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This Product Designer Turned Making Soccer Balls Into An Art Form

Count Jon-Paul Wheatley among the thousands of us who tried his hand at a new hobby during the Covid-19 pandemic. He’s just been a little more successful at it than the rest of us. Making good on a background in physical product design, Wheatley bought a set of leather-working tools and set out to make a soccer ball. Now, videos of his creations garner millions of views on TikTok.

Wheatley (@jonpaulsballs on Instagram and TikTok), painstakingly stitches carefully cut leather pieces, often made out of unorthodox materials like Doc Martens, old cleats or suit jackets, into perfectly crafted soccer balls. It’s an arduous process. Crafting a standard 32-piece ball takes around eight hours. The more complex the ball, the more intense the effort and the longer the undertaking.

An Unnassuming Start

Perhaps unsurprisingly, creating beautifully round and perfectly stitched balls has a steep learning curve. 

“There aren’t any good ball-making tutorials or resources online,” Wheatley said in an interview with The18. “I learned by banging my head against the world and making ball after ball and getting slightly better each time.”

Next to his current works, Wheatley’s first ball would be unrecognizable.

Jon-Paul Wheatley | First ball

Jon-Paul Wheatley's first ever ball.

“I thought I could make it better if I made another one,” Wheatley said. “The next one was slightly less bad. That’s the headspace I’ve been in ever since. Now I’m surrounded by balls.”

Every Ball Has A Story

Having gotten the design element down, Wheatley now uses his craft as a story-telling opportunity or a deep dive into the history of the game. On one ball, each panel individually represents a game from the 1966 World Cup. The panels are complete with the competing teams, final score and location on the field of each goal scored. When stitched together, each moment of genius leading up to England’s first and only World Cup victory is included chronologically. The result is a ball that tells the story of an entire tournament.

@jonpaulsballs reckon we’ve got a chance this year? (ball was a collab with thegoalhanger google them) #england #worldcup #1966 ♬ original sound - Jon

A different ball, in design and in spirit, is a tribute to one of soccer’s great icons. The ball is made using only leather from the iconic red and black Adidas Predators, the same boot worn by Steven Gerrard throughout his career. 

who’s next?

♬ original sound - Jon

Wheatley insists he does his designs purely for fun and he doesn’t sell his creations. 

“Two months ago I had 50 followers, mostly family and friends. I was truly screaming into the void,” Wheatley said. “A couple of months ago, I started posting process videos showing the full ball-making process, and they started to resonate with people.”

As is the nature of the internet, the videos blew up almost overnight. Wheatley’s most popular video has been viewed more than 26 million times. As his popularity grows, so does Wheatley’s ambition. His latest ball is made of more than 232 panels and took more than two weeks to stitch together. Let’s see what he will come up with next.

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