diy project: sculptural braided extension cords


I’m constantly getting into silly arguments with my partner about my DIY projects. Whenever I turn to him for advice, ever the left-brainer, he gives me the practical answer, which I hate. Shouldn’t you be able to carry it this way? Wouldn’t this shape make it sturdier? What’s this extra piece for? Excellent questions, all.

I’m realizing that on the art/design spectrum, I fall much closer to the former than I thought. I like nonfunctional objects, unanswerable questions, excessive use of materials and lots of extra steps. I can’t help it. The problem I’m usually trying to solve is how to add strangeness and beauty to my surroundings, not how to make life easier. If you look at my archive of DIY projects, I think you’ll see that at heart, I’m really not a pragmatist or a minimalist, as much as I’d like to be. Form does not follow function — they duke it out constantly.

I’ve prefaced this particular project with the above disclaimer because I want everyone to know that this project is not practical. Electrical cords continue to vex those with aesthetic sensibilities; the majority of us want them to blend unobtrusively into the background — or better yet, disappear altogether. But say you have a cord that needs to stretch across a room, and you’re sick of the tack-it-along-the-floorboards approach. My hope is that you might consider going the opposite route: Make the cord the center of attention, perhaps a giant colorful braid that you probably won’t trip on because, well, you can’t stop staring at it.

Is this project practical? No. Can you remove the cords easily from these tubes? No. Is it wise to put a giant rope out on the floor? Um, not really. But this is the only extension cord I’ve ever liked enough to potentially wear out of the house as a giant necklace, and that’s success in my book. So if you’re into a little frivolous anti-design, this project is cheap, easy and really fun to make. Enjoy! — Kate

Read the full how-to after the jump!

Materials

  • 3 extension cords (all the same length, 6′ or longer is better)
  • scissors
  • masking tape
  • 3 skeins of thick/bulky weight yarn
  • 3 plastic cord tubes (these can be found at IKEA or most hardware stores in the electrical section)

 

Instructions

1. Tuck the end of an extension cord into the open slit of the plastic tube.

2. Tape the tube to the base of the plug to secure the tube to the cord. Continue tucking the entire length of the cord into the plastic covering.

3. Cut the covering to the exact length of the cord. Repeat steps 1–2 for the other two cords.

4. Take the end of one skein of yarn and knot it around the beginning of the first covered cord.

5. Begin wrapping the yarn around the cord, covering all the plastic and tucking the loose end of the yarn into the first few wraps to conceal it. Continue wrapping the cord with yarn. As you do this, you can begin rolling the finished cord into a small loop and securing with a piece of yarn to make wrapping easier. When you get to the end, knot the yarn around the base of the cord and snip off the excess.

6. Repeat with the other two cords.

7. Begin overlapping the cords, one over the other to form a simple braid. Secure both ends by knotting a piece of yarn around all three right near the base.

8. Place the cord in an open area for display, or use anywhere you would normally need extension cords. Don’t place the cords in doorways or anywhere someone might trip.

You’re done!

cammie

I like to think I usually try to find a balance between art/design and I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS!

kate

ok this is like the coolest thing i have seen in a long time! i have cords that will be out no matter what I do (i rent) so I think I’ll make them at least look intentionally out on display.

Awesome. Love. Thanks.

riye

I consider myself a practical person but I think this project looks neat. :-) It looks cool while in use and when you’re done, you can coil it up in a bowl and leave it out until you need it again. It would certainly have solved the problem we had with our extension cord loving cat who used to chew on ours whenever we had one out.

kay*

This is great. I think it would look just as good with a single tube wrapped in the colour of your choice – for those single cords you just can’t hide and are visible (and thus annoying).

Also love the first image – the dark wall, the teak drawers, the rug…so so good!

petra

brilliant idea, one the will most definitely be copied. my desk is dead bang in the middle of the room. no way to hide extension cords anyways. thanks!!!

Natalie / Half Asleep Studio

That’s actually a really cool idea! Life is too boring if you’re all about the ‘practical’ all the time. And actually, it would be kind of practical for me because my cats’ LOVE to munch on cords (3 new laptop chargers in ONE week = $270) and it looks like they’d be pretty protected this way.

