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Melissa Haworth and Kristin Cockrell are the authors of Super Toys: DIY Projects to Support Sensory Processing: A Maker’s Guide to Creating Personalized Sensory Tools and Toys for Children.

More About the Book:

    Is your child sensitive to or overwhelmed by sensory input such as certain kinds of touch, motion or sounds? Has a therapist or other professional suggested your child would benefit from fidgets, weighted clothing, or other sensory soothing tools? If you want to use your creativity to make the toys and tools most often recommended by therapists, this book is for you! Super Toys: DIY Projects to Support Sensory Processing includes more than 30 projects ranging from simple tools that can be assembled in minutes, to weekend endeavors where you can invest your time and love. Step-by-step directions with color photographs help you create projects such as a: weighted blanket, weighted shirt, rocker board, fidget bag with DIY fidgets, lap weight, body “sock,” tactile blanket, t-stool, I-spy bag, sensory garden and more. The instructions are complemented by information about each sensory system and ways to modify the projects to meet individual needs.

The book is a great resource for parents, teachers and for sewists eager to gift their skills to therapy programs and schools! Melissa and Kristin created this Focus Friend tutorial exclusively for Sew Mama Sew readers, combining elements from several popular projects in the book. This is a small lap mat perfect for sensory soothing; it has a calming weight, a variety of textures, plus fidgets to occupy busy hands and aid with attention.

Melissa and Kristin are also offering a chance to win a signed copy of the book! Comment for a chance to win Super Toys: DIY Projects to Support Sensory Processing. (U.S. + Canada addresses this time, please.)


The Focus Friend was designed by an occupational therapist to help provide tactile and proprioceptive input to sensory seeking children. The “fidgets” help keep little hands occupied while attention is focused on listening or other tasks. For children with Sensory Processing Disorder and related issues/conditions, consult with your doctor, therapist or other professional to determine if this project is right for your child.

Focus Friend is based on a log cabin design and constructed to “quilt as you go.” Instead of traditional batting, it’s filled with plastic pellets to add a deep pressure input when in use. As written, the pattern has everything, however makers are encouraged to have fun including as many (or few) elements as you’d like and to change the project to meet your child’s needs. It’s endlessly adaptable. Feel free to use whatever fabrics you have on hand and customize the textures, colors and fidgets to meet your child’s needs. Buttons should only be included for older children where they will not pose a choking hazard.

Finally, if you have a kid who could benefit from this project you likely know how rough they can be on their fidgets, so don’t be surprised when favorite elements wear out quickly. It’ll just be an excuse to create an even more perfect Focus Friend.

Supplies:

  • 4-5 cups of plastic “poly” pellets (we’ve bought online at Quality Plastic Pellets)
  • Piece woven fabric at least 18″ x 13″ for backing (flannel, quilting cotton, lightweight corduroy or similar)
  • Scraps of up to nine different textured fabrics

We Used:

  • Pajama foot fabric (found in the utility fabric section of big box fabric stores)
  • Minky
  • Fleece
  • Lycra
  • Faux fur
  • Corduroy
  • Textured upholstery fabric
  • Microfiber dusting cloth (This has highly textured nubs of synthetic fabric, see image. We found it at the dollar store.)

Other Good Choices Include:

  • Chenille
  • Denim
  • Rip stop nylon

Basically, choose a selection of soft, smooth and rough washable fabrics. Soft and smooth fabrics are especially nice along the longer, outside edges of the lap mat so the children can stroke them.

You can also add fidgets to keep little hands busy.

We Used:

  • Wide elastic
  • Satin ribbons
  • Yarn
  • Zipper (approximately 5″ long, but can be trimmed to fit)
  • Buttons strung on sturdy cord

Other options include:

  • Velcro, both soft + rough sides
  • Coiled plastic

Additional Supplies:

  • Coordinating thread
  • Sewing machine
  • Scissors
  • Rotary cutter + plastic ruler (not required but helpful)
  • Pins

Instructions:
We wrote this pattern as precisely as possible but because of the way log cabin blocks are constructed, perfect seam allowances are not critical. It’s no problem if your lap mat ends up a bit smaller or bigger or even a bit crooked. Embrace the wonky on this project and simply trim pieces to fit as needed.

1. Cut backing fabric to 13″ x 18″.

Cut textured fabrics to the following dimensions:
– A: 3″ x 4″, pajama footing
– B: 2.5″ x 4″, orange minky
– C: 3.5″ x 5″, blue fleece
– D: 2.5″ x 7″, corduroy
– E: 3.5″ x 7.5″, textured upholstery fabric
– F: 2.5″ x 10″, shiny, blue Lycra
– G: 3.5″ x 9.5″, green, nubby microfiber cloth
– H: 2.5″ x 13.5″, orange minky
– I: 3.5″ x 11.5″, faux fur

Lay out the fabrics as shown and keep them in place as a guide as you sew the lap mat.

