Designing a Play Mat: Creating a Play Mat - Part 2

Hi everyone!  Happy Thanksgiving!
I am thankful for many things today.  It's been a reflective, quiet day at our house and some of my thoughts have been heavy and sad and then I got working on this project.  I feel more balanced again.  It's nice to keep the hands busy and be able to process thoughts at the same time!

I am here on the blog today,  to share how I design a felted play mat.  Some of you have seen my playmats/small worlds on "and the carrot came up" facebook page and many of you have bought them through my Etsy shop or at a market table.  I am so thankful for the encouragement that gives me to keep putting my art out there and I am beyond thrilled that there are small children benefiting from using these natural "toys" for stories and play.

Many of you have taken a workshop with me and the feedback I received from you is that you would like a tutorial.  While I am not comfortable, at this time, to go "live" I can share the steps in written form.

First, I gather the materials I need.

1) I use a red or burgundy felting needle. I use the WizPik brand and will give my sources for all the materials I buy, at the bottom of this post.  This needle is carbon steel and is about 3-3.5 inches in length.  It is perfect for this kind of felting.  You can also purchase tools that have multiple needles in them.  I have one that holds three needles and a punch tool that holds five.

2)  I have a piece of foam to needle felt into.  There are eco-friendly options out there.  If you like to sew you can make your own bag from burlap and fill it with rice.  I use foam because when I first learned to felt that is what was presented at the time and I am still using the same one almost 10 years later.  I would probably like to try the rice method at some point.

3)  I use batting for the base of my play mats.  Because children are often using them I use 3 layers.  That makes the play mats really strong, thick and durable.

4)  I have a wide range of colorful roving for the surface of the play mat, that I use for detailing.  This is where your creative juices can flow!

5)  For the wet-felting part, I use a large plastic garbage bag that has been cut in half, some lovely goat's milk or aloe vera soap, and a watering can.

In my last blog, I talked about being inspired by an idea before you start your play mat.  I am usually inspired by nature and that is evident by the playmats I make which are usually a patch of earth, depicting farmland or forest and often including ponds or streams. I love creating ocean playmats too. 

I am going to share some pictures of a simple playmat that is in progress and hopefully you will see the steps I take clearly enough to make your own!

I want to share that while felting a play mat there are often "ugly duckling" stages that the wool creation goes through while in the designing process.  What I have learned after making many, many playmats is the felt is very REPAIRABLE.  Even after you have felted your mat you can fix little things that didn't turn out quite how you imagined.  As I took pictures of this "in progress" play mat, I saw things that I went in and changed.  I am going to share the picture before I changed it though, to show a bit of my thinking and creative process.

First, the inspiration.  On one of my walks through my forest, I was yet again amazed by all the shades of green.  As it is fall, there are also gorgeous splashes of yellow,  reds, and golds.

Building my playmat.  Three layers of batting, with the top layer being the color of the forest. I usually pull the batting off the role and go with a fairly random shape.  Some people like their edges to flow out, I like to tuck mine in with my needle.  

Adding splashes of color.

Adding the different wool colors is like watercolor painting.  I like it best when they flow together, meld and complement each other.  Again, I look to nature for inspiration and try to have a combination of random and organized beauty!

The picture below is the whole mat in very rough, beginning stages.  While I liked the colors on the edges, I ended up taking off the colors in the middle because I decided to go back to my initial inspiration which was all of the shades of green I was seeing on my forest walk.  So, I took off those bits of yellow and rust and added in more shades of green.  I will probably make more changes still.

Still working on it, but showing you how you can change things along the way.  I can tell you that I will also blend those yellow bits on the left so that they flow better.  Sometimes it helps to walk away and then come back at it with fresh eyes.

Here are a few really close up shots of the colors together.

Some people just lay out their colors and felt them as is.  I like to use my needle and join the fibers somewhat before I wet felt.  I find this gives me a better idea of what is going to happen to the final product.  I am almost always surprised anyway and that's always fun for me.

I hope you have been able to follow the process to this point!  I will continue to tweak my piece until I am satisfied with it. 

Mine is one version.  The internet being what it is, has many sources and ways to felt.  There are lots of ways to be successful in this process.  I want to encourage you to try!

 Next time on the blog we will wet felt the playmat!

Please comment with any questions!  

P.S. Look who showed up while I was taking pictures outside.  More inspiration for when the playmat is finished!


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