by-Karen-Runge-600w
The only toy I still have from growing up is a Super Spirograph.

I was already a teenager when I got it, so that would have been in the early 1970s. My sister had a regular Spirograph and we both loved it, so when the Super Spirograph came out, I had to get one.

It has survived many moves and a fire. The box cover disappeared long ago, so the wheels and rings and other bits sit in their plastic tray with improvised protection.

Now my son enjoys playing with it too. One day he observed, “Whoever invented this was a genius.”

Super Spirograph

Making rainbow designs with my old Super Spirograph

Sometimes I bring out my Super Spirograph to entertain friends and family. But I’m picky about who I share it with! I don’t want to lose any pieces, for one thing. It’s not for everyone, but those who like it, like it a lot.

I don’t personally know anyone else who has an original Spirograph set. Just people I’ve met through this blog.

Since I started this site, Kahootz Toys has released new versions of the old Spirograph and Super Spirograph. Now more and more people have the chance to create cool patterns with Spirograph.  You’ll find news and reviews about the new sets here.

I also talk about Wild Gears, a more grown-up (i.e. more expensive, more precise, and more complex) drawing tool like Spirograph for drawing epitrochoids and hypotrochoids (i.e. patterns), designed by Aaron Bleackley and laser-cut on demand by Ponoko. Read more about Wild Gears.

Some people have been taking Spirograph further into creative and artistic realms. I am really pleased that this blog has expanded to show their work. I hope it will inspire others to do more with Spirograph. See the Spirograph Artist Gallery.

I’ve been building a section on the technical and mathematical side of Spirograph, including charts, tables and explanations. Check out Spirograph Math.

If you have a Spirograph, or if you remember playing with one as a child, please leave a comment below.

If you have one, do you ever use it? Are you saving it for your grandchildren? Have you done anything unusual with it?

~ Heather Holm

 


Comments

About me — 53 Comments

  1. Hi Heather,
    I loved Spirograph as I was growing up and had the original version and several that followed. None of them survived childhood though, so the ones I own now all came from ebay. I have, I think, ALL of the versions, and at least two original and super. They reside in an upstairs closet and, at age 50, I just started thinking about them again and have been looking for pens that would work. I’m planning to order the Stabilo set on your site. I also have been thinking of a better pinning surface. I have a few replacement cardboard and paper sets but will probably use a bulletin board, maybe with an extra layer of card stock paper between the drawing paper and cork. The days are turning cold and wet in the Pacific Northwest and I’m looking forward to a cozy weekend, watching the Seahawks, and creating Spirograph projects. Thanks for your informative site! Glad to know there are other nostalgic Spirograph lovers in the world!

    • Glad you found the site! The card stock idea sounds good as it would give a smoother surface than the bulletin board. Let me know how that turns out.

      Spirographing while watching a game on TV sounds like a perfect pairing. Sort of like doodling in class. Hope you get to it this fall!

  2. I’ve just been given an original Chad Valley Spirograph set , but with no pens ( they have all dried up over time ) . I had a set when I was young , but lent it out , never to be seen again ! I am happy to have this set but my problem is getting suitable pens. It’s all very well to get pens that reach through to the paper , but the original pens as I remember were a snug fit in the holes , the ones I have tried out reach the paper but not being that snug fit they can move slightly within the hole , ans so the lines can be a bit erratic….looking a mess ! Do the Stabilo set sit snug into the holes as the original.? Also , by not fitting snug , the wheels are harder to move around. Looking hopefully forward to your help and advice . Ivan Millest , Warwick , England . ( aged 58 )

    • Hi Ivan, I had to look up “Chad Valley Spirograph” and found pictures on eBay in the UK. It looks just like the Spirograph my sister had when we were little (in Canada), but with different graphics, so I assume “Chad Valley” was the UK distributer at the time.

      The pens don’t have to fit snugly. If you hold the pen vertically, it precesses in the hole in rather the same way that the wheel goes around the ring. The relative size of the pen to the hole does slightly influence the design – patterns with tight loops, for example, like the largest wheels give, have bigger loops if the hole is bigger.

      I’ve been studying this because the holes on the new set are larger (see my detailed review of the new Spirograph). In fact, I’ve been planning to write a post on this issue. Having both old and new sets now, I can compare the effect of bigger holes using the same pens.

      I’m guessing that if you practice a bit, perhaps lighten your touch, as your arm/hand learns the rhythm you’ll get nicer results. The pen must move around the hole as you draw to get a clean result. The smooth flow of colour out of a narrow-tipped felt pen is really worth the trouble, once you get it.

      You’ve given me a good idea – over Christmas I’ll watch different people draw with both sets, and see how they learn and where their problems lie. Fodder for future posts, for sure!

  3. Heather:
    I really enjoyed your web site.
    If you really like this art form check out my friend Aaron Bleackley who made his own larger sets.I just got mine last Tuesday and it’s really neat.Right now his sets are like a prototype but the quality is fantastic.My full page set was $100.00 so they are not cheap.Here is a Vimeo of his set:

    http://vimeo.com/74024684

    You can google him and see more videos.Good luck and tell him Barry talked up his new business.