Ellen

This is slightly insane but also blowing my mind. I wouldn’t actually make it, but I really like that you’re thinking outside of the box! A bit bonkers but completely inspiring. I am a left-brainer all the way, but I can still dream! Great post

Theresa

Never mind the practical vs. pretty debate, this is a potential electrical fire safety hazard, even with the cord covers. When it comes anything electrical, it’s better to error side of caution because mistakes can be deadly. I love so much of what DS posts, but you really should remove this post for potential liability issues -and before someone gets hurt.

amy

neat project, but i’m mostly impressed with the adorable write-up that preceded it…. what a thought provoking and adorably justified quandary!

Nicole

This is awesome! I wonder if there is a way to do this with thinner cable like cable/ethernet — our modem and TV connections are unfortunately across the room from my desk and the TV and we have a super ugly plastic cover that I ALWAYS trip over. I will have to give this some thought…

Michelle Engel Bencsko

I am absolutely going to do this! My desk is in the middle of the room and I’ve been wondering what to do with the 3 cords leading to it. I can put them all in one tube, I bet.

Naomi

Absolutely fantastic DIY. I am in awe of the final result. Such warm pictures.

jared junior

i almost never comment… but this write up is awesome! not only do i agree with “amy” but i just love the fact it comes across as honest and it gets at the topic of design and what is practical. we all know what is practical for one is not for someone else; but for some reason i enjoyed how you laid your cards on the table and the images look so well thought out… i would love to do this with black yarn around my single cords!

i will say that the braiding and large scale really make it something; you really hit the nail on the head when it comes to design …

“if you can not change what you hate, celebrate it”

Shana

This is the DIY i didn’t know i was looking for and my own design philosophy i could never put in words. Thank you!

Jessica W

Actually, this is a perfectly practical solution for someone, like me, who has ground dwelling pets that like to chew on cords. Rabbits are the bane of my cords’ existences. This would be a great solution to not only protect them, but to make them pretty. Although, I think I would only add the one tube holding the cord.

kayoungche

This is my first time ever commenting on a blog post. I can’t beleive how inventive and simple this idea is. I want 50 extension cords like this. Kudos to you for the idea AND for your excellent analysis of design vs. function.

Susan Liedke

I like it too – AND it was well written. A couple people have commented on what it would look like with just one strand – I’m interested!

A practicality question though – why 3 extension cords? I mean _maybe_ you’d need that many, but most outlets only have two spots anyway, and the “receiving” end usually accepts more than one plug, right?

Also, it looks like one extension cord is going the opposite direction…I wonder if I’m missing a possible reason for this.

Just curious if there was some reasoning behind these design decisions!

Erica Birnbaum

what a wonderful idea. i have been enjoying your blog so much. this post prompted a giggle and the urge to leave a comment. thanks for your great ideas.

Alexis

This project is so impressive. I absolutely love how it adds a nice artistic touch to the room. Such an original idea.

Susan

I would say you have too much time on your hands :-) but the write-up was so entertaining I enjoyed it all anyway. I’d never make one myself, but I’ll never forget this one either!

Grace Bonney

theresa

putting yarn over plastic over a plastic-covered extension cord is not a fire hazard. yes, everyone should err on the side of caution with electricity. but no- i don’t think you need to err so much on that side that you never attempt anything related to cords, wires or electricity. this project is no more dangerous than having your extension cord brush up against your rug. if you’re uncomfortable with fabric/thread being near a covered electrical cord, then yes, this isn’t for you. but this is not a live wire- you’re not cutting the cords or exposing the raw wire to threads. the cords are covered in plastic, protected by a second plastic shield and then that shield has yarn around it.

grace

Alana Tibbets

This reminds me of an old episode of the New Yankee Workshop when Norm was describing an unavoidable joint in the middle of a piece of furniture. I don’t remember the exact explanation, but his phrase was “celebrate the joint.” He then proceeded to turn it into a design feature by planing the edges in such as way as to make the joint more visible than before. I often use this philosophy in my own work and make unavoidable things into decorative opportunities – celebrate those joints everyone!

becky mercado

I love this idea. You could do it with just the one cord as well. I hate hate hate cords! Really a bugaboo for me….draping across the floor or just dangling down behind a TV or computer. I’m always looking for ways to hide, disguise or decorate the cords in my life. Definitely will try this.

tera

My husband, the electronics junkie, has cords everywhere in this house. I love this idea, plus it would bring a nice splash of color – even if you only did them one at a time!

