Strategy games have become a big thing in our household, over the past few months. My youngest child, in particular, is a real lover of all things strategic.
Though my mum managed to find the mancala board my brother and I played with as children*, I couldn’t find a draughts/checkers set amongst things we already had.
Because of the pledge to buy nothing new, we started out by drawing a grid on paper and using random items from around the house as counters. This worked for a while, but when it became clear that the interest in patterns and strategy wasn’t going away, I wanted to make something a little more permanent and portable.
I don’t have any woodworking skills worth noting, but I can sew and knit, so the obvious solution was to create something using fabric/yarn.
I settled on fabric in the end, because it was quicker to run these squares through my sewing machine than it was to knit alternative shapes. It was also a really good way to use up some of my fabric scraps, rather than beginning a new ball of yarn. Of course, if you already have a checked blanket, you can forego this whole ‘step’ and just go find some counters.
I didn’t really measure anything out for this little patchwork rug – I just sort of made it up as I went along.
I started by finding a scrap of paper that was the width I want for each square. I folded at a 45 degree angle by bringing the left edge in line with the top edge.
I then cut this into a square along the bottom/right edge to create a template so that all of my squares were the same size.
After that, it was simply a case of sewing all of the squares together. I did the top by hand because it meant that I could chat to my parents while I worked and, as a result, the job got done quicker than if I’d waited to use the machine!
After I’d done that, I backed the top with a piece of an old sheet. All in all, this took a few hours of work and cost nothing. I used old buttons for counters.
Making this was actually quite interesting in a lot of ways. For a start, it made me think about the time spend in acquisition of things. For example, if one buys something from a physical store, it takes time to go there, select the item in question, pay for it and come home. Ordering things online takes even longer. If we can make-do with things we have in our possession already, we not only save ourselves money and precious resources, we also save time. And really, who doesn’t want a few more hours in the day?
I keep coming back to this – the concept of convenience sells, but surely it’s more convenient to use objects already in our homes than it is to source, fund and house new things? That saying about the plastic spoon springs to mind…
This little blanket has also made me think really hard about the things I give as ‘new baby’ gifts. In future, I’ll be making little checked quilts – 8×8 squares – with a large border. These can then go from being a cot blanket, to a play mat, to a draughts board – a gift that grows with the recipient. If I were really thinking ahead, I could make 32 small, easy, square bean-bags in the two opposing colours – I could fill them with different textured/scented fillings as sensory baby toys, but also stitch ‘p’ for ‘pawn’ or ‘q’ for ‘queen’ on one side so that when they’re no longer useful as said sensory toys, they could be used as draught counters when the blank side is showing, and chess counters when the letters are visible. On the back of the quilt, one could also sew different coloured, larger squares down the centre for a throwing game – bean bags in the furthest square get 10 points, those in the middle get 5 and those in the closest get 1 point, for example.
Cot blanket, play mat, sensory toys, bag toss, draughts, and chess – six uses for one gift.
This is the way we need to think about all the things we give – not just the initial moment of receipt, but also of how objects can be useful as time progresses. It’s certainly a lesson I’ll be taking with me, following this quick little project.
Have you ever tried making toys for children? I would love to hear what you’ve made. Contact me here, or on Twitter.
*If you fancy trying out mancala, you don’t need a board. Anything you have to hand is totally fine. There’s archaeological evidence of it having been played with dips in sand and rounded pebbles – you can absolutely use bowls and Lego blocks, circles on paper and some dried beans, or glass beads and jam jars. The important part is the rules.