PLIX Inflatables: adventures in beta-testing

In the development of several PLIX activities, we were afforded the opportunity to test out the materials and prompts that we had developed by running in-person playtests with local library partners or with small groups of librarians. These playtests were critical in iterating on our activites, helping to refine learning materials and content that we shared with the broader PLIX community.

Since we aren’t able to deliver IRL workshops right now to experiment with activity components, we’ll be teaming up with librarians from the PLIX community to test out the brand new inflatables activity! :sparkles: :balloon: :robot:

On this thread, you’ll be hearing from the PLIX beta-testing team, who will be sharing reflections about the playtesting process, ideas for refining or creating new learning materials for inflatables, and tinkering with activity prompts and exploring new ones through remixes!

Want to join in on the fun?! Feel free to join the beta-testing team! We’ll be having several meetings between now and the end of March, including “inflatables open hours” to engage in shared making time online with fellow testers. You can find dates and times for these sessions on the onboarding document, which also includes some tips about how and where to get started, and what to share on this thread.


My name is Michelle and I work with Avery as our group’s Sr. Learning Designer at PLIX HQ @ MIT , but IRL I’m in NorCal. (I don’t usually call it that, but in such a string I thought I should :slight_smile: )

I’m excited to try to make a large Doritos Dice.
I’m inspired by goofy humor or the simple, beautiful geometry. My aesthetic meshed well with the Makers who used to come to Maker Faire (where I worked before returning to MIT.)
On that topic, the most unusual inflatable I’ve ever seen were the giant balloon sculptures we had at some MF events, like this dragon by Airgami—a different construction process than what we’re talking about but big and beautiful.

Oh also in a MindFest at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, artist Diane Willow led a project that may have been called “face*lift”, in which attendees crafted very large custom-made mylar shapes which then got filled with helium, making a collection of balloons that in part formed a face. It was a nice addition to their atrium.

For others, here are the questions from Avery!

  • Who are you and where are you from?
  • What are you most excited to create, tinker, or experiment with for inflatables?
  • What inspires your creations?
  • What’s the most unusual inflatable thing you’ve seen?
  • Bonus: Share a photo of your unboxed kit (if you received one)!
  • You can also share any photos of inflatables you’ve tinkered with so far.

HI! My name is Claudia Haines. I live and work in Homer, Alaska (youth services librarian at the Homer Public Library). I am very excited to turn the leftover bags (image) into something beautiful. The bags are from materials I purchased to make Activity to Go kits based on the Space Food zine/prompts. (My son and I made 24 kits today!) Now I want to play with the packaging I would normally be parting with.
Alaskans often joke about how good we are at reusing and repurposing things so that aspect of Inflatables inspires me. I am also fascinated by the animated aspect of what the codesign team made in the Fall.
Hmmm. I haven’t seen many notable inflatables recently.


**Who are you and where are you from? **
Chris Dorman, Maine State Library STEM Librarian.

  • *What are you most excited to create, tinker, or experiment with for inflatables? **
    ALLL THE THINGS! As well as teach others how to create, explore, recycle, and build!

  • *What inspires your creations? **
    What I have available to me be it tools, materials, or my community!

  • *What’s the most unusual inflatable thing you’ve seen? *
    I mean anything filled with air is usually odd… but I love the idea of inflatable furniture. Not the Plastic, easy to pop kind, but rather a couch/lounge that can seat 3 but roll up into your backpack for an overnight hike.

  • *Bonus: Share a photo of your unboxed kit (if you received one)! *
    I mean I would have but I have it strewn all over my office now… sooooooo

  • You can also share any photos of inflatables you’ve tinkered with so far.


Hi Everyone, I’m Tracy from Minnesota, though I lived in the Phoenix area from middle school through college. I work at the Excelsior branch of Hennepin County Library, which includes Minneapolis and its surrounding suburbs. We’re a large library system of 41 branches. I mainly work in Teen and Adult Services, but these days I’ve been doing a bit of everything at my small branch.

I think I’m the most excited about tinkering with a way to use inflatables to move something else. Like maybe it functions to set something else in motion. I am also excited to tinker with autoinflatables.

I’d say that nature inspires my creations.

The most unusual inflatable thing I’ve seen are those Halloween costumes that look like a creature is picking you up.

Bonus Thank you for the AMAZING box of materials!


  • *Who are you and where are you from? *
    Hello! I am Melissa Sprenne. I am the MakerSpace coordinator and a supervisor for Richland Library Ballentine in Columbia, South Carolina.

