Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Framed Puzzle Mat: DIY Puzzle Assembly Workspace for Kids

Whenever I'm at Target, Jo-Ann or AC Moore I always come across the $1 "puzzles in a bag". Since I love going to Target, Jo-Ann and AC Moore, our daughter has a large collection of puzzles! Which is a good thing because my husband and daughter love puzzles! I have visions of them working together on large puzzles when she gets older and it's such a sweet image... But in the meantime, she is hooked on any puzzle I bring home and I enjoy sitting down with her and coaching her through some of the more complex puzzles.

From the get-go, I noticed that she had a bit of difficulty starting out the puzzle. It seemed to me that it was difficult for her to define the size the of the puzzle and, therefore, lay out the edges and corners of the puzzle. For an adult or older child it's easy to just say, "Oh, the puzzle is 10 inches by 7 inches!" but a very young child, I feel, needs a visual. When she was starting out with puzzles, Target had pre-assembled puzzles on cardboard mats. I had the idea of extending this concept to the $1 puzzles.

So, I gathered our daughter's extensive puzzle collection and noticed that the great majority fall into one of two dimension categories (1) approximately 9.1 inches by 10.3 inches or (2) approximately 15 inches by 11.25 inches. These dimensions were consistent even when taking into consideration the number of puzzle pieces. There were a couple of puzzles that fell in between these two categories, but a mat made for the larger puzzles would accommodate an occasional off-dimension puzzle.

I decided to make the framed puzzle mat out of craft foam, because somewhere in my crafting past I discovered that it is amazing at holding cardboard pieces in place! Craft foam also has a few millimeters of depth to it, which is perfect for the mat's frame. You could also use cardboard for the frame, but craft foam is just so much easier to cut, the craft knife just glides right through it. It's also very cheap and comes in a rainbow of pretty colors!

So, to make the framed puzzle mat, you will need two sheets of 12 in x 18 in craft foam, foam glue, and a puzzle. As for tools, you will need a self-healing cutting mat (or piece of cardboard) to protect your work surface, a craft knife, a ruler, and a Sharpie. An optional item is a large heavy book (or books) for weight during the gluing process. 

I will be demonstrating how to make the framed puzzle mat using a 9.125 in x 10.375 in puzzle. Any other size framed puzzle mat could be made following the same process as long as the puzzle fits within the 12 in x 18 in limits of the craft foam sheets.

Step-by-Step Instructions:

1 - Since these are small puzzles, I chose a 24 piece puzzle and assembled it. Place the puzzle on top of one of the craft foam sheets and outline it with the Sharpie. This sheet will be the frame of the mat.

2 - With the ruler, measure the left-hand border and define an equivalent border on the right-hand side with the Sharpie.

3 - Using the craft knife, cut out the center of the frame by following the lines you drew in Step 1.

4 - Cut off the excess craft foam by following the line you drew in Step 2.

5 - Lay the frame over the puzzle to make sure it fits properly and make any necessary adjustments.

6 - The second sheet of craft foam will serve as the mat and is the same size as the frame. Lay the frame over the second sheet of craft foam and align the edges. Using the Sharpie, outline the right-hand border of the frame onto the mat.

7 - Cut off the excess craft foam by following the line you drew in Step 6.

8 - Apply foam glue to the fours sides of the frame.

9 - Align the two pieces of craft foam and press down firmly.

10 - Optional step: Place a heavy book or several books on top of the frame to help the frame adhere to the mat. Wait for the glue to dry (I let it dry overnight).

Time to play! (Besides developing problem solving skills, spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination, patience, persistence, and all those good life skills! Playing is the best!)

I made a second mat for the larger puzzles. The frame was made to fit the 15 in x 11.25 in puzzles. I would say that this size is probably the limit for a single 12 in x 18 in craft foam sheet.

In an up-coming post I will be sharing a scaled-up version of these framed puzzle mats for a 4,000 piece puzzle! In the meantime, I'll enjoy the simplicity and satisfaction of completing a 24 piece puzzle!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Kitty Doorstop: Upcycle a Baby Onesie

I go through minimalist phases where I try to pare down our belongings into (1) things that we use and (2) things that we just plain love. Our old clothes are always easy to get rid of, but when it comes to our daughter's clothes, I just can't seem to part with them, either for sentimental reasons or because they are just too cute. As a result we have boxes and boxes of her old clothes in the basement.

The cute ones I've been trying to upcycle, so that they can have a second life as something useful. Needless to say she is going through clothes faster than I can come up with ideas on how to use them!

While I was putting her to bed one night I realized that she needed a doorstop in her bedroom. At one point I had put one of her outgrown shoes at the door to prop it open and, like most temporary solutions, it ended up becoming permanent. I remembered this really cute onesie with a cat on it and I could practically hear it meowing at me!

When I sat down to plan out the doorstop, I knew I wanted it to be soft and not too heavy. Our daughter would most definitely be picking it up and carrying it around, because that's her! So I decided to fill it with fiberfill (like a stuffed animal) and put a small weight at the bottom. It won't be securing the door against gale force winds, but it will serve its purpose.

