A large play mat for the floor with a shimmering waterfall, an apple orchard, forest, flower meadow, river, duck pond, beach, sea, rock pools, vegetable patch, hideaway secret cave and a hilltop. That is what I imagined in my head to make for Coppertop’s 2nd birthday. One that could be the host for many different stories and imaginary play that could be easily folded up and stored when not in use. I made a little sketch in a notebook, checked what fabrics I had and got to work….oh, no wait, that’s right, I procrastinated and put it off until 3 days before her birthday….. so glad I’m not quite that bad anymore. No more nights staying up until 1am trying to sew beaches to seas and gluing tree trunks to cut corners until I could later sew them down!
I was so pleased with how it turned out, a year and a half later it’s still proving to be one of her most popular toys. We’ve been phasing out the plastic figures and increasing the natural wooden ones which Coppertop adores! I’ll try to detail each separate feature of the mat as I made it over the three nights, working once she fell asleep until the wee hours of the morning with my sewing needle and scissors ( I now actually own a sewing machine passed down from my wonderful gran but haven’t figured out how to use it yet). I then had it set up on the floor for her coming downstairs on her birthday morning 🙂
HOW I MADE OUR NATURE PLAY MAT
I started out with one huge rectangle of green acrylic felt. I then placed a cushion in the top right corner and sewed a larger square piece of felt all around it to create the little hill. Next up was to pin the placement of the river, beach and sea. I was lucky enough to have fabric my mama had donated to me that was originally extra from my childhood bedroom curtains! I cut out the pond, veg patch soil and meadow path so I could check the placement of the river bends.The river was pinned with various twists, turns and folds to try to create movement, starting from the side of the hill right down to the edge of the sea then sewn in place. Next up was the painstaking sewing down of the beach and sea, at that point a sewing machine would have been gratefully received! Now to the various different features…….
I had in my head the idea of fairies being able to dart in and out through the shimmering water and dive behind the cascades. I wanted it to seem like an enchanted magical place. I knew I’d need a second layer of shimmery fabric over the basic river fabric and was lucky enough to have two different types of turquoise organza ribbon at my disposal. I used the larger ribbon to create the magical pool at the bottom of the of the waterfall by first gluing it down in certain places then stitching it to create movement and depth. Next, I made the rocks by cutting out circles of grey felt, sewing a simple running stitch around the outside, pulled almost tight, filled with wadding then sewn shut. The rocks were then sewn on around the waterfall and pool. The thinner organza ribbon was then sewn in three strands at the top of the waterfall, to hang down for the fairies to fly behind. A few tufts of felt grass ( rectangles snipped into then folded back on itself and sewn in place), some pulled apart wadding as foam and the waterfall was complete!
The Vegetable Patch
The vegetable patch is so cute but super easy to make! A simple brown felt rectangle stitched on to the play mat first of all. Then for the carrots, tiny orange circles with two small strips of green felt sewn through them on to the ‘soil’. For the lettuce, a ‘splodge’ shape with a smaller circle stitched down on top from light green felt. The fence was just a long strip of white card with shorter strips glued right round as fence posts. Done! Cute little vegetable patch for the farmhouse/animal sanctuary corner of the play mat. 🙂
The trees were also pretty simple. Cut out 4 tree shapes from green felt. Blanket stitch round the outside apart from the bottom and fill with wadding, then sew up. Add the tree trunks cut from brown felt. As you’ll see in these pics, I had to glue them down to be ready in time for the birthday morning, but the glue dried clear and I later did a small blanket stitch to attach them properly to the green felt. Add the red circle felt apples, then attach to the play mat by sewing the bottom of the tree to the main play mat and sew a few stitches at the back of the tree to join it to the side of the hill, meaning the trees stand up properly without being floppy.
Flower Meadow And Cobbled Pathway
I love that wee meadow. So many colours and I tend to think of it as a forest/meadow,as that’s where Coppertop’s wooden forest creatures tend to hang out. She loves her little fawn to smell the flowers and have the fox running up and down the path. I started by stitching down the path in place on the play mat, then added different sized ovals of darker brown to represent the cobbles. Then the fun part…. cutting out lots of different coloured flowers with smaller coordinating colours for the centre. I decided in my infinite wisdom that gluing these down would be far better than stitching. WRONG!! I should have put a single stitch or even a French knot through the centre and stitched onto the play mat. The glue works unless a curious toddler decides to really pull on them. When I decided to try and stitch them down afterwards, I discovered that because there was glue between the flower and play may plus between the two flower layers, it was impossible to put a stitch through. Luckily, only one flower has been sacrificed so far, Coppertop gave the rest a reprieve.
Our little duck pond took no time at all. One oval piece of blue felt secured to the play mat. Three little fish cut from orange felt. A few lily pads cut from light green felt. Then some reeds cut the same as round the waterfall, green rectangles snipped into then folded back on itself and sewn down . How easy is that?! Coppertop loves having her duck swim across it and her frog jumping over the lily pads.
Secret Hideaway Cave (removable)
I’m so proud of how the cave turned out! The reason I made it removable is so that it can be placed anywhere on the play mat and also so the mat folds up nicely without anything getting squished 😉 I started by covering a piece of cardboard with green felt. Next I covered another piece of cardboard with grey felt , bent into shape and stitched down on the green felt covered cardboard. I added lighter green tall grass round the sides and the back. The shiny green ribbon strands that cover the entrance to the cave were stitched in sets of three about a centimetre apart. I stitched them with grey thread just inside the top of the cave and the stitching then barely show from the outside. I then stitched on the butterfly and a couple of flowers to complete it. This has been a really popular addition to the play mat. For animals to sleep in during winter. For fairies to hide from humans. As an excellent hiding place for mummy’s purse, resulting in an hour and a half of perplexed searching…
These cute little rock pools are really easy but look so cool! I basically made slightly larger versions of the rocks by the waterfall by cutting out circles of grey felt, stitching a running stitch around the outside, pulling almost tight, stuffing then closing. The only difference is that I pulled in some stitches through the middle at the top to create the dents before sewing on light blue felt on top of the pulled in stitches. I then poured on a blob of craft glue that dried clear and shiny to create the water effect. The last thing to do was to sew two starfish on the beach and some wafts of wadding to create sea foam then the mat was complete. Phew!!
It felt like a lot of work at the time but I was really pleased that the vision I had in my head translated into the physical end result so well! Coppertop got a lot of Ostheimer wooden animals last Christmas ( along with a few other Waldorf based toys from the Myriad store )which she absolutely loves and have weaved brilliantly into our imaginary and nature play on the play mat. It’s wonderful that a year and a half later it is still a favourite treasure with hopefully many more years to come!
I’d love to know if any of you have made similar items for your little cherubs or if this has inspired you to have a go! Please feel free to drop me a comment or subscribe via email so you don’t miss my witterings. Also including a contact form straight below this if you want to contact me directly 🙂 xx