Captain Dick's Burlap Target Ball

Note: This material was originally posted to the Howard Hill Longbowmen list in 2008. Recently there have been threads on things not to shoot at. Here's an alternative.


A couple of days ago, just as I was ready to shoot, a squirrel bounced across our yard carrying one of the peanuts my wife puts out. The little idiot stopped dead center below the middle of my woodchuck target and started to shuck the peanut. It was tempting, but I resisted. However, it got me to thinking about ground shooting. I posted the following to the Hill list:

>>>Hey, archery is supposed to be fun... I think I've been working so hard on the details this past couple of weeks, I kind of forgot that. Yesterday my wife handed me a sack of plastic grocery sacks. She saves them, crams them all into one and ties the ends off, then we recycle them at the grocery store. Well, I decided to keep this one and this morning, instead of regular practice, I just took it out into the back yard and gave it a heave, then started shooting at it. It bounced quite a bit when hit, and I hit it every single time! I walked around the yard shooting at it. It finally just kind of blew up and wadded up plastic bags went everywhere and started blowing around. I stood there laughing like an idiot... not because it was funny, but because it was so much fun! I've never been stump shooting, but I can sure see the appeal. I'm going to have to sew up a burlap "soccer ball" and stuff it just for this purpose.<<< (That stump shooting situation has long since been corrected!)

So, this morning I decided to make my "archery ball". It's a real easy project. Once I finished the pattern work, I think it took me about 45 minutes. This could be cut and sewn by hand, but, being a quilter and antique sewing machine guru, I naturally used the tools and skills at hand. Here is the whole project:

For material, get 1 yard of burlap from a fabric store. Jo Ann's usually charges $4 a yard, but if you get one of their coupons, which they seem to mail out almost every other week, you can get 50% off of any one cut of fabric, so you'll get it for $2.

Next, you need a pattern. Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I used to make parachutes for bears. (That's another story...) Anyway, I had worked out all of the math to pattern various kinds of parachute gores, the simplest being a hemispherical 'chute of four gores. Put two of those bottom to bottom and you have a ball. I had to play a few computer games to make my old pattern print out within the margins on a standard 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of office paper, but that was just a little trial and error in reducing the scan of the pattern. Anyway, here is a full-size pattern as a jpg. It's going to slow down the download of this page, but having it full size should be a real convenience. Just drag it from the page, save it to your desktop and then print it on a sheet of stiff card stock. It should print out on a standard sheet of paper such that the straight line is 9 1/2" long, or close to it:



OK, now that you have a pattern, here we go...



Here is the pattern printed out on heavy stock paper. This pattern is 1/16 of a ball.


Here it is cut out. I generally start with a paper pattern and then make a permanent re-usable pattern on plastic, masonite or 1/8" plywood.


Here I have used the card stock pattern, drawn around it on a piece of thin plywood. Then, I flipped it over, aligned the straight edge and drew around it again, making what will be our "real" pattern... 1/8 of a sphere.


Here's the pattern, cut out of the plywood on the bandsaw. I touched up the edge on the belt sander. You could as easily cut it with a hand coping saw and sand the edges lightly with sandpaper.


You are going to need 8 of these patterns to make the ball. You could draw all 8 on the burlap and cut them out with scissors, but, being a quilter, I have a cutting mat and roller cutter, so I doubled the fabric and just cut around the pattern with the roller cutter.


Here's 8 pieces, ready to sew...


My sewing station... 1918 Singer treadle head on an industrial treadle base with a modern formica top.


Closeup of the head. This decal is called the "Tiffany Decal", patterned after the Tiffany stained glass work. This was an age when manufacturing and design included art.

Note: As mentioned above, you can hand sew or machine sew this project. Should you choose to machine sew, do your best to get access to a treadle machine. All electric sewing machines run on alternating current in the US. That current, constantly changing direction in the wire, sets up very minute vibrations in the machine and, in effect, the thread is being abraded and worn even as it is being sewn. Anything sewn with electricity will wear out sooner than something sewn with a treadle. :^)



The pieces as cut include a 1/2" seam allowance. Line up two sections and sew the first seam. Burlap is, of course, very loosely woven. I followed up each 1/2" seam with a second seam 1/8" closer to the outside of the first. Hopefully, this will help the life of the ball.


First two pieces sewn together


Once you have two pieces sewn, sew two more, then line up the two resulting units and pin them. Sew from the bottom edge up to the center seam on one side and stop. Repeat for the second seam 1/8" from the first. Now, turn the piece and start at the bottom of the other side. Again, stitch up to the center seam and stop... repeat with the second seam. In other words, don't sew across the already sewn seams


Repeat that process for the other pieces and you should end up with two more or less spherical/conical pieces that look like this.