    Regards.

    Barry M Sawyer

    • Heck yes, this is awesome! So is it {big hole + little hole} that makes the parallel pattern? Is the mesh size compatible with Spirograph? Sorry I missed the kickstarter campaign. Thanks for telling me about it!

  4. Hi Heather,

    I’m looking at building a Spirograph generator using the LEGO Minstorms EV3, but like most people my original Spirograph did not survive childhood. I was wondering, do you have a list of the original wheel sizes, along with the hole numbers?

    Also, can you confirm for me whether or not the hole number coincides with the distance from the edge (in mm)?

    Thanks, Rosco

    • Interesting questions. The hole number doesn’t quite give the distance from the edge in mm, it’s smaller than that. Looking at a few wheels of different sizes, hole 20 is about 16 mm from the edge on all of them. Of course, one has to decide whether to measure from the inside of the teeth or the outside. It may not have been designed in metric, given when it was manufactured. Designs show that the holes in the new set are not placed as precisely as in my old set.

      I’ll make a new post with a list of wheels on my two sets. When I’ve done that, I’ll send you a message so that you know. Perhaps others can contribute their own data to it, and add to the resource.

  5. Heather – I am a maths tutor by profession but as a kid I used to draw tons of Spirograph patterns and got to know the math behind it.

    There is a link on my web site on http://mkhometuition.co.uk/index_files/Page592.htm
    to a zipped download for Windows, consisting of an executable (which your anti-virus software might flag – don’t worry),Word documents and galleries for you to peruse.
    The executable is written in Pascal.

    • Mark, I’ve taken a quick (so far) look at your package – the documentation and the program. Talk about comprehensive! I’ve seen a few spirograph simulations online, but this one reproduces the patterns of the physical Spirograph most accurately. I took enough university math to appreciate your explanations but it was long enough ago that I’ll take your word for it (ha ha). Would you care to write a guest post about it, with a link to the download?

  6. Hi Heather,
    I just have dug out my super spirograph from the attic. I also got it in the early 70s in Germany and 15 years ago my mom brought it when she was visiting me, but I didn’t give it much attention. There is still the price tag on it and huh, this was really expensive for back then 🙂
    Now I was working with a vector graphics program on the computer where I found a function “spirograph” and I was not able to understand how it works. This brought me to find it on the attic and I had so much fun for a couple of days. I made a blog post and mentioned yours for infomation. I hope this is ok.
    Greetings from Germany

    • Thanks for the link! I just checked out your blog and your shops, and I really look forward to seeing what comes out of your spirograph rediscovery and how you integrate it with the rest of your graphic art – if you do, and I hope you will, because it’s sure to be inspirational to the rest of us who may not be graphic designers but might want to take spirograph to the next level. Please consider making a guest post here when you’re ready to show us.

      Meanwhile I encourage other readers to check out Angelika’s blog post about her Super Spirograph!

      P.S.: I find the felt-tip pens dry faster than any ballpoints, and smear less.

  7. Thank you so much, Heather! Your website kind of infected me now with all the wonderful information. It will be cool to make a guest post. I am just working on some ideas how to use the “spirographies”. I am printing, cutting, assembling and making pictures. Could you please send me an email to freda.fredriksson@googlemail.com, that I can answer and send to you the text and pics privately within the next days?

    Many greetings, Angelika

  8. Hi, Thanks, so glad I found your site! Lots of really helpful and inspiring ideas. My husband found an original set in a thrift store and when I tried it everything came back, how much fun it was all those decades ago…when I was young….
    I make retro paper crafts with them and it is easy to become addicted.
    I am now about to embark on a spirograph program for the kids,tweens and teens I work with at a library.I came across your site when looking for suitable pens ( I use cheap gel pens and they look nice but can smudge) and I can’t wait to see how they react to this ‘cool’ retro educational art and science tool. I will let you know how things go. Thanks once again for the site and giving me the chance to ‘meet’ other ‘spirographers’!

  9. Hi Heather! I’ve been feeling nostalgic and have just gone and bought a second hand Spirograph from ebay! I am so glad I found your website (via one of your tutorials on YouTube) which is full of wonderful ideas and inspiration. I look forward to sharing it with my daughter. So thanks so much for being here!

  10. I’m a teacher of gifted elementary students and wondered if you’d be interested in Skyping with us about tips for making great spirograph art.

    • That is a very interesting idea! I’d love to do that sometime – at the moment I’m very busy with work, and I’d need to prepare a bit. For one thing, test the camera and lighting to know what works best; for another thing have some kind of plan of what to talk about. Have your students used spirograph yet? Do you have some in the classroom?

  11. Hi! I am so glad I found this site. Yesterday I picked up a “retro” Spirograph Plus set – the instructions are dated 1986. I had one as a kid, and was delighted to stumble across one again. (I didn’t think anyone used them anymore) The pens are gone, but all the pieces, bar one, are there, so I am going to play today. My husband thinks I’m nuts, but hey…art is art.

