy dust. Another good source for plain crushed walnut shells is your local pet store. Crushed walnut shells are used for litter in bird cages, and also for lizards. Wouldn't you like to tell people you juggle lizard litter? I thought so. Clean, dry sand works very well if you have a tough fabric and want a heavier beanbag. Another option is bird seed. Millet is a popular choice. Avoid anything with dyed seed, like the bright red seeds in parakeet mix, as the dye will stain your fabric if the balls ever get the least bit damp. Avoid any dusty filling, and stay away from rice, peas and anything else that's likely to mold if it gets damp.
With your funnel, fill the first beanbag to the firmness you prefer. The more tightly you fill it, the more spherical it will be, but tightly packed beanbags also wear out sooner. Loosely filled beanbags are excellent when it comes to catching several in one hand. Those members of our club that have flashed 9 have done so with very loosely filled beanbags. Note that as beanbags break in, they loosen up a bit, so you should fill them just a bit firmer than you really want them to be. Once you have filled the first beanbag, weigh it. Use the scale to ensure that the others you make are filled to the same weight.
Now close the beanbag with the needle and thread. You have one last decision to make. Do you want to spend a little extra time to make an invisible closing seam, or get these done quick with an outside seam?
Generally an outside seam will work fine and be fairly inconspicuous. For the outside seam, run the needle through both adjacent panels with each stitch. The closing seam is usually the first spot to leak on a beanbag, so take your time and tie good knots at both ends of the seam. I like to stitch across the closure in one direction, tie off the thread and then stitch back again.
If you want the invisible seam, each stitch of the needle should go through only one panel and into the bag, forward a bit, then out again. Alternate the stitches between the two panels:
external image bbclose.jpg
When you pull the thread tight (don't overdo it) the two panels will pull together with all the stitches on the inside. Tie a knot, then use the needle to pull the end of the thread inside the beanbag right at the knot.
Juggling the beanbags: Throw and catch as necessary to keep at least one in the air at all times. Seriously, check out the rest of the Coulee Region Jugglers and Unicyclists site for juggling help.