Theresa

Grace, I’d respectively have to disagree. It is a fire hazard. The warnings for extension cords explain not to cover the cords – such as putting them under rugs – because they can overheat and start a fire. You’re right – a cord brushing up against carpet or fabric isn’t a problem. However, completely wrapping it is a problem because the heat generated by the cord needs to dissipate. Cozy yarn makes great sweaters because it keeps you warm, but that’s not what you want for a cord. Again, love so many of the design ideas you share! Love the colors and creativity in this post. But as someone who writes about electrical safety issues regularly, I’d put this one in the “don’t risk it” category.

Grace Bonney

Theresa

I understand your concern, but I think we will indeed have to agree to disagree. I’ve seen covered cords (both modern and much older) used for years and have never had any issues with them.

Grace

Kayleigh

This is absoluteyl amazing! I think I am going to do this on my cords this weekend!!! I think as long as yout don’t cover up the part that goes into the electrical socket you should have no issue with it being a fire hazard. I hate that cords are ugly and this is a great way to make it look pretty!

Kayleigh
@ The Gotta Have It Girl

Laura

Great project! I just wrapped an extension cord in fuzzy red yarn about a week ago and love the look but it took forever! For-ev-er. About one-third of the way through I realized how long it would take me – but (fueled by the same burning need to blot out ugly extension cords from my life for good) I stubbornly decided I would finish in one night NO MATTER WHAT. And I did! The end.

Melanie

I am intrigued by dark, rich blue, not-really-navy color used on the wall in the first picture. It looks gorgeous with the different types of wood. Would it be possible to post the name and brand of this paint? Many thanks!

Vania Pinto

Awsome! Thinking of trying this with the zillion wires behind my old computer. Only thing is: 2 cats and 3 dogs prevent me from doing it in other rooms in the house. But it would be perfect!… Congratulations!

gogothrift@etsy

I love this idea….celebrate the imperfect. The first photo of the rug and the wrapped cords and the mid century dresser made me swoon.

lua

Big fan of knits and this reminds me of the classic braided knit. Brilliant. Never pragmatic for function only. Love this, absolutely love this. Thank you so much. want to try, is looks stunning.

kasey @ girl in the gray house

oh my gosh, this is just plain gorgeous. i love it, but i guarantee i would trip over it and injure myself!! ;)

Lindsay

Kate, your line about strangeness and beauty really struck a “cord” with me! Love everything about this article and project.

sarah

Oh my. Love this. I dream of a world in which everything is cord free…this is by far the most perfect solution to that dream. Can’t wait to get started. Also…would you share the wall color that you have? I am currently in search of a blue…and that blue has got it goin’ on.

Jesse

YES! I love that you put this tutorial up! I’ve braided regular cords before, and I’ve wrapped cords with fabrics to hide them,but using the plastic tubing is SUCH A GOOD IDEA.

I have one question, which may be silly and maybe I missed something, but is there a reason they aren’t all facing the same way? What I mean is, I noticed the plugs of one extension cord is at the same end as the outlets of the other… just curious!!

annie

Love the thinking and gorgeous designing. Needing 3 plug outlets seems impractical but that’s the only problem for me personally. Wrapped cords have been around since beginning of electric lamps etc….silk wrapped cords still available at lamp supply outlets…I rewire vintage lamps using these cords all the time……will try just one cord so can you please let me know about how much yarn you needed for each cord??? thanks

dana

“But this is the only extension cord I’ve ever liked enough to potentially wear out of the house …”
Totally awesome!!

Clare

I totally love this idea, love the color combination, and the concept. I am not convinced on the practicality of this particular application of the idea, though. But I think it is an idea I might steal and apply – more usefully for me – elsewhere. I showed this to my husband and he started looking alarmed … hehehe … particularly when I mentioned the mess that is the result of him hooking up our media center.

sera

hahahahaha! “Is this project practical? No. Can you remove the cords easily from these tubes? No. Is it wise to put a giant rope out on the floor? Um, not really. But this is the only extension cord I’ve ever liked enough to potentially wear out of the house as a giant necklace, and that’s success in my book.” I love it!