  12. I must have grown up disadvantaged, because I never heard of Spirograph until today! Here’s my question: Can Spirograph be used to draw a spiral? Thanks in advance.

    • I see why you might think so from the name, but in fact, no, that’s not what it’s for. The hypotrochoids and epitrochoids that you can draw with Spirograph are patterns that come back to where they started. There may be spiral elements in them, especially if you use 4 gears inside a ring – something I haven’t written about yet, but stay tuned. But eventually the pen comes back to the beginning. Thanks for asking. If anyone has a better answer for Bill, please go ahead!

  13. Hello Heather,
    I’ve recently re-discovered the Spirograph and time spend with it doesn’t seem to enough! Thank you so much for creating this website for spiro-enthusiasts like us. I’ll try and get the Stabilo Pens too… just curious though with both the 150/105 and 144/96 rings, when I try almost any wheel with its #1 hole, the wheel seems to slip and jump teeths. I’ve tried to be super slow and also try to hold down the wheel with other fingers to no avail! Any tips please?
    Thank you again!
    -Sheila

    • Yes, hole #1 is always the hardest, as the changes in direction are sharpest. I can only say to let the wheel guide your pen more than the other way around. Watch where the hole in the wheel is wanting to travel, and let it take the pen there. One finger held lightly on the wheel can help; just don’t restrict the movement. Keep the teeth engaging with each other. The sideways force of the pen is always in the direction of the next teeth to engage. I’m sure you’ll get better with practice.

      Also make sure your surface is flat and that the ring is firmly fixed to it, whether you use pins or putty. It’s one less thing to worry about.

  14. I am so glad to find this website! I have given permission to be a child again at 55 and buy a Super Spirograph for myself..It was my favourite toy as a girl and now I want to share it with my child friends. I have purchased several imitations but nothing is like the original. I plan to have friends’ kids over and show them what Spirograph is all about before I get them one. As you say, it is not for everyone.

  15. Thanks for your awesome website Heather. I too used to love my super Spirograph set, it has unfortunately over the years disappeared, partly because the two main rings were used so much that the teeth had worn down and it couldn’t be used. I have just got the new super Spirograph set from cahoots and am having lots of fun with it experimenting, will try some of your designs.

    Regards Ingrid

  16. Heather,
    I love SpiroGraph! Can you tell me where can I obtain this Super SpiroGraph? I just have the Deluxe Art Set, which I picked up at a Barns & Nobel. Thanks
    Dave

  17. Thanks so much for this site! It’s been very helpful. And it is so much fun to read.
    I grew up using the Spirograph, and when I saw the latest version that’s just been released, I wanted to buy them for my nieces. But I learned about the “putty” that is used instead of the pins, and ended up going on eBay to get a vintage set. Your description of which pens to buy was invaluable, because I will need to include those.

    • Thanks Beth. A vintage set plus modern pens gives you the best of both eras. And they can choose between pins and putty. Both work. I don’t use pins anymore. The putty is just common poster putty. I wish I’d thought of using it back in the day.

      Don’t forget to send your nieces to this site for inspiration!

  18. Heather mam, I’m a big fan of this site. When I found it, Ariella’s collage was trending on the page.

    Your site gave me enough motivation to start my blog & the collage motivated me to create something like that.

    Here i will like to share the link of that post (SPIROGRAPH & OTHER DRAWING MACHINES)

    http://dhavalsartblog.blogspot.in/2015/11/spirograph-other-drawing-machines_53.html?m=1

    Take a look at the post & must comment on it if you liked it.

    Also take a look at my other blogposts on http://dhavalsartblog.blogspot.com

  19. Heather,

    I recently get back into Spirograph with the new basic set. I received an upgrade for Christmas to the super set. I forgot how much fun this set was!!

    I am trying to figure out how to work the double bar set up. Do you have, or know where to find, a video for a how to with the double bar set up??

    • That’s great that you’re rediscovering it. The double bar is a configuration I really haven’t explored at all. Good idea though. I’ll make a note of it for future exploration.

  20. I’m from the UK and have owned a Spirograph since 1973. I’ve always wanted a Super Spirograph set as it was included in the instructions of the set I had (clever Denys Fisher) and I’ve just managed to get hold of one. It has a few pieces missing.
    I’ve tried ebay with some success – does anyone else know of another route I can try to get hold of the missing pieces I need?
    Thanks in advance

  21. I too played with a spirograph as a kid, but it was lost in the ensuing years. Just recently I bought one of the new sets, and have fallen completely in love with it! There’s something very soothing about it I find.

    I’m working on branching out into making art with it myself, though I’m just a beginner. I post my spirograms on tumblr:

    http://andersonloco.tumblr.com/tagged/spirograph

    I hope you find them interesting.

  22. Pingback: Spirographing | Raising Jane Journal

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