To make the doorstop, you will need to first choose a baby onesie/bodysuit with a cute design on it (I think the only problem here will be picking just one!). I used a size "12 months" onesie from OshKosh B'Gosh. Once you have the onesie picked out, choose a coordinating fabric and a sheet of felt. The fabric will be the back of the doorstop (another option is to use the back of the onesie). The sheet of felt will be the bottom of the doorstop (we have wall-to-wall carpeting and I've found that felt doesn't slip around on the carpet as much as other fabrics). You will also need a piece of interfacing for the onesie. To give the bottom some structure I used a felt sheet from the craft store that is 3 mm thick. I used small stones for weight and fiberfill to stuff it.

Step-by-Step Instructions:

1 - Start by outlining the image with a fabric marker. Leave enough space around the image for the seams.

2 - Cut out the image along the line you just drew.

3 - Trace the outline of the image onto the interfacing and cut the interfacing along the line.

4 - Trace the outline of the image onto the coordinating fabric you chose. Remember to place the image and the fabric right-sides together. Cut the fabric along the line.

5 - You should now have the back of the doorstop (coordinating fabric), the interfacing, and the image from the onesie ready to go! Attach the interfacing to the onesie following the instructions provided by the interfacing manufacturer.

6 - For the bottom of the doorstop you will need four ovals: two from scraps of the coordinating fabric, one from the felt sheet, and one from the 3 mm felt. The two identical ovals (coordinating fabric) will be used to make the stone sack that sits inside the doorstop for weight. The 3mm felt oval will be smaller than the other ovals since it doesn't require a seam allowance.

7 - Fold the felt sheet in half and then fold it in half again.

8 - Using the bottom of one of the fabrics from Step 5, draw a quarter circle onto the felt and cut it out. The bottom of the fabrics will give you the size of the oval you need.

9 - Trace the oval onto the coordinating fabric scraps. Cut out 2 ovals from the scraps.

10 - Trace the oval onto the 3 mm felt. Draw a second oval inside the traced oval, approximately 1/4" in from the original oval. Cut out the smaller oval. You are basically removing the seam allowance from the 3 mm felt oval. 

11 - All the pieces are in place so now we can get to sewing! Pin the coordinating fabric to the onesie + interfacing, right-sides together.

12 - Pin the two fabric ovals together and sew, leaving a small opening. This will be the stone sack.

13 - Fill the sack with stones and hand stitch the opening shut.

14 - Attach the stone sack to the 3 mm felt oval. I hand stitched the sack to the felt at 4 points. This is going to be inside the doorstop, so it really doesn't have to look pretty. 

15 - The stone sack in now secured to the thick felt.

16 - Continuing Step 11, sew the onesie to the coordinating fabric, following the shape of the image. Sew along the sides and the top, leaving the bottom completely open.

17 - Cut off any excess fabric and cut small slits in the seam allowance around the curves and corners (this will allow the fabric to mold to the shape you sewed. For more information on this: Shaping Seam Allowance for Corners and Curves)

18 - Turn the piece from Step 17 around 180 degrees (top facing you), and pin the felt oval to the center of the right-side of the onesie (at the bottom, which was left open in Step 16).

19 - Work the felt oval around the opening, pinning it in place as you go. Sew the felt base to the doorstop. Leave an opening large enough to fit the 3 mm felt oval and stone sack.

20 - Cut small slits in the oval base and turn the doorstop right-side out.

21 - Stuff the doorstop with the fiberfill.

22 - Slide the 3 mm felt base and stone sack into the opening at the bottom of the doorstop.

23 - Hand stitch the opening shut.

You now have an adorable upcycled doorstop!

Our daughter absolutely loved it and it ended up sleeping in bed with her (back to the outgrown shoe, I guess!).

And apparently it not only stops doors, it also stops dogs!

Friday, April 17, 2015

DIY Play Garden

Although there are many things I like about winter, this past winter was particularly bitter and long... Even though we are already almost a month into Spring, the earth is only now starting to show signs of waking up.

To get us past those last few weeks of winter and to create some excitement for Spring, I put together a little play garden for my daughter. Now if there is one thing that she loves, it's flowers! Artificial, real, it doesn't matter, they all deserve a moment of pause and a good whiff. 

This little garden allows her to arrange the flowers, pick them, make bouquets with them, and then "replant" them. Adding a few extras, like rocks, toy bugs, and a small garden gnome (because no garden is complete without one!), creates a scene for imaginative play. I love the whimsy of a fairy garden, so I think I will be adding little fairy bits and bobs to it in the future!

To make the play garden you will need a piece of cardboard as large as you want the area of the garden to be, green duct tape, wooden spools, green acrylic paint, and artificial flowers. As for tools, all you need are cutting pliers, a paintbrush, a hot glue gun and glue sticks, and a utility knife.

Start by covering the cardboard with green duct tape. Smooth the duct tape over the cardboard and use the utility knife to cut it when you reach the end. I covered the edges and both sides of the cardboard. Another option is to paint the cardboard green. 

Paint the wooden spools with the green acrylic paint and allow them to dry.

Apply hot glue to the bottoms of the spools and press them down onto the duct tape covered cardboard. The flowers are going to need some breathing room, so space the wooden spools a few inches apart.

Take the bouquet of artificial flowers and cut the flower stems off the thicker base. The individual flower stems are the perfect size for the spools. Usually two stems can be placed in the same hole.  

Arrange the flowers and accessories and your little play garden is ready for fun!