DIY Human Chess Set
While teaching an after-school chess club for elementary students, my club needed a creative (a.k.a. "inexpensive") way to make a human chess set for the kids to wear. It also had to store pretty compactly, since we have little room in our club's Rubbermaid bin for an elaborate multiple costume set.
I came up with this system of headbands and foam chess pieces that can easily attach to each other using hook and loop closures, yet can store flat in plastic gallon bags in our club's bin without taking up too much room. And it doesn't cost as much as outfitting 32 children with character costumes!
Step 1: Materials List
You will need the following:
36" X 36" package of black felt
36" X 36" package of white felt
4 sheets of 12" X 18" (2mm or 3mm) black foam
4 sheets of 12" X 18" (2mm or 3mm) white foam
Scissors, rotary cutter, and/or Xacto craft knife
White Hook and Loop closure (Velcro), 16 inches each side
Black Hook and Loop closure (Velcro), 16 inches each side
White 3/8" elastic, 128 inches total
Black Permanent Marker
White Paint Marker
Double Stick Fusible Glue and/or E6000 craft glue
Clipart images of the chess pieces (included here)
Step 2: Foam Chess Pieces
I found reproducible images of chess pieces on the internet and printed them out on regular paper. I cut out the images and traced them onto the foam sheets with pencil. Yes, I know I have included two queens of each color into the set. The extra queen allows for a pawn to turn into a queen if it happens to get across to the other side!
I then used the black permanent marker to outline the white foam pieces and the white paint marker to outline the black foam pieces according to the clipart images.
Step 3: Felt Headbands
I cut out 32 approximately 1-inch by 20-inch strips (I just used the width of my ruler as my guide) of each colored felt. I also cut out 32 approximately 4-inch strips from the elastic roll. I sandwiched (and pinned) the 4-inch elastic at one end of two strips of same colored felt. I started sewing at the long end of the headband opposite of the side with the elastic pinned in it and continued sewing each side of the headband EXCEPT for the final side. I left that side of the headband open so I could slip the other end of the elastic in it and sew it closed.
As you can see in some of the pictures, I sewed over the elastic inside the felt back and forth a few times for extra security. I left two inches of the elastic exposed from the ends of the felt to allow enough stretch to fit an adult head as well as a childs.
Step 4: Hook and Loop Closures
There are many Velcro options out there, but for the headbands and the foam pieces, my preference is for the non-sticky-backed strips of Velcro. The sticky-backed Velcro is almost impossible to sew through without getting the sewing machine's needle all gummy and it peels off the foam pieces too easy as well. I cut the black and white Velcro strips into 32 1-inch pieces--16 loop sides and 16 hook sides of each color. I kept the "fuzzy" loop side consistent with the felt headbands and used the "scratchy" hook side for the backs of the foam pieces. This would allow for kids to quickly switch their chess pieces between one another without having to remove their headbands as well. I sewed the Velcro onto the middle of the felt headbands, but you could use a double stick fusible glue instead and heat-set it with an iron. I glued the other half of the Velcro to the lower third of the foam chess piece back with E6000 craft glue.
Step 5: Completed Human Chess Set
The chess set fits easily into four gallon plastic bags, labeled for easy organization. It was inexpensive to make and I had most of the materials already in my craft stash. The headbands fit both kids AND adults, and the foam pieces could easily be exchanged between players without having to remove headbands as well. And I can easily replace lost or broken pieces (as is inevitable with children) without much effort.
Now that you see how quick and easy it is, I hope this instructable inspires you to make your own human chess set for your youth or after-school club. Our chess club has fun breaking up the monotony of regular playing with a few human chess games a year. And some kids just learn better when they can physically act out the motions of how each piece moves across the board. Our "chess board" was just a grid taped to the school's floor using painter's blue tape (or another easily removable tape), with a simple X to designate the colored squares.
Thanks for reading!