I-Spy Activity Placemat

Sorry for the long delay between posts. Work has really gotten in the way of my having fun lately!

I've had this particular project in my head for over a month, but hadn't even had the opportunity to run to the store to get the materials I needed. But finally it's done and here it is and I hope you like it.

This project was inspired by dinner. Dinner out. Dinner out at various places with my young son in tow. Now don't get me wrong, I think that restaurants are doing a good thing with the little child menus/activity books and crayons that you get at many places. But if the wait for food is any too long at all, then they simply aren't adequate. Plus, they can't possibly cover the range of ages of the children they're supposed to entertain. Again, I'm not criticizing the restaurants -- it's their business to serve food, after all. But I have simply noticed a G.W.P. (gap with potential.)

So I've been imagining some options for what to do for my son specifically, but tried to be conscious of what would have worked well for him when he was younger, which might suit someone else with younger ones currently. So here's the list of problems/requirements I came up with:
1 - No telling how clean the table is. Even with a Clorox wipe, I still don't want my son eating anything that touches it. (Really, I'm not OCD, I just know stuff.) So I decided a nice, washable placemat would be a good place to start for the base.
2 - My son can read now but obviously couldn't when he was younger, so the activities need to be progressive. If the placemat isn't versatile, then I would need to keep replacing the placemat. So versatility is important.
3 - It needs to have activities that can be done repeatedly. Once the restaurant menu activities are done, they're done. So it should have reusable, or re-doable things for activities.
4 - Kid friendly. Cheerful, appealing, colorful. Covered with things that draw their attention.

So I played it out in my head and came up with something that I (and my son!) are quite excited about. Follow along and I'll show you the process

First, you'll need a selection of items from the fabric store. Decide what size you would like your finished placemat to be. I went with 15" x 20" (for a placemat, bigger is better for my son.)

You'll need a selection of I-Spy print fabrics. This was actually one of the things that stalled me on this project. I found that while there are very many small-print fabrics available, most all of them are simply repeats of the same thing, like flowers or hearts or dots. I had quite a bit of difficulty finding I-spy type prints. But then I finally lucked out and found a bundle of fat quarters in the quilting section that worked perfect, and supplemented it with a few others that I thought would work.
Because of the difficulty I had finding the prints I wanted, I actually decided on the shape of my placemat based upon the number of prints I found. I had 12 prints, so I made my finished squares 5"x5" (6"x6" cut size with 1/2" seam allowance) and laid them out 3 x 4. I was shooting for a finished size of 15"x20".

The other items you will need are a single piece of any fabric the size of the finished placemat (I-spy is good for this too, if you have it), a piece of felt or fleece the size of the finished placemat, and a package of bias tape in a complimentary color.

You'll also need some clear vinyl. This can be purchased by the yard at a fabric store and comes in about a 54" width. If you purchase it this way, you'll need 3" wider than the short width of your placemat (my placemat is 15"x20", so I purchased a half yard--18".) You'll be cutting the 54" width in half to make two pieces. Also, the vinyl comes in different thicknesses. You'll want to get something that is thick enough to be durable (not thin like shelf paper) but thin enough that it bend/folds rather easily. The label on what I purchased read .010, if I recall, and if that means anything.

Begin by cutting your print fabric into squares. Quilt them together and iron the seams flat.

When you finish with the piecing, you'll have a little mini I-Spy quilt-top. This will display on one side of the placemat.

Next, cut a larger piece of print fabric the same size as your mini quilt. This will display on the other side of the placemat.

Then, cut a piece of felt/fleece the same size as the other two pieces. This will work as padding between the two pieces.

And finally, cut a piece of vinyl the same size as the other pieces. This will be the vinyl protection for one side.

If you happen to have a fabric cutting board, I suggest you just layer them and cut them all at once.

To begin assembly, place the large piece of printed fabric face-down. Next, align the piece of felt/fleece. Next, place the mini I-Spy quilt face-up. And last, place the piece of vinyl, making sure there aren't any unwanted hitchhikers between the vinyl and the fabric, such as threads or hairs. The vinyl tends to get very static-y and will pick up your cat if it sits still long enough. (There is a second piece of vinyl that we'll discuss later, but it's not included yet in this bundle.)

