When I'm with friends who aren't quilters and the discussion turns to expectant parents, it's often assumed that my go-to gift would be a baby quilt. I explain that while I have nothing against baby quilts, my style of quilting doesn't really apply: babies and beaded, screen-printed fabrics don't really mix.
A quilted wall hanging or other art piece to celebrate a baby is another matter. But while I'd like to make something that special and elaborate for every child close to my heart, I regret that don't have the time.
I've also learned that many moms appreciate a more practical handmade gift, especially once the second baby comes along. I found the perfect project in Meg McElwee's new book Growing Up Sew Liberated: Making Handmade Clothes & Projects for Your Creative Child.
Meg, who embraces the Montessori education method, designed many of the projects in this book to help foster learning and creativity in children. I found her Irresistible Numbers project to be, well, irresistible. Not only are these fused-appliqué fabric sandwiches easy to make, they use up scrap fabrics in a fun way. Think of them as very tiny baby quilts.
Plus, the addition of hand-embroidered outlines adds texture that appeals to the maker and also gives these learning tools a tactile dimension. From my previous life as a special needs educator, I know how beneficial that multi-sensory element can be.
For materials, you'll need just a half yard each of light-colored linen/cotton blend fabric and matching wool or acrylic felt for the rectangles and fabric scraps and fusible web (or pre-fused scraps) for the numbers, plus embroidery floss, basting adhesive, and seam sealer. The template for the numbers is included in the book.
Here are the basic directions for the numbers, adapted from Growing Up Sew Liberated.
1. Cut eighteen 5" × 4" (12.5 × 10 cm) rectangles from the cotton/linen fabric. Repeat to cut eighteen rectangles of wool felt the same size. Set aside all but nine rectangles of the cotton/linen fabric.
2. Trace each number onto the paper side of the fusible web; the templates have already been reversed. Roughly cut around each number. Following the manufacturer's instructions, fuse one number to the wrong side of each cotton fabric scrap. Cut on the traced line, remove the paper backing, and fuse each number to the center of one cotton/linen rectangle.
3. Using three strands of coordinating embroidery floss, embroider a stem stitch around the edges of the numbers, placing the stitches on the colored fabric, just a millimeter or two from the number's edge.
4. Apply a thin line of basting glue to the wrong side of a plain cotton/linen fabric rectangle, 1/2" (1.3 cm) from each edge. Place a rectangle of felt on top. Apply the glue in the same way to the felt, adding another felt rectangle on top. Finally, apply the glue to the second felt rectangle and place a number rectangle, right side up, on top. Repeat entire step to assemble the remaining number rectangles. Allow the stacks to dry for about an hour before proceeding. The basting glue's bond is not permanent but will keep the layers from shifting as you stitch through them.
5. Sew around each rectangle 5/8" (1.5 cm) from the raw edges. With sharp fabric shears or a rotary cutter, trim the excess fabric 1/8" (3 mm) from the stitches; the finished number rectangles should measure 3" × 4" (7.5 × 10 cm).
6. Finish the edges of the rectangles with seam sealant, following the manufacturer's instructions. (You could also zigzag stitch around the edges, if you like.)
Meg creatively attaches the numbers to a branch with colorful clothespins. These numbers can be hung out of baby's reach as a decoration, then taken down and used as a learning tool when he or she is a toddler and preschooler. Meg includes educational games for this project and many of the others in the book.
These Irresistible Numbers make a thoughtful gift that is handmade and will be used and appreciated for many years. Meg has compiled a book full of practical, creative, and educational sewing projects for babies and young children. Growing Up Sew Liberated is the perfect resource for anyone who sews and has young children in their life.