  • *What are you most excited to create, tinker, or experiment with for inflatables? *
    I love tinkering, so playing around with new-to-me tools and materials is the best part. I’m also a bit obsessed with birds, so I have an image in my head of an inflatable bird thing that I’m going to try my best to create. I also have a passion for inspiring and encouraging playing in everyone’s lives, every day. I hope that this becomes another part of my toolbox to further that endeavour.

  • *What inspires your creations? *
    A lot of my inspiration comes from nature. I have a degree in Biology (emphasis ecology) and am passionate about native plants and the critters those habitats support.

  • *What’s the most unusual inflatable thing you’ve seen? *
    I’ve never seen one in real life, but the male frigatebird is pretty impressive when it’s inflating its throat sac to attract a mate. And hot air balloons have always fascinated me - they seem so stately and majestic as they lift off and move across the sky.

  • *Bonus: Share a photo of your unboxed kit (if you received one)! *
    My kit finally arrived, the afternoon of the onboarding session. Here’s a link to my Google Drive with photos and a video! Best box ever!

  • You can also share any photos of inflatables you’ve tinkered with so far.
    Alas, I have nothing to show currently. As I was attempting to use a woodburning tool during the meeting earlier this week, most of my attempts are very hole-y. :slight_smile: I couldn’t quite get the temperature right and even several sheets of newspaper didn’t quite mitigate the heat transfer. I am looking forward to tinkering with the items in my box! And since there are two irons, maybe encouraging one of my boyfriends to tinker with me!

  • *Who are you and where are you from? *
    Brian Oertel, MakerSpace Facilitator at the Johnson County Library MakerSpace in Kansas.
  • *What are you most excited to create, tinker, or experiment with for inflatables? *
    Still experimenting, haven’t created much beyond a pillow yet. I hope to be inspired by the idea of transformation. I think combining these soft sculptures and technology could be fun.
  • *What inspires your creations? *
    I don’t know… Hopefully I’ll get to the point where I can start getting a feel for the materials and can start creating without ruining the material.
  • *What’s the most unusual inflatable thing you’ve seen? *
    There was an exhibit called “Pneumatopia” that combined inflatable art and AR that was pretty amazing.
  • *A+ on the box and goodies. I didn’t think to take any unboxing photos/videos.

hey there –

my name’s ryan [or ry] and i’m from phx, az [aka occupied akimel o’odham (pima) + pee posh (maricopa) lands] :cactus: i grew up here, moved away for a bit, and then returned a few years ago. now i work at the phoenix public library in the mach1 makerspace! :zap:

when it comes to inflatables :balloon: i’m hoping to tinker with some non-heat-source-reliant ways to achieve fun geometries … we work with lots of younger kids, and i think finding approaches that don’t require hot metal/access to an iron will be key to maximizing accessibility for our lil customers. the more options the merrier !

also … i’ve recently been going down the pop-up book rabbit hole :hole: , and i’m curious to see how some of the things i’m learning in that world might transfer to inflatables … in both, when surfaces change their relative positions, it seems to present opportunities for things to come to life!

as to inspiration [<-- i feel like there’s an inflatable pun lurking here … ], i do a lot of diy bookmaking in my non-work life :books: i’m inspired by the cartonera movement that began in argentina in the early 2000s with eloísa cartonera, the wild swirl of self-published zine culture, and the kid-focused pop-up book masterclasses by matthew reinhart. also, on a non-book-related note, i adore arvind gupta’s toys from trash project! exploring the world of inflatables feels like another wonderful way to [rigorously] play with access-prioritized, learn-as-you-go approaches to art-making! also, love getting to transform inanimate chip bags into repurposed, “living” objects!

most unusual inflatable … hmmm … i’m amazed and mystified by the ways theo jansen incorporates empty bottles [wind stomachs] into his strandbeests … not sure if/how this applies to what we’re exploring via PLIX, but definitely unusual and air-powered :wind_face:

thx again for the workshop last week … here are two things i was playing around with. i wanted to try creating my inflatables without a heat source, and I discovered that my stapler was stapleless, so i ended up doing everything with duct tape.

for my first one, i made a unicorn coyote :rainbow: i was able to get the paw to wave and the horn to reveal itself. for my second one, i used duct tape on the inside of my inflatable to create a diamond that allowed for some singing lips :lips:

here’s a google drive folder with some photos and videos of both experiments.

looking forward to learning more and co-tinkering soon :slight_smile:


Who are you and where are you from? I’m Tara Thomas and I am a Youth Services Librarian for the DC Public Library.

