the papercraft lab

How to Make a Toddler/Preschooler Felt Board - No Sewing!

CraftyAnandiRCComment

This post is adapted from one I wrote at House of Peanut last year. 

I first discovered felt boards at the Seattle Aquarium. They had a HUGE one with lots of fish and aquatic plant shapes. We had to drag T away from it to go see the rest of the exhibits. They're also found in a lot of preschools - a cloth-covered board full of shapes that can be moved around to make pictures and stories.  The awesome thing is that you don't need magnets or velcro - the felt just sticks to itself!

After seeing a DIY one at a friend's house, I was inspired to make my own. I spent about $30 and many hours making it, but someone more handy with a staple gun would take less time.  I guess technically it's a flannel board, since the board itself is covered in flannel.  

I did several online searches to find a decent tutorial that explained what kind of felt to use.  I came up empty. The tutorials I did find went mostly like this:

1.  Stick (or staple) felt to board.

2.  Cut out shapes.

I don't do a lot of fabric crafting, so I needed more details. What kind of felt? Are the shapes made out of the same stuff as the board? 

So I turned to my trusty (and crafty!) Facebook friends, and asked them. K told me to use flannel for the board itself and craft felt for the pieces.  She used a thrift store frame for the board, which is what Martha Stewart recommends. 

Supplies

E's feltboard was a piece of artists stretched canvas so that's what I bought, because I liked the look without a frame edge. 18 x 18 inches was a good size for T's little table.

I am fabric-challenged and can't sew, so venturing into the fabric section at Jo-Ann's was an adventure.  I finally found the "soft flannels", which were even on sale, and chose a pretty sky blue.  I liked the glitter flannel but it wasn't as fuzzy as the plain stuff, and I think the key to good stickiness is the fuzz.

A 24" long piece was more than enough.  I also found a pack of felt flower "buttons" in the trim section, which I figured would save me a ton of time cutting out flowers individually.

For the shapes, I bought a multi-pack of colored craft felt.  This is the same stuff they sell in 9x12 inch sheets, but the pack was a lot cheaper per piece.  It's soft fuzzy felt, not self-adhesive, and not the stiff kind.  If you want bigger pieces, Jo-Ann had bolts of it in the home fabric section.

Tools

Online tutorials suggested either hot glue or a staple gun to attach the felt to the board.  I chose the staple gun since it looked like fun and I've never used one before and I have an irrational fear of hot glue.

I needed sharp scissors to cut the shapes out of felt, and I used my American Crafts Galaxy White Marker to trace/draw the shapes.  Many people use a Sharpie but I'm picky and didn't want dark lines on everything.

I used some cups and bowls to trace circles, and a ruler for straight lines.  Everything else was drawn (poorly) freehand.

Procedure

1.  Cut flannel to just larger than the canvas.  About 3 inches extra on each side worked well.  The edges don't have to be particularly straight since you're going to fold them in.

2.  Iron the flannel.  Mine had huge ugly creases in it and no amount of stretching was going to get rid of those.  Note to self: Don't iron on the dining table, even with a towel underneath.  I ruined the surface of the table when I used the steam setting.  Sad.

3.  Place canvas upside down on top of the flannel, centered.  Before you do this, make sure the surface is clean and dry!

4.  Fold the ends in so the frayed edges aren't exposed then pull the flannel tight and staple it to the wood part of the canvas.  I put the staples in about 2 inches apart. Do one side at a time and make sure you don't have any wrinkles or "bubbles" on the front. 

feltboard1-M.jpg

4a.  Pull the corners in tight, rolling frayed edges in.  I did this a little like wrapping a present, where I folded the corner over like a triangle (when I could- some sides just wouldn't cooperate!). You can use binder clips to hold the edges straight before stapling. 

feltboard2-M.jpg

5.  Repeat steps 4 and 4a for each side and corner.  Make sure you're always pulling the fabric tight. Here's what it looked like when I finished all four sides.

feltboard3-M.jpg

Woot!  Now the board is done. Step back and admire your handiwork!  If you have pre-cut felt shapes you can test it out now:

5.  Draw and cut shapes out of the soft craft felt.  The sky is the limit!  I made different sized and colored shapes, stems and leaves for the precut flowers, clouds, moon, a sun, stars, fish and trees.  I used the white marker to trace or draw the shapes and then cut them out.  Sharp, small scissors are helpful for detailed designs.

Because I was having so much fun being crafty, I found a cute box to hold all the felt pieces and added some letter stickers spelling "FELT" to the top.

feltpieces.JPG

Tips and Thoughts

  • I'm not sure if the flannel used for the board will pill over time and wear.  But it was easy enough to make the board that if it gets that much use, I can always make another.
  • You can make *anything* stick to the flannel if you put a small velcro dot on the back.  So I may experiment with cardstock or shapes and letters cut with my paper die cutting machine.
  • I didn't treat any of the felt pieces with Fray-Check because it seemed too time-consuming, and a crafty friend assures me that craft felt doesn't fray, so yay!
  • When using the staple gun, make sure you hold it close to the front, and press down when stapling, so the staple ends up going in flat, without a gap.  A flat head screwdriver is handy to remove misplaced staples.

If I had to make another one, it would be a lot quicker.  The most time consuming part was cutting all the little shapes out of felt.  I probably cut more than T really needs - there certainly are more than she can place on the board at once!

T was pretty excited when she saw it and spent a good 20 minutes playing with it, even after a busy day at preschool when her focus had run out. We've gotten over a year's use out of it, and Baby M will also get to enjoy it once she stops putting everything in her mouth.  Our only issue is how to keep the dog hair from sticking to the board and pieces, but that's an issue for our house in general.

 

Have you made one of these?  Any tips? 

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