Note: if you are able to duplicate this pattern in sheet metal, you can make a dandy Viking helmet!

OK, now take the two cones and line up the bottoms and pin them. You're going to sew each section separately... starting at one side seam and sewing up to the next, then stopping. When you stop on these seams, either backstitch if your machine has that capability, or stop the movement of the material with your hands and stitch four or five stitches in place. This will lock your seams. When you have stitched one section and locked the seam, move the material and repeat for the next section. Sew three sections, NOT FOUR! Leave that fourth section open.




At this point your ball is essentially complete and will look about like this. Remember, you're working with burlap... it won't be even and perfect. Doesn't matter.. you're making a burlap ball to shoot at, not a ball gown.


Reach through the open edge you left and turn the ball right side out, then stuff the ball... I used a bunch of saved up plastic grocery bags but didn't have enough, so I stuffed in the scraps of the burlap and then some pillow stuffing from my wife's upholstery business. Don't stuff it too hard. You want the arrow to stick in it, not bounce off or just knock the ball away

Incidentally, just a safety note, do not, EVER, shoot an arrow at an inflated ball. I have seen two threads from folks who tried that and had an arrow bounce back at them!.





Here the ball has been stuffed. The one seam is still open.



Using a fairly large needle, not necessarily sharp pointed, you will now sew up the open seam by hand, using a "ladder stitch". I used an old needlepoint needle, with a blunt tip. With an open weave like burlap, there's no need to be sticking your finger.





The ladder stitch is a common stitch used to close gaps without leaving a visible seam. I used to use it all the time when I was in the business of making very high priced teddy bears. (That's another story...)

Anyway, it is a simple in and out stitch, like so:

You can see the ladder pattern that gave the stitch its name.




Here my ladder stitch is well started. As you go along, pull the thread up. You will be amazed at how the gap closes up, with the seam close to invisible. Done with real care in finer fabric, it can't be seen. Notice I doubled the thread for this stitching. Also note that I'm establishing the hand sewn seam well inside the edge. Burlap is very loosely woven so you need to do this to insure that it won't unravel. The machine sewn seams have small enough stitches that it isn't as much of a problem.


Here I've started pulling the thread to close the seam, before stitching further along.


And here is my "ball"... OK, it's more of a mis-shapen lump, but you'll be able to throw it, roll it and shoot at it.




OK, after the work comes the fun!


And believe me, it is fun!



This is another ball, made by Chris Anderson:

"How 'bout one pic...
Not really me shooting... I shot, then took the picture.
The hits make a very satisfying "thunk" (I stuffed the ball with plastic
grocery bags the girls were saving for a "rainy day"). First hit flipped the ball over; second two were together; then I missed twice before following up with that 1-o'clock hit. I shot about three times a year ago, and these are my first shots this year--it's the long Canadian winters!!! I'm triple-e pleased: fun fixing the ol' Singer 27, fun making the ball, and now this whole exercise has got me wanting to shoot again--just for fun of course. I'll have to figure out how to post stuff on the board. For now, feel free to cobble together a post for me (story and pic) if you wish.



A couple of last comments. This is "Mark I". I already have plans for another with a large rubber "O" ring sewn into the top, leaving a permanent round opening about 2" to 3" in diameter. This way, the whole last seam can be sewn and no hand stitching would be required. You would have more trouble turning it right side out, and stuffing it, but not unworkably.

I also dreamed up a neat game to play with it if you have someone to shoot with and want to do just a bit more work. Get four cans of spray paint... yellow, red, white, and blue. After cutting the 8 pattern pieces, lay them out on newspaper in pairs and spray one pair each color. Let them dry really well, then, sew the ball together, but stagger the colors. Now you have a mutli-colored ball that will roll and get knocked around, presenting first one set of sections, then another. Think of them like a dart board... yellow is 10, red is 8, blue is 6 and white is 4. Now as two or more shooters shoot the ball, both luck and skill enter into the game. Will a yellow be visible on your side of the ball on your shot? Will you be able to hit it? If the ball is rolled wrong, maybe only half of a yellow will be visible... fine down your aim too much and you might miss entirely. Well, you get the idea...

Have fun, guys!

Captain Dick

P. S. I thought of another neat way to use it.... instead of sewing up the last seam, put velcro on it before you assemble all the parts. Don't stuff it, take it with you to hunting camp, folded flat. When you get there, stuff it with leaves and everybody can have fun and practice with it in off time. then empty it and take it home again.


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