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How a Small Idea grew into Something Special for a Big Girl

March 15, 2011

Sewing Project ~ Fabric Activity Book

It was a very special little girl’s birthday yesterday – daughter of our long-time friend and neighbour, Hayden.  Emily turned 6 and this is the gift I made for her.

It started with me thinking that Emily needs an activity pack of some sort.  Her father is absolutely wonderful and makes more effort than any dad I know to make their time together special:  outings, beach, zoo, etc.  But I was thinking of something hands-on to keep her busy during the quiet inbetween times.

So I thought:  she needs a clipboard (so that she can draw anywhere, at home, in the car, etc.), things with which to make marks (pencils, pens), cutting things (pair of scissors), things to cut (coloured & patterned papers), sticking things (clear tape, glue stick), stickers, a sketchbook, colouring-in pages and something to contain all these things.  (Of course she already has some of these things as well as stencils, crayons and so on.)  Then I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if this whole pack was a contained unit.

And so I put aside a sewing job (a custom djembe drum bag) and I began pulling out some materials.   I found a plastic covered clipboard that had lost it’s clip, some dolphin-print fabric my mom had sent in a bag of fabric scraps, clear plastic leftover from the Stuffed With Love plushies, turquoise shower-proof fabric from my box of practice poi-making materials, some blue zips in my zip box, velcro and webbing, both of which I always seem to have, and red polar fleece which I’ve been using to create flaming scarves.  And so I could start.

I didn’t have a very clear idea in the beginning but I knew it would be some sort of folder with a hard back cover for pressing on and zipped pockets like pencil bags stitched into the facing page.  I measured up the dolphin fabric according to the folder (folded around one side with seam allowances top, bottom and the other side):  2 pieces (front and back).  Then I started with the pockets (what would become page 3).  The short zips got fabric sewn onto each end to bring them to the same width as the folder.  Using fabric strips I bound the long edges of the short and long zips  (you could use bias binding).   I then top-stitched the zips in turn to pieces of folder-width clear fabric.  As I hadn’t planned in advance and was making it all up on the fly, after the third zip I realised there was only place for 3 pockets.  I realised I could not attach these to the inside of the front cover because I still needed to make a place for papers and besides I had another long zip over and obviously 3 pockets were too few.  So I decided on including another page within the folder (page 2/3).  I’d keep the drawing things facing the drawing surface.  On the back of this page, with shower-proof fabric backing for ease of sliding, I sewed a clear plastic pocket for papers, a sketchbook etc.  I used an X-ray sheet cut to size and inserted between the fabric layers for just the right amount of stiffness for the page.

Now I needed a place for pens and stickers.  These pockets I sewed on the back of the front cover, positioning the pens in the middle so they wouldn’t take up the same thickness-space as the pencils on the following page so making the folder too bulky.  Below was space for a sticker pouch.  I cut the sticker packs up into smaller units to fit in.  Luckily the space was perfect.  This left a space at the top of the page and I found one more small blue zip.  Instead of clear plastic I decided to sew a small fabric pocket for “secret” stuff.  I have no idea what kind of “secret” stuff but every little girl needs a tiny bit of mystery and privacy and a place to put little bits and pieces.  This page (front cover on the other side) is padded with a soft carpeting which I am using as one of the layers of padding in the djembe drum bag.  This gives it structure while at the same time being puffy.

Now since this book/folder/activity pack is specifically and especially Emily’s, of course she needs her name on the front, don’t you agree?  I admit I was not keen to applique individual letters so I found a legible font and adjusted the kerning between each pair of letters until they touched.  I then flipped the word image horizontally (so I could mark it on the back of the polar fleece), printed it, handed it to Jean to cut out then pinned it to the polar fleece (back), marking around the edges with a permanent marker (be prepared for black fingers if you try this at home), cut the joined-together letters out and stitched them down with red cotton.  Then I stitched between the letters with dark blue cotton, about 4 or 5 times back and forth.  This divided them into individual, legible letters.  Clever, hey?

Now I could start putting it all together.  First I had to sew the velcro tab to close the folder.  I made a rectangular strip, padded with batting for puffiness and tactile satisfaction when closing and opening the folder and attached the soft side of the velcro.  This is important as (assuming a right-handed child) this strip will be to the right of the drawing surface when the folder is open.  The scratchy strip is attached to the front cover.  I stitched the outside edges of the back cover (right sides facing) and inserted the clipboard, stitched the outside edges of the middle page (right sides facing) and inserted the X-ray sheet, and stitched the outside edges of the front cover (right sides facing) and inserted the carpet-padding.  Then I turned the inside (spine) edges of the of each page in and top-stitched down.  After breaking 3 machine needles in the space of as many minutes sewing the front page to the middle page (due to the thickness) I resorted to hand stitching them together.  Now I had to stitch the pages to a spine (a strip of nylon webbing).  This I had to do by hand too.  I didn’t have any strong nylon thread so I pulled 3 strands from a piece of soft nylon cord and used that.

Lastly I sourced, adapted and printed some colouring-in pages from the internet:  dolphins (to complement the fabric theme and because Emily loves the sea), groovy girls doing things like surfing, camping, skate-boarding and playing soccer (activities Emily and her dad enjoy together), some African animals, butterflies, her name, the number 6, etc.  I glued one of these pages to the front cover of the sketchbook.  Now the best bit:  putting all the bits into their appropriate pockets and pouches.  Yay!!! all done:  a complete activity pack – oh so pretty and organised, just like Emily!  🙂

( link to Unwrapping pics)

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