What are you most excited to create, tinker, or experiment with for inflatables? STEM is my jam. Alas, I have no formal STEM subject training though so that all comes from a place of curiosity. Inflatable beta testing indulges my interest in STEM and my curiosity while giving me formal “work permission” to tinker, to play, to experiment. I think what excites me most is one day sharing this out with children. Seeing their curiosity and love of STEM grow through their own inflatable creation. I also am really excited about recycling materials (okay, I did take a year-long environmental course a long time ago). Since receiving my kit, I keep looking at everything as potential project materials. Like those air bags that are part of boxed shipments.

What inspires your creations? My immediate world around me. Right now, I am cannot wait to see some Spring flowers, so I will probably start there. A bouquet that literally blooms sounds awesome.

What’s the most unusual inflatable thing you’ve seen? The awesome inflatables work of our previous PLIX beta-testers. And, the Phila. Flyers mascot Gritty as an inflatable. TBH, it wasn’t really the inflatable so much as Gritty.

Bonus: Share a photo of your unboxed kit (if you received one) ! You can also share any photos of inflatables you’ve tinkered with so far. Shout out to Avery for the handwritten note! Super awesome and thoughtful.


I am a huge pop-up book fan also! I am curious to think about and see how pop-up books can inspire the making of inflatables. Great idea!


Hi, I’m Heather Maganzini. I’m the Children’s Specialist at the Tewksbury Public Library in Tewksbury, MA. I am excited to learn and tinker so that I can pass that along to my patrons! I don’t have much prior knowledge so I am truly here to learn. I take inspiration from everywhere–books, movies, tv, nature, my surroundings–and consider myself to be “crafty not arty.” I would agree with Tracy above that the inflatable costumes are really unusual and fun! Here’s a pic of my workspace.


I finally got my little seahorse to swim! This creation was inspired by last week’s icebreaker. :ocean:

During the tinkering session today, Avery shared a document that gave instructions for creating linear origami motion. Super helpful!

So I tried this using the beautiful origami paper from the supply box.

But to make a seahorse tail, it needed to be curved not linear. So with my mylar, I made the origami folds on only one side instead of two. Then on the other, non-folded side, I just trimmed a curved edge and sealed that edge with the mini iron.


We had an awesome open hour yesterday! Shout-out to all that were able to join :slight_smile:

We had a lot of discussion around heat-free alternatives for creating inflatables. @rygreene made some inspiring examples with paper and tape, and showed you can still achieve impressive ranges of action even without heat! I particularly loved the idea of adding paper/cardstock on top of the inflatable itself to accentuate particular motions or forms of actuation. @Tracy made a gorgeous seahorse that similarly combined a mylar inflatable with origami paper! @caratarmey also tinkered with some tape-plus-mylar examples!

There was lots of discussion around the idea of pattern cards that could accompany the zine–resources that provide more formalized instruction for achieving a particular form or function. These seemed to be of interest to a lot of testers, and so we’ll be working on sketching those out moving forward! If there are pattern cards you’d like to see, let us know!


If anyone else is curious to see the diagrams @Tracy shared, you can check out Yun’s project page for this work (“Therms-Up”) on GitHub!

1 Like

An update on the 3rd spread of the Inflatables zine (as briefly seen during the open office hours call this week)! We wanted to include some more visual examples of possible folds/fusions. What do you think?


Nicely done. I love your seahorse, Tracy! It looks like something you’d see at a high-end party store. I think we may want to see more closeups. Did you fuse along the folds? (or they eventually lose their oomph?) How big is the seahorse?


WOW! This looks great, Cara!!


Thank you, @binka !
The seahorse is about 9 inches long overall. The actual piece that inflates is about 5 inches wide and 2 inches tall.

Here’s the back view.

And here are a couple of close-ups of the inflatable.
seahorse side view

seahorse folds

I didn’t fully heat-seal the folds, but I did run the mini iron briefly over the folds just to make the creases a little sharper. I had the mini iron on the low setting, then turned it off completely, waited about a minute, then ran the iron over the folds. I was worried I’d burn a hole through the mylar so that’s why I let the iron cool a bit.


This is really great, Cara. Very helpful! For me, this illustrates very clearly how seams, pleats & fused areas can be combined. That particular aspect of inflatables is what confused me during my first attempts. I love :heart: the key in the top right corner. That tells me that not all folds have to be fused with heat.


Hello, fellow beta-testers, and warm greetings from Queens Public Library. I completed two iterations of my starfish pattern. With the first design, the arms & tube feet pointed in various directions when inflated. My goal was to create a bending effect by methodically trimming and sealing the edges of the form. My second iteration was more successful. All the appendages point downward. :sunflower:

Here are my unboxing photos that I shared with my QPL team. Checkout @Avery’s classy note!