DIY Baby Play Mat
Baby quilts are the best of all worlds, aren’t they? You can choose to make yours a simple basic design that will show off a gorgeous print, or you can showcase intricate piecing that you might not have the time to do with a full size quilt. Why not make a spin on the usual baby and make a quilty baby play mat instead? It’s important for babies to do tummy time everyday and a textured quilt is the perfect place to do it!
Baby play mats are the perfect place to get creative and incorporate embellishments and techniques that will provide fascinating sensory input for baby while they try to perfect their roll. I pack up my baby’s quilty play mat with us when we visit family so that my baby has a familiar safe zone to roll around on. Read below to see how I sewed my own DIY Play Mat!
Sketching Out your Design
You don’t have to be an artist to sketch out your ideas, take out your sketchbook and get creative! Here you can see my (very rough!) sketch where I outline the day/night theme. I decided I would have the sun and moon in the center, with the sun’s rays shining through the trees on one side and mountains on the other. I ended up changing my design quite a bit, but it was still very helpful to have a sketch to refer to during the process. It’s at this point that I curated my little stack of fabrics to use for the play mat and defined a color story. I also pre-washed all my fabrics first so I wouldn’t have to wash the whole mat later and it would be baby-safe as soon as I finished.
Drafting the Pattern
I went the more common round play mat shape for mine and drafted a pattern to have a main circle with a 20.25” radius and a trim that was 4” so that the finished mat measured 47” across. I was able to draft both pattern pieces from one piece of poster board. (I prefer to make my patterns on poster board I buy at the dollar store so that they don’t flop around, but brown craft paper rolls work great too.) My main pattern piece is a quarter circle. Measure out 20.25” from the lower left corner along both sides. Now, making sure that the ruler is aligned with the corner point make marks along the curve every couple inches and blend the marks together.
Another method to drawing the curve would be to make your own DIY compass by measuring out some twine (I find yarn stretches too much), tying one end to a pencil and the other to a pin at the corner so that the twine measures 20.25” and drawing the curve. For the trim pattern piece draw a curve at 24.25.” Don’t worry that the bottom end is cut off if you’re using poster board, we only need part of this curve. Take your quilt ruler and measure out a 30 degree angle line from the left side and mark the line on the trim piece only. Cut the main pattern piece out. Add 1/4” seam allowance to the drawn line and cut out (seam allowance is already included elsewhere). Mark pattern pieces as shown, making sure to mark which edges should be placed on the fold.
Cutting the Back
You can cut your center piece from one piece of fabric by taking 1 ¼ yards and folding it into quarters. Align your pattern piece on the folded corner and cut out your circle.
I chose to improvisationally piece together scrap fabrics for the back so that half of the circle looked like a night sky and the other half looked like a daytime sky. After I pieced a big enough piece I folded it into quarters and used the pattern piece to cut out my circle.
When piecing using scrap fabrics it is helpful to cut the edges straight with a ruler first and then sew at ¼” seam allowance. If you’re a free spirit and would prefer to sew the fabrics first randomly and then trim, that is fine, but mark your sewing line with a ruler so that your seams will be straight. You may feel like you’re sewing straight, but if there is even a slight curve it will make the fabric pucker and it won’t lay flat (don’t ask me how I know, I’m not admitting anything!)
I chose to applique my mountains, trees and sun/moon instead of piecing them because it gave me more leeway to change my design while in the process. First, I cut out pattern pieces for the sun/moon center from more poster board and cut them out. Then, I gathered all my mountain fabrics and started cutting out triangles free hand, and arranging them on the blanket until I got a configuration I liked. I pressed the edges under on the sides and sewed them to the quilt top using an edge stitch. I just made sure the bottom edges were low enough to be covered by the sun/moon. I cut out my sun’s rays without measuring as well and arranged them on the quilt top, marked their places with a disappearing Frixion pen and pressed, folded and stitched them down.
The trunks of my trees were made using a 1” bias tape maker (Cut 2” strips of fabric, and the sides fold in ½”). I highly recommend a bias tape maker if you don’t already have one! To make my treetops I cut out circles and ovals free hand from my selected tree fabrics and stitched them right side down to the bumpy side of some lightweight fusible interfacing leaving a 1” section on the treetops unstitched.
Then I cut out the treetops about 1/8” from the stitching and flipped them right side out. I used a chopstick to help turn the edges. Next was the fun part-- designing my forest! I had fun arranging the treetops and bias tape trunks until I was happy with the arrangement, then I pinned down the treetops and cut the bias tape trunks to size, tucking the ends into the 1” opening on the treetops and folding in the fabric in 1/4” and pinning down the trunks. Then I pressed the treetops, fusing them to the quilt top. I blanket-stitched around the trees.
Finally, I had some fun with using a trapunto technique on the treetops. I ~carefully~ pinched apart the fabrics so that I could cut a little slit in the back fabric of the treetops. Then I stuffed batting and some DIY crinkle material (washed chips bags, cereal bags, candy wrappers, etc.) into the trees. Since I was still going to add batting and quilt around the trees it wasn’t necessary to hand stitch the opening closed. The dimensional trees are one of my favorite parts of the play mat and a great opportunity for sensory play for baby!
Finishing the Top
I cut down my poster board pattern pieces by 1/8” and used them as pressing guides for the sun/moon pieces. First I pressed under the inner side of the moon and blanket stitched it to the sun. Then I pressed under the outer edges of the sun/moon around the pressing guide. Finally, I pinned on the sun/moon to the center and blanket stitched it down.
For the outer band pieces I went ahead and gathered all my little leftover scraps and made wonky pieced fabrics to cut the pattern pieces from. I cut and sewed together the six pieces into one long piece and pinned it to the edge of mat top. I started sewing about 3 inches from the start of the edge and stopped sewing about 3 inches from the end of the strip, then joined the ends and finished sewing the band onto the top.
Quilt Sandwich Time!
I pressed, stretched out the fabric over a backing and batting the same as for any quilt and pinned together with safety pins. I chose to do a cloud free motion quilting motif all over the quilt top, I also made sure to stitch around the treetops to emphasize the dimensional effect. When finished cut and trim around the circle to prepare for binding.
Applying the Binding & Ribbon Loops
Binding is applied the same as for any quilt- it’s one step where a circle is actually easier since there is no mitered corner to worry about. You’ll need about 160” but before applying binding you will want to add some ribbon loops to the edges of the play mat. Choose some nice coordinating ribbon, or add some shiny satin “tags” at this point as well. You can hook toys to the mat on there later and babies just love tags for some reason. Baste the raw edges of the ribbon loops to the edge of the mat. If you place them on the front of the mat, they will point in, if you place them on the back of the mat they will flip out after binding. I placed the loops both ways. After tacking down loops, bind as usual for a quilt and you’re done!
I hope you enjoyed the walk-through of how I made my play mat and that it inspires you to go ahead and design your own play mat! I think puffy colorful shapes or letters instead of trees would be adorable, really there’s so much you could do and in completely customized fabrics that match your nursery décor! What’s not to love?
Here are the fabrics I used:
Have a great, fabric-filled day!