My favorite project for Christmas was this personalized playmat for my little nephew.  Just shy of two and a half, he loves to play with cars and trucks and little figures — especially firemen, he’s obsessed with firemen.  He is very focused and intent while he plays, telling himself a little story about his firemen or sometimes singing faintly.  (I asked him, “What is that song you are singing?” and he sang for me, “Old McDonald…E I E I O…bah bah sheep everywhere…”  Ohhh, the sweetness of it,  you could die.)  When I saw them in November, my sister-in-law and I talked about playmat possibilities for him.  When she said she wasn’t going to make one for him, I jumped on the chance.  The image of this playmat came to me almost at once and it really was a piece of cake to put together (though I never could get a great picture of it).  Here’s how to do it if you’d like to make one for a little person in your life.  (I’d love to know if you make one, so leave me a comment and a link to a picture if you have one.  And, as always, let me know if anything is unclear.)

Make a pattern on cardstock for the houses.  (I used my 4.5″ and my 2.5″ quilting squares, but this isn’t necessary, you can just measure it out.)  As you can see in the picture, the bottom of the house is a 4.5″ square and its 7″ to the peak of the roof.  (Draw a 4.5″ square, then mark a point 2.5″ above the center of the top line; draw diagonals from the top corners to that point to make your roof.)  Cut out houses from from assorted colors of wool felt (so you don’t have to worry about finishing the edges, which would be a big pain in the patootie), then cut out 2.5″ windows (look at the next two pictures).  Just center the windows by eye, they don’t need to be perfectly lined up.  (I order my felt from the fantastic Wool Felt Central — over 60 shades of wool felt, great prices and service — I can’t praise them enough!)

How many houses?  I cut out nine.  Yeah, so about this number: I counted the houses of my nephew’s family (his own house, both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousin), which came to seven.  Did I mistakenly cut nine, or do it on purpose so I could add a house for Sesame Street and for the beloved firemen?  I can’t remember, but that’s what happened and it worked out nicely.  I’m going to use “nine” in the rest of this tutorial, but if you are making your own, substitute the number of houses you want. 

Cut out nine 4.5″ squares from a medium-weight clear vinyl (which I found in the home decor section of Joann’s).  Line up the vinyl and use binder clips to hold it onto the felt.

Use cream-colored thread to stitch carefully around the window and across the bottom (only, not the whole house).  You will need to use a teflon/non-stick foot with the vinyl.  If you are using a non-stick foot, sew with the vinyl side up.  If you don’t have a non-stick foot, you can put a piece of wax paper (or other thin paper) between the vinyl and your sewing machine, sew through it all (vinyl side down), then carefully rip off the paper.  In either case, pull the threads through to the back and tie them off.

Next, lay out your houses on a piece of paper that is the same size as you want your playmat to be.  My mat was going to be a three-foot square and I used the back of wrapping paper.  Figure out where your roads will go, if they will lead off the mat, etc.  I wanted three roads leading off the edges of the mat so my nephew could incorporate his other toys, like his fire station and barn.  You want to make sure to leave at least an inch or more between the houses and the edge of the fabric, so there is room to hem it.  Once you’ve figured out a good layout, draw it and cut it out.

I was lucky to find a huge piece of felt on sale for a couple of bucks but you can easily piece felt together — just overlap the ends and zig-zag to secure.  I used plain old poly felt for this — I went with nicer wool felt for the houses because it comes in more and “more better” colors and is a bit thicker.  (This proved to be fun with my nephew because I would ask him who lived in the red house, the pink house, etc.)

Cut your background fabric to size.  I used a three-foot square of a sweet kelly green mini-dot print.  (I love this fabric!)  Before sewing, line up the roadway and the houses on the background fabric and make sure it all fits.  You  may find you need to trim here and there to get everything to fit with enough space for a hem all around.  (As you can see in this picture, I had to trim the driveway to the blue house to leave enough room at the edge.)

Once you’ve got it lined up to your satisfaction, pin the heck out of the roadway so it won’t shift as you stitch it down.  Slowly and carefully stich around all of the edges with black thread.  You can stitch the yellow center line by hand or machine.  (My machine has a nice thick triple-stitch, so I used that.)  Pull all threads to the back and tie them off.

Now, line up your houses and carefully stitch around the sides and the top with cream-colored thread to create a pocket.  Line up your stitches with those along the bottom to create the appearance of one continuous stitch.  Pull the threads to the back and tie them off.  (I designed this with pockets so the pictures can be changed.  My nephew will have a new sibling in the spring, or maybe his aunt –his other unmarried aunt — or uncle will get married sometime.)  If you want to add any other embellishments, do it now.  (I just added a heart to the center, but you could do flowers or trees or whatever you like.)

Next, sew on the backing fabric (I used a heavy twill).  Sew the front and the back right-sides together, leaving about 8-12 inches for turning.  Turn right-side out, press the edges, then carefully stitch around the edge of the mat, closing the gap as you do so.

For the final step, print out photos and cut them to fit into the pockets.  I couldn’t get a great picture of the full playmat, but here it is with the photos. 

My nephew’s reaction was to immediately lay down on it and start pointing at the pictures, which I took to be the almost 2 and 1/2 year-old way of saying, “Awesome!”

Not sure you have the time or energy to make this?  Hop on over to my shop and you’ll find them for sale!