Kate Pruitt

Thanks for feedback everyone!

Melanie – The paint is actually just that standard black chalkboard paint they sell at hardware stores. I don’t have the brand name on me but I’ll check when I can and get back to you.

Annie, etc. – You don’t need three probably, but I really wanted to do a braid, and I figure at some point if I needed to plug things in at different point, I could unbraid one end and spread them out, so I filled all three. But if you wanted to do just one cord, you could. One cord looks cool, but it’s still just a cord. You’re welcome to try it, but I highly recommend trying out the braid…it’s lovely.

Jesse – I faced them a different way because one end was going to a plug into a lamp (so it needed a female end) and the other was to plug other extension cords into under a table (so it needed the male end). So this specific setup worked for me, but there’s no other reason to do it :)

I’m sorry that some of you feel this is potentially dangerous. I concede that there’s a potential risk, but anything electrical carries some risk. In fact, everything we do all day every day carries some potential risk doesn’t it? Life is fragile. But if all you see when you look at this is a burning house, then I totally understand your reluctance to want to try it. It’s not for everybody, I admit.

For those of you who love the look but fear the risk, you could just make it without any extension cords inside and just have a nonfunctional floor sculpture! If you read my intro, you would know I am totally in favor of that as well.

Sheetal Pai

Awesome idea to cover up some ugly wires spoiling my home decor… will try it for sure, Thanks :)

monica

Quite literally, running home to cover up the atrocious chain dangling from my otherwise beautiful hanging lamp!

brigitte mcQueen

LOVE this project — brilliant!! I was also wondering about the vibrant blue wall color… is there any way to get a bit of info on the shade… it’s just what I’ve been searching for! Thank you!

HOLLY

Ditto Soledad! Genius genius. My pretty basket full of nicely coiled cords is still fugly. I’m doing this asap. Thanks Kate!!

Sara L.

This is an incredibly awesome project, and I asked my Physicist husband, who does all our wiring, about the safety aspect. He said that the reason they say not to have extension cords near flammable things is that in case the wire is exposed, and there is a short circuit, there could be a fire. Note that this is only if the wire is cut somehow, and the metal interior is exposed. The “overheating” mentioned by Theresa above is not true, as extension cords do not produce that much heat, not unless there is already a problem with the fuse. So this project is only dangerous if the cord is wrapped around something sharp and metal, or if a roving bunny chews through yarn AND cable cover AND cord cover.

MB@YarnUiPhoneAppv2.2

Great way to use cheap yarn…go to Jo-Ann Fabrics and use one of their coupons. I personally I like the idea of a cream-colored yarn against a raw white wall. Especially if you’ve other white furniture.

Kristin - The Goat

I just have to say that I have a lovely electric blanket that I’ve had for eons. It is electricity wrapped in a warm blanket.

This cord idea may be a wonderful solution for my antique booth. We are allowed to have electricity in the booth but the cords drive me insane because they are ugly and in the way.

tinadatabase

Lovely post :) I like the write up too especially as Amy has pointed out.

Amber

Has no one yet mentioned the amazing fiber artist Sheila Hicks in this discussion? She’s done some amazing and beautiful artwork so close to this, I thought it was a referential work. Please, please google her and see it.

cheryl mesler

What a great idea! I’m going to put all of my leftover yarn to use. Where do i get the plastic tubing? I am doing a search on Home depot to see exactly what it is called and how much. Unfortunately we do not have an Ikea nearby.

Amanda

Love the braided cords! And those pillows! Where di you find the pillows?

Donna

I’ve been working on some DIY pendant lights for my dining room and the only thing that had me stumped was the swag cords that would hang down behind them, ruining the pretty turquoise wall behind the lamp. Now, I think I can adapt this idea to make a braid as a design element for the swagged cord instead of it just being ugly! Thanks for the great idea! :)

annbug

You are a person after my own heart. I found myself nodding along to your whole post, especially this line – “I like nonfunctional objects, unanswerable questions, excessive use of materials and lots of extra steps. “

Maria

This is great and I love your writing style! Can you please tell me where you found those lovely yarn colors? THanks

Martin

I think this is an incredible idea, not just for power cords (safety issue smafety issue! ;) ), but for all those random cables that we all have snaking around the entertainment center. Cool combo cord out to those side speakers or from the dvd player? Absolutely!