Next, align the bias tape around the outer edge, and secure in place if needed. I am a huge fan of pinning, but it doesn't work so well with the vinyl, so I use these nifty barrette-like clips. If you don't have any, you should. They come in handy and are rather inexpensive. The only downside is that the machine won't sew over them.

Stitch your bias tape in place. Be aware that the vinyl will try to stick to your machine or zipper foot and mess with the traction, so I suggest stitching with the vinyl facing up, and try to keep as much of your zipper foot on the bias tape as possible.

At this point, you should have, from bottom to top -- printed fabric, then felt/fleece, then I-Spy fabric, then vinyl, all enclosed by the bias tape. (LOL! I did such a good job avoiding the glare on the vinyl when taking this picture, that you can't even tell there is vinyl on top of the fish!)

Next, lay flat the remaining piece of vinyl and align the placemat on top, with the I-Spy quilt facing up. Cut the piece of vinyl about 1" larger than the placemat. This 1" excess should be more than enough to cover the bias tape, unless you used a super-wide bias. If so, you'll need to adjust and add more than 1" excess. Trim the corners to an angle.

On one edge, fold the excess vinyl from the back to the front, following the edge of the bias tape. Only do this on one edge.

Finger press the folded vinyl onto the vinyl on the front. The vinyl is sticky -- not sticky like tape, but sticky like plastic wrap that you use for food. If it isn't adhering well, make sure it isn't dusty, or try moistening it lightly. Securing this one edge will help keep the vinyl aligned.

Next, flip the placemat over. Only one edge should be attached, so it will open like a book. Align your activity pages (see below for samples) onto the printed fabric. You can add whatever activities would be appropriate for your child. These don't need to be secured in any way. They should stay in place because of the tackiness of the vinyl.

Now, you'll need to "close the book." Starting from the one secured edge, roll the excess vinyl onto the activity pages, keeping the pages in place, smoothing the vinyl across the fabric and pages as you go.

Turn the placemat over. Fold the rest of the excess vinyl over the bias tape on the unattached three sides and fingerpress in place.

The trimmed corners should make it easy to form a tight seal, but you can trim additionally as needed.

If you need to make any adjustments, or to trade out the activity pages, just peel back the vinyl, make your changes, and press back again. It's that easy! Now you have a personalized placemat with an I-Spy game on one side, and changeable activities on the other.

All you need now are a couple of water-based markers and you have entertainments galore! (Do NOT use DRY ERASE markers -- I learned this the hard way.)

Your little ones can I-Spy by character, color, letter, etc. I bet they will even think of a few games of their own.

And when they're finished, just wipe it down with a damp napkin.

The vinyl is flexible so it can be folded for easy transport.

Now I just need to come up with something creative for holding the markers, though I bet some of you could share some really great ideas. The difficulty lies in keep the edges "un-stitched," so that it could still be adjustable, though it would be perfectly reasonable to permanently secure just one side somehow.

I mentioned above that I had some sample game sheets. Feel free to print and use the ones below, or you can just tear pages out of a coloring book, crossword puzzle book, sudoku book, etc.

I don't know the name of this game, but you take turns connecting dots until you form a square, then claim the square with your initials.

These are geometric shapes for creative drawings.

Of course, Hangman.

And Tic-tac-toe.

This stick person is great for little girls for drawing fashion designs, or for little boys to draw super heroes.

This form works well for word games, like letter scrambles or rhyming.

I'm so glad it's Thursday, because that means we'll probably go out to dinner tomorrow night and I can have my son give it a trial run! I'll let you know how it goes. And please let me know if you make one for your little ones!

Now I just have to clean up my mess. How does this happen? Design is messy! Where are my elves?!

If you like this idea, be sure to check out the endless list of inspirational ideas at my home page childmade.com.

ps. I love comments!!

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