How to Make a Collapsible Travel Dish for Your Pet

comments (17) February 6th, 2009     

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Sister_Diane Diane Gilleland, contributor
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This project modifies a basic origami fold to create a pet bowl that holds water with no leaks.
Pushkin gives it the NOM NOM test, and finds it very satisfactory.
The bowl folds nice and flat, so you can tuck it in your pack or tote.
This project modifies a basic origami fold to create a pet bowl that holds water with no leaks.

This project modifies a basic origami fold to create a pet bowl that holds water with no leaks.

Photo: Diane Gilleland
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I used to have a giant dog, named Billy, and I would take him on long hikes in the hills. He always got thirsty, so I had to carry a bowl and water for him in my backpack. I wish I had one of these oilcloth bowls back then! They hold water beautifully and take up almost no room in a bag. (My current pet, Puskin the Cat, is no fan of hiking, but he was more than willing to pose for photos, provided that I put a little food in the bowl first.)

What you'll need:

  • Oilcloth, two colors (see below)
  • Ruler and pencil
  • Scissors
  • Low-tack painter's tape
  • Bone folder (optional)
  • Sewing machine
  • Thread
  • Heavy-duty sewing machine needle

This project is based on a simple origami bowl. In fact, I recommend that you fold up a paper bowl before you attempt this oilcloth version. It will help you better understand the overall structure and make working with the oilcloth a bit easier. There's a phenomenal tutorial over here to take you through the process in paper.

A Note on Oilcloth: When you're shopping for oilcloth for this project, check labels and ask questions. Some oilcloths are treated with chemicals that could be harmful to your pet. Look for a non-toxic, untreated oilcloth instead.

Tape two pieces of oilcloth together at the edges with painter's tape.

For the oilcloth version, start with two 9-inch x 12-inch pieces of oilcloth. I like to use two different colors because it makes the finished bowl extra pretty, but you can also cut two pieces of the same color.

This size will yield a bowl that's appropriate in size for most cats or small-to-medium dogs. If your pet is larger, like Billy, feel free to enlarge the starting pieces—just add the same number of inches to both dimensions.

Place the two pieces with right sides facing out. Anchor them together at the four edges with pieces of painter's tape. (Unfortunately, pins leave permanent holes in oilcloth, so we'll use tape to hold the pieces together instead.)

Sew around all four edges.

Sew along all four edges with a 3/8-inch seam allowance. You can sew right over the tape—it will peel off in pieces around your seam.

If you've never worked with oilcloth before, I'd recommend that you practice sewing on some scraps before you undertake this project. Oilcloth has a tendency to "stick" to your machine's presser foot—if this is happening, try Futuregirl's elegant solution. You'll also find that you need to apply some gentle pressure to keep the oilcloth moving over the machine's feed dogs.

Trim the seam allowances to 1/8 inch.

After sewing, trim all four seam allowances to 1/8 inch.

Fold the resulting sheet in fourths.

Time to begin the origami: Fold the sheet in half crosswise, so you end up with a rectangle that's 8-1/2 inches long by 5-1/2 inches high. Then fold that rectangle in half down the middle, as shown.

When you're folding the oilcloth, be sure to crease every fold. Oilcloth will not hold these creases for very long, so you'll need to keep re-creasing with each step. You can use a bone folder for this, or a spoon, or the back of your thumbnail.

Note: the side of the oilcloth that's showing at this step will be the outside of the finished bowl.

Fold the upper left corner in toward the center.

Unfold that last fold, and place the rectangle so that the folded edge is at the top. Then, fold the left-hand corner down to match the center crease.

Repeat the fold with the upper right corner.

Do the same thing with the right-hand corner.

Open the right side back out in preparation for reversing the fold.

Now, open the right-hand corner back out...

Turn the fold inside out and flatten it again.

...and turn that folded triangle inside out and then flatten it, as shown in the photo above. (If this step seems confusing, try looking at it in the paper tutorial I recommended.)

Repeat this process on the other side. Are you remembering to crease all your folds with each step?

Fold the right-hand corner over to the left side.

At the end of this fold, you should have a smooth triangle.

Next, take the right-hand flap and bring it over to the left, as shown in the two photos above. (Again, if that's confusing, the paper tutorial might help.)

Fold the two outer corners in to meet at the center.

Fold the two corners in to meet at the center. Do the same thing on the other side.

Fold the bottom edge up.


Temporarily secure the fold with painter's tape.

The bottom edge now has two layers. Fold the top one up, and anchor the fold in place with painter's tape. Flip the piece over, and repeat this process on the other side.

Once you've done this step, the bowl shape will emerge.

You'll need to orient the bowl on your sewing machine like this.

Back to the sewing machine! This is how the bowl needs to be oriented on your machine. Older models may require you to remove a piece to reveal a smaller sewing area like this. Newer models may not require any adjustment.

Sew 1/8 inch from the folded edge.

Install a heavy-duty sewing machine needle. Sew along the folded edge with a 1/8-inch seam allowance.

Note: you're sewing through several layers of oilcloth here. My 25-year-old machine can handle this, but some newer, introductory model machines may not be up to the task. Definitely try sewing on some scrap oilcloth before you try this step.

Sew along the edge of the flap, following the original seamline.

Then, remove the tape. Stitch along the edge of the flap, following your previous seamline.

Repeat these two steps on the other side, and the bowl is complete!

If your pet is sensitive to smells (like Pushkin is), you may want to place the bowl in direct sunlight for several hours to bleach out any scent from the oilcloth.