Kayla Rae

“The problem I’m usually trying to solve is how to add strangeness and beauty to my surroundings, not how to make life easier.”

ME TOO Kate, what a poignant sentence indeed!

Emma Amborn

Who says this isn’t practical? I need to have extension cords and the little thin ones are always getting tangled and I’m always tripping over them. By beefing them up and making them thick and colorful it would really help to solve this problem. I’d also love to do this with my laptop power cord to see the reactions I’d get whenever I take it out.
I’m also really want to wrap yarn around everything now. I just found an ugly lampshade that I think would be greatly improved with some yarn.

Violet

Just came across this site and love your braided cords and as I use any number of them in my work shop and hate the look of plain old cords guess what I have done. You bet my cords are now a rainbow of different colors.

Elizabeth

OMG! THANK YOU! I have been so depressed by the extension cord that I use for my air conditioner. This is a life saver!!!!

Joann Herman

The FIRE DEPARTMENT would surely frown upon this idea, it does look lovely but also VERY unsafe,

Christie

The reason this is a potential fire hazard is because people constantly accidentally overload their extension cords. It’s easy to think that extension cords are your ubiquitous solve-it-all when it comes to placing electronics in the room, but the truth is many aren’t built to handle what you plug into them. This overload creates a resistance in current transfer from your electronic and the extension cord, causing it to overheat and eventually melt, which in turn exposes the wires to start a fire. If someone were using the wrong type of extension cord for their needs (say plugging an appliance into an average thin extension cord) the yarn and plastic would only be tinder for the fire.
So the moral of this post is: Make sure you check that your electronic doesn’t need more electricity than your cord can give!

Doolots

This is one of my favourite tutorials I have come across! Super cute Kate! Yes, maybe it is a potential fire hazard. However, if it is on an appliance cord that is only in use when you are around it I think it would be safe.

I’m thinking of doing it on a smaller scale on credit card machines in my salon. I’m sick of those boring black cords. Looking forward to more of your ideas :)

x

Brent

Let’s get real with the risk, folks. The danger is subtle. As previous posters have mentioned, the risk is overheating of the cord because it is insulated by the very attractive and innovative covering.

The type of cords shown in the project are typically 14 gauge wire (AWG). For supplying large amounts of power over longish periods of time this size wire could be a thermal risk. In my opinion there would be little risk of immediate combustion, but rather the heat would tend to accelerate degradation of the insulation. Depending upon the time and temperature this could lead to insulation failure and fire or shock risk.

Mitigation steps:
1. Use a thicker wire. 12 AWG or thicker wire will handle higher electrical loads without as much heating.
2. Inspect the wire periodically. Things to be aware of: discoloration (browning of white wire, for instance). Embrittlement. Discontinue use if you see these.
3. Only use the extension cords for low power. The typical wall outlet in a US household can supply 1800 watts of power. Some can supply more. I would guess that powering something (or a bunch of things used on the same circuit) rated 1000 watts or more is high power. If you are powering something continuously rather than episocically, that should raise your concern and lower the power (watts) threshold that you should become concerned over. Note: 1000W is only a guess.
4. Touch the wires when in use. If they are warm, raise your concern level and rethink.

This sounds like an abundance of caution, but many applications are low power these days and there are quite a few places I would use this nice design without qualms. As and example, computers, many lamps (LED, CFL, and lower power incandescent), clocks, and even some stereos and TVs ought to be low power enough to be safe. Halogen lamps, large TVs, motors (such as a vacuum cleaner), and hairdriers I would not use.

Niamh G

I absolutely love this project and have immediately bought some plain lamp cords to do this with! In terms of safety I am a little unclear now, I guess I’ll have to do some research but from my knowledge wool is highly heat & fire resistant (they even use it in firemen suits) so maybe this would HELP to ease the fire risk issues? I don’t know I’m not an electrician. Irregardless, I am going to make sure I buy 100% pure wool yarn for my project, just in case! It can’t hurt right? I’m thinking grey, soft baby blue and dusty medium grey/blue…

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