by Meredith Flory

 

For many adults, the word “felt” might conjure up memories of storyboards in elementary school or basic crafts for children, but it’s not something you’ve ever purchased or thought about using regularly for projects around the house. However, felt is a versatile material that can be a way to create homemade toys, costumes, decorations and other crafts for the enjoyment of you and your child. I have frequently used felt, trying my hand at making play food, finger puppets, seasonal activities and storyboards for our home school, with varying levels of success. My own experience has shown that a felt craft or activity can help give a positive tactile experience to something we are reading or learning about. Personally, I wanted to learn more about the material and why it has such an enduring place in the world of children’s playthings.

I spoke with Lia Griffith, a DIY Designer whose work has been featured in magazines and news shows across all mediums such as The Today Show, Good Housekeeping and Buzzfeed, about how felt projects can encourage creativity in children, help to make a space beautiful and be a great starting point for parents wanting to try DIY items for their family. Griffith’s designs are available on www.liagriffith.com, where she is the founder and creative director, and a monthly membership allows crafters at all levels to find ideas, patterns, and tutorials for beautiful DIY projects.

Perusing the felt and fiber section of the website, there are a lot of patterns for pretend costumes – encouraging robots, vikings, unicorns and other characters to come out and play. As a parent who has both bought and crafted costumes for children who love to play dress-up, I asked Griffith what she found to be special about a homemade one. She pointed out that these costumes not only allowed the child to play and express their imagination but that making a costume gives parents the opportunity to “bring kids into the process.” As a child helps cut, glue or come up with ideas for customization, the process “makes it a little more precious to them.” Children may learn to better care for their dress-up items and stretch their creativity further as they see the care and time that goes into making an outfit.

Griffith pointed out that there are “different grades of felt” and many beginning crafters may not realize the variety and range of quality available – different kinds of felt are suitable for different projects. There are common synthetic craft felts, high quality wool and wool blends, felts made from recycled materials and bamboo. Some felts are more stiff for holding small shapes, while others drape or stitched together more easily. Skin sensitivities and allergies can also be considered when making items for children and you can customize materials to those that will be best for that child. Griffith encourages us to “consider quality” and spend more on a higher quality felt that is easier to work with for a project that you are putting time and energy into. Higher quality felt will also be more durable over time and more enjoyable to the touch.

The time and energy spent on DIY projects may also lead to a suitable gift for a child in your life.   While many of us may be hesitant to give a handmade gift to a child, Griffith explains that considering the age of the child (to know what materials would be safe) along with something about their personality and interests can lead to a special one of a kind present. Patterns of felt stuffed animals and toys on the site are whimsical and collectible. Presenting a child with a handmade favorite animal, puppet or play set is something that can encourage a connection beyond simple enjoyment of a new toy.

The play sets are another way to encourage imaginative and educational play with DIY projects. Many of the patterns encourage real life skills such as gardening, camping and cooking. Griffith shares that while her daughter is now grown up, she has fond memories of interacting with homemade items for play and that many of the sets allow them to mimic the routines such as watching mom or dad garden, helping outside, then coming back into play with their own felt garden, her favorite of the play set designs. She opines that children are “naturally creative anyway” and that pretend play with aesthetic toys can be “better for their soul.” In addition to being “accessible and easy to make,” many of the play sets, such as felt food, kitchen items, finger puppets, fishing items and campfire sets, allow for layering, sticking together, or other interactions between the different pieces that may be impossible with plastic or other pre-made toys.

While we focused on the ways felt could encourage learning and play in the home, the site has felt crafts for decorating, adult wear and pets too. Griffith has also heard from friends and customers that older children and teens enjoy the projects on the site as well. She shared a story from this past Christmas when a friend’s daughter was “on there on her own” to make ornaments with her brother, showing how a membership might be fun way to connect to a child interested in art and design. For parents that are not experienced crafters, she suggests the felt finger puppets as “a great place to start” because they are made with glue rather than sewing, and there is a kid’s craft section for those that want to find a project suitable for doing with their child.

Griffith shared how one of her favorites from early on, are felt hobby horses that “probably take about fifteen minutes a piece.” They did a photo shoot with children that loved playing with them and parents have been able to use the design for birthday parties and other events. While DIY crafting does take time and may not be of interest to everyone, for those parents who would like to try their hand at making decorations, toys or other items, it is a cost saver and a sweet way to make time with your child more memorable. Felt crafting together can encourage creativity in both you and your child and be a great material to encourage learning at home.

This article appears in the March 2019 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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