To fold the bowl, bring the sides in toward the center...

...and bring the two flaps together.

To fold the bowl up, just bring the sides without flaps in toward the center, and then bring the flaps together in the center. You can keep folding, wadding up, or crushing the bowl from there—it'll pop back into shape.

To clean the bowl, just wash it with soapy water and then invert it on a dish rack to dry. I definitely would not recommend putting it in the dishwasher!

I think these dishes have some human applications, too—picnic snacks, anyone?

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posted in: pets, oilcloth

Comments (17)

roselynbette writes: This would be a great marketing idea as well.
Posted: 7:30 am on May 21st
Mickay writes: Unless home made with safe products, oil cloth should not come in contact with food nor drinks, for this cool project use laminated cotton - it's safe for drinks and food.
Posted: 5:48 am on April 9th
Craig27Jannie writes: Don't you acknowledge that it's high time to receive the personal loans, which will make you dreams real.
Posted: 11:44 pm on August 29th
Pfer writes: Awesome result, I made a larger one to use for serving sandwiches or other finger food at picnics, the dish easily folds up for storage in side pouch of my cooler. Also, instead of using oil cloth I made plastic fabric by re-cycling plastic grocery bags and fusing them together. Only 1 layer of fabric was needed to make dish. You'll find more info about recyclinig plastic garbage bags into fused plastic fabric here:
Posted: 12:09 pm on July 1st
angiepangie writes: GREAT project. I want to make these and use them as a promotional item for my dog business. Do you all think that putting a layer of plastic between the two layers of canvas would also work?
Posted: 10:20 pm on August 16th
beaderonboard writes: This is a great idea, I have two dogs who go every where with me, they will love these bowls, I will have to make a his and hers.
I do think it would be better to make your own oil cloth though, with a heavy canvas and natural tung oil, which is not toxic.
Thanks for sharing.
Posted: 5:53 pm on April 28th
peagood writes: I love this project, and became aware of it when a customer came into our store to buy oilcloth for it. The oilcloth we use, and most likely the one pictured here, is made by Oilcloth International, and in their about page, they state that it has a certain level of pthalates in it that keep it flexible, and so it falls under the recent CPSIA act of 2008 that prohibits it from being used in certain products: Sunlight causes PVC to deteriorate, so your suggestion to put the product in the sun to help the smell dissipate might be a concern:

I hate to be a fearmonger, and while I use a lunchbag made from oilcloth to carry our food (wrapped or in containers) often and use oilcloth in other applications around our house; and considering glass houses, stones etc. -- I'd still use a different material for this project, - others have suggested above.
Posted: 3:45 pm on March 8th
Eternal_Clouds writes: thats a great idea for trips thanks!!!!
Posted: 10:44 pm on March 7th
RubyKitty writes: Good idea, and really nice clear photos.
Posted: 3:32 pm on February 9th
CoffeePotPeople writes: I hope you don't get tired of hearing you're a genius, because You Are a genius. This is definitely going onto my To Do list.
Posted: 2:32 pm on February 8th
Sister_Diane writes: Frumsglassmenagerie and GlacierBlue, your points are very well taken. I'm so grateful to everyone for adding so much good value to this discussion! I love the idea of using a tightly-woven canvas. I might add one caution: it seems to me that sewing along the folded edge of the finished bowl might be a very heavy-duty job with canvas, so I'd definitely recommend some testing with scrap fabric in that case.

...And now I'm all intrigued at the idea of making my own oilcloth!
Posted: 10:55 am on February 8th
Frumsglassmenagerie writes: Great project. Thanks for sharing and for opening the door to lots of human use ideas. For the tiny amount of time my dogs would use it (in the car, on hikes), it could be made of untreated tightly woven canvas.

The original oilcloth was environmentally friendly because linseed is not a petroleum based product. It is a natural byproduct of processed flax. For those that want to go that far, it is pretty easy to make.
Posted: 9:20 am on February 8th
GlacierBlue writes: This is a fabulous project, however please, please, please research the TYPE of oilcloth used. Nowadays, most are treated with harmful chemicals such as Scotchgard, and Teflon!! When searching, don't just guess ... please specify the natural, non-toxic kind that is usually made from cotton, canvas treated with natural flaxseed oil (like in the olden days) or other non-toxic, laminated fabrics. Nowadays, you really do have to be oh-so-careful careful (especially with those little ones who put full faith and trust in us).
This is definitely a wonderful, and useful project!!

Posted: 8:23 am on February 8th
Sister_Diane writes: RacyTracy, I believe this dish is safe to use as it's designed. Oilcloth is made from vinyl, which is also used in lots of other pet products, from kennel parts to chew toys. I do recommend leaving the dish out in sunlight for several hours to bleach out the scent of the vinyl, as I mentioned in the post. And I would not recommend using this dish or any plastic dish to heat pet food or water in a microwave, as that can leach toxins from the plastic.

But for occasional use on walks or travel, this dish is a safe vessel for food and water.
Posted: 2:20 pm on February 7th
SuzNTX writes: OMG-what a fantastic pictorial! I need to get the supplies and try my hand at this. Thank you for taking the time to put this together for us!
Posted: 11:00 am on February 7th
RacyTracy writes: Nice project, but is oil cloth safe for animals to drink from?
Posted: 10:58 am on February 7th
croqzine writes: Genius! This is a great project!
Posted: 4:19 pm on February 6th
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