Back to School Project: Favorite-Animal Lunchboxes

Posted by jdg | Friday, September 06, 2013

My wife puts a note in our daughter's lunch every day. Our eldest still has some anxiety about school, and the notes are always written to help her conquer some of her challenges, to let her know how proud we are of her. They are really sweet. This year my son is going to school every day for the first time ever. I'm going to miss them both. I really wanted to make something for him and his sister that would be something like a note from me that they could see every day. So last week I decided to make them lunch boxes decorated with their favorite animals. It is only a matter of time before they get teased into shame over stuff like this, but until then. . .

My unwavering daughter chose a pheasant and a fox (she's been both animals for Halloween). After carving the images into the leather, I added dye and a protective finish, deciding to leave the rest of it natural. On the back I added a fox pocket for mom's notes. 

My favorite thing about making stuff like this myself is designing it for exactly what we need. My kids eat a yogurt cup with every lunch so I put a little leather ring that for that specific purpose in the corner, and a little leather band with velcro to hold a freezer pack. I glued an insulating pad inside, and covered it with a piece of 1950s fabric that I think came from the attic of an old farmhouse that's been in our family for generations. While that pointer isn't the exact breed as ours, I thought she'd also like a reminder of her birddog during her day. There were even pheasants on that fabric.

My son's favorite animal is a red-tailed hawk, and has been ever since that impressive experience of watching a red-tailed hawk flying around our living room. His hawk has a little more detail than the pheasant. I adapted it from an illustration in an old nature guide called Exploring Nature With Your Child. The real challenge here was mixing the dyes to get the right coloring for the red-tailed hawk. I added the cloud and shading to make the hawk stand out a bit more. He's about to catch a mouse (but sitting next to me while I worked on this, my son assured me that the mouse actually gets away).

The roots of his love for his other favorite animal aren't quite as deep. We had just returned from a week Up North when I started on this project, and that's where my son saw his first real porcupine. They were at the beach in Northport early one morning and saw a porcupine walk towards them down the pier, cross the playground, and disappear into the woods. What was he doing coming back from the pier? The children concluded he must have had a little boat moored there. My wife made the potentially unwise decision of chasing him with her camera phone:

Picking quills out of his mother's shins might have soured him on the idea of a porcupine. Fortunately that didn't happen and I found myself carving a North American porcupine into the pocket of his lunchbox, singing "Porcupine Racetrack" the whole time:

"I know that I'm a sinner, but I really need a winner, or the orphanage will close. . . so God, if you're above, and it's orphans that you love, then please help the porcupine I chose. . ." (Sorry, I just went back and watched that clip like six times).

I let him choose some of vintage fabric for the inside of his box. It was an easy choice:

I hand sewed everything while watching baseball (and will probably go back to complete those running stitches this week). I'd never worked with zippers before, so that was kind of a challenge. Initially I thought I'd use zippers from some old sweatshirts or something, but my wife explained I could buy new zippers at a fabric store and she dragged me to one (I fear fabric stores: So much fleece! So many notions!) I was able to find some that were the perfect size and the color even matched the heavy brown veg-tanned leather I used for the back and sides of the lunchboxes! I might even go back to the fabric store to buy some kind of spill proof plastic fabric to put on the inside, depending on how they hold up these first few weeks. The handles are just heavy latigo straps attached to rings.

It felt strange working on such a practical project for them (but then again, I could have bought them lunchboxes for like five bucks, so I guess I don't need to worry about being too practical). Don't worry about me, though: I'm already getting back to work on the extremely impractical projects that kept me busy all summer.