Here’s a project that I’ve dreamt of making for years, but never had time for until now. I have 6 kids, ages 4-17, and as I watch the smallest ones grow up and out of the little stages, I’m wanting to soak up every last minute of it. I feel like it’s “now, or never” time to make a book like this for my youngest daughter, who’s 6 years old. On the bright side of bittersweet childhood growth, I actually had time to devote to this, since there’s no baby in the house. It took me about one month of solid work, every day, to complete it. This will be a Christmas gift for her, and I’m so excited to see her open it up and check it out! Next I’ll be making one for my youngest son, maybe in time for Easter or his next Birthday.
Before we get to the good stuff, just a few words about handmade gifts and why I think we should all be giving them:
- Handmade gifts contribute to the zero-waste lifestyle since they don’t come with packaging.
- Since handmade gifts are unique, they have a marvelous ability to make the recipient feel like they are special. And since they become so valuable in regards to the commodity of our time, they make the recipient feel loved.
- The maker of a handmade gift gains something in the process: fulfilling creative expression, time directed into worthy channels, and progression of skills.
- Even if you’re not able to make a gift yourself, you can still choose to buy handmade gifts from local artisans or from individual online retailers, like Etsy shops. Good karma on you for supporting these individuals, local communities, and the economy!
Now for the pictures. Some pages came from my imagination, some were inspired by cool fabrics, and some were ideas that I got from searching the internet (thank you, Pinterest!) I’ll do my best to give credit where it’s due.
This first page is a little felt dress-up doll, with an entire wardrobe of clothes and shoes for her to model. I used a pattern and directions from the brilliantly creative doll-making book, “Wee Wonderfuls,” by Hillary Lang, though I tweaked the pattern a bit to suit what I wanted. The clothes are backed with felt and have Dritz Fray Check applied to the edges so that the fabric won’t unravel. I used this technique quite a bit with all of the rough appliqué that I did to create the fabric pictures in this book.
The second page is a Native American village with a bunch of little animals that can be arranged on the scene. They’re stored in the zippered teepee. For the background I used fabric from Moda, the “Chirp Chirp” collection by Momo, one of my favorite fabric designers. All of the other elements are made from Birch Organic Fabric, the “Wildland” collection by Miriam Bos – pure, whimsical inspiration with the sweetest little Native American girl and horses. I’m telling you, if you don’t want to spend hours, days, and weeks doing a lot of hand embroidery on felt, then appliqué is the way to go. Find a fabric that inspires you to create a scene! Most of the fabrics that I’ve used are probably not available anymore, but there are always plenty of new and wonderful fabric collections being printed.
“Sing a song of sixpence, a pocketful of rye, four and twenty blackbirds baked up in a pie…” This is our favorite bedtime song, so I really wanted to find a way to include it. The dainty baroque lady is also fashioned after a pattern in, “Wee Wonderfuls,” though I had to change the scale a bit to make all the birds fit in her hair. Twenty-four birds were too many for me, so I just made 12. Six of them can be snapped on or else stored in the felt pie.
Rawr! Dinosaurs were a must, especially the baby that hatches out of the egg, since my daughter loves baby animals. The mother dinosaur’s head bends down so that she can tend to her baby. I got the idea for this page from the free “dinosaur quiet book page,” pattern by the Imagine Our Life blog. I didn’t actually use the pattern itself, because I wanted to change a few things (as I’ve been known to do.) The second half is a dinosaur dig. The pieces are stored in the pocket and then arranged like a puzzle to build a skeleton. Of course I had to add an ammonite fossil and an insect trapped in amber. I could have made a trilobite too, maybe I still will! I got the idea for this page from Jules and Jems Creations, “the fossil diggin’ page.”
This is the storybook fairytale page, where ponies with surprisingly long, braided tails roam free in fields of flowers. The princess is asleep in her tower, guarded by a faithful, but ferocious pet dragon. I was inspired by the “horse/unicorn” pattern for sale by Etsy vendor, VividLeaf. The tower is my original idea. Sleeping beauty comes from the Far Far Away collection, by Heather Ross, my favorite fabric designer of all.
For the last page I wanted to create a midcentury kitchen/breakfast scene. The felt food is stored in the vintage refrigerator. The table can be set with napkin and silverware. The mug has an opening for marshmallows or a tea bag (created with fine mesh fabric and tiny glass beads.) I traced the mug and saucer directly from my computer screen, from the Heath Ceramics website – dishes designed in the 1950’s by Edith Heath, the leader of the midcentury pottery movement.
The back of the book. I like individual pages that can be laced up together as a binding, mainly because I think it looks pretty, but also because you could potentially add a page (though I’m not sure I could make that work for this book with all of its match-y pages) or take a page out and recreate it if one were ruined. These pages (finished) are 9×10″, binding included, though I might make it a tad larger next time since I had some trouble fitting everything on. Each of the pages contains one layer of thin cotton batting to give them structure and a soft, quilt-y texture.
I didn’t use any pattern or directions for making the book itself. With basic sewing skills and a machine, some fun fabric prints and felt, and a bottle of Fray Check, you could make a book like this too. Two of my favorite resources for specialty fabrics are Hawthorne Threads and Fabricworm. Plus there are a lot of individual fabric vendors on Etsy – usually people who own a real life fabric shop somewhere and are just trying to stay in business. Etsy is a great place to find new fabric shops and hard to find fabrics that you’ve been searching for. I like to use all natural crafting materials as much as I can, which is why I prefer 100% wool felt over acrylic. Amazon has wool felt in tons of beautiful shades: basic assorted, Spring pastels, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and heathered.
A few more page ideas that I’ve thought about creating:
- A little Thumbelina doll that can be placed on a lily pad, inside of the mole’s hole, on a flying bird, and behind some flower petals with her prince.
- A felt baby on a changing table with an attached cloth diaper that can be snapped, and a bonnet with strings that can be tied. I would add accessories like wipes, a bottle, baby toys, and a baby blanket.
- More animal mom and baby pairs such as a kangaroo with a joey that can be removed from her pouch.
- A mermaid with a sunken chest, holding all kinds of beautiful treasure. I imagine her with beads or mini shells sewn into her hair. Maybe with a kelp forrest and otters, an octopus with moving arms, or a giant clam that opens with a pearl inside on the matching page.
- A Christmas tree or wreath with snap-on ornaments. You could really make an entire Christmas themed book, with cookies that can go into an oven or be placed on a tray with a note for Santa, a nativity or nut-cracker scene to arrange, angels with moveable wings, an outdoor scene with moveable sledders, skiers, and ice skaters attached to cord and a snowman that can be assembled, tic-tac-toe using holly and mistletoe, Santa’s workshop with all kinds of peek-a-boo flaps, or a snowy forrest scene with peek-a-boo flaps of all the animals in their cozy hiding places, a reindeer in its stall with grooming supplies and treats (hello magic corn!), a Bumble made with real white fur for texture and a lace up vest…
I hope that this post inspires you to create handmade gifts for the people that you love. What pages would you create for a cloth activity book? Comment below to share your ideas.
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