Note: When cutting the microfiber, use scissors and cut from the back between rows of nubbies. Trim a single row from the edge to provide a seam allowance.

2. Attach fidgets. Sew the zipper to the surface of Fabric E so it can be zipped and unzipped without actually opening anything. Baste the elastic to Fabric C, securing at each of the short ends. If using, sew velcro pieces to the top of any fabric. Thread buttons onto sturdy cord.

3. Pin Fabric A right side up in the center of the wrong side of the backing fabric.

4. Place Fabric B good side down on top of Fabric A and lined up along a four-inch edge. Sew with a ¼” seam allowance through the backing. Fold back Fabric B, pin and sew down along the other 4″ edge with a narrower-than-quarter-inch seam. You do not need to sew along a short end but this second seam creates a channel that will be filled with poly pellets in a future step. This is the series of steps you will repeat for each fabric as you create the entire block.

5. Place Fabric C with elastic face down along the narrow edges of Fabrics A and B. Sew then fold back and sew opposite side.

6. Add Fabric D in the same manner using the image above to guide the fabric placement. Fold back Fabric D.

Before sewing down the opposite side of Fabric D, fold the ribbons or yarns in half and pin in place along the raw edge. Secure the ribbons with the same seam that stitches down the outside edge of Fabric D.

7. Add poly pellets! Fill the pockets created behind Fabrics A and B about half full of poly pellets. Then pin Fabric E in place and sew securing the poly pellets in place. Fold back and sew the other side of Fabric E.

8. Add poly pellets to pocket behind Fabric C. Pin and sew on Fabric F as with other fabrics sewing cautiously over the zipper.

9. Add poly pellets to pocket D, add Fabric G. As always, you are sewing with good sides together to cover existing seams, then folding back and sewing down the opposite long edge.

10. Add poly pellets to Fabric E, add Fabric H being very cautious sewing over the zipper.

11. Add poly pellets to Fabric F filling a bit more than half full but leaving plenty of room to sew. Add Fabric I.

12. Now three fabrics (G, H and I) should all have a single open end. Fill each fabric pocket about half full with poly pellets and topstitch closed.

13. If necessary, trim the backing fabric so it is about one inch larger than the quilt square all the way around. Fold the raw edge in half then fold in half again over the seam allowance at the edge of the block. Pin in place. At the corners, simply fold in one direction and then the other.

14. If you are using buttons, tie knots at the ends of the cording where it will meet the edge of the quilt. Pin the cording into the fold-over binding with knots inside binding for extra security.

15. Very slowly topstitch around entire lap quilt to secure binding. This is made easier with a narrow (or zipper) foot.

16. Trim threads and your lap mat is done.

All of the big projects in our Super Toys book include ideas to make the project easier, fancier or cheaper. Here are a few ideas for this project…

Make It Easy:

  • Leave out the poly pellets. Without the poly pellets this is a quick sew and still a great fidget for kids. Each strip can be attached, folded back and pinned in place. The second row of stitching to create a channel is not required.
  • Leave out the fidgets. The weight and textures are often enough even without the ribbons and other fidgets.
  • Create the front piece alone as a traditional quilt square made of different textures. Use the quilt square to make a simple pillow and fill with poly pellets.

Make It Fancy:

  • Add a satin binding. Cut the backing fabric two inches larger in each direction (15″ x 20″). Add a third round to the log cabin using plain fabric and no poly pellets. Cover the third row with packaged satin blanket binding as used on baby quilts. See our video tutorial for tips.

Make It Cheaper:

  • As long as your child is unlikely to chew on the mat and you don’t plan to machine wash the project, rice can be substituted for poly pellets.
  • Recycled fabrics are perfect for this project; stained or outgrown clothing can be used for many of the layers (corduroy or denim from pants, pajama feet fabric from outgrown pajamas, cotton or flannel from shirts or sheets, etc.). The thrift store often has assorted zippers and other notions as well.


Want more DIY projects to support sensory processing? Check out our website and buy our book! We wrote this book in the hopes it will be a resource for parents and teachers of kids with sensory challenges. In addition to the instructions for more than 30 DIY projects, the book includes an overview of each sensory system and many ideas to support sensory processing.

Kristin Cockrell, MOT, OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist with 15 years of experience working with children in both clinical and school settings. In addition to raising three children, one of whom has sensory processing disorder, she is an owner and director at Color, Construct, Create Studios, a therapeutic art program for children based in San Diego, California. Find Kristin online at Color, Construct, Create.

Melissa Haworth started sewing weighted blankets for a friend’s therapy practice and realized there wasn’t a comprehensive book of instructions to make tools and toys to support sensory processing. She teaches a variety of sewing classes around Sacramento, California and, in addition to maintaining a personal crafting blog, she contributes to books and magazines. Find Melissa online at Under Construction.