My family was at a Jim Henson exhibit not too long ago, and they had the coolest interactive section where the kids could make their own cartoon characters by putting felt shapes on a fabric board hanging on the wall.
There were parts (eyes, noses, mouths, hair..) to make many different faces, and lots of accessories(hockey sticks, bats, balls, toys...) to create all kinds of wacky scenes. My kids loved it, my wife loved it, and I loved it. But, we eventually had to leave. Now what?
When I got home I was inspired, Christmas was coming, and I had a plan. Here you will find the steps it took to complete my very own felt board for the kids to enjoy at home. Hopefully with this instructable you'll be inspired to make your own, the possibilities are endless!
If you aren't familiar with the concept, felt sticks to felt. There are characters made out of felt, then glued to a felt background, and there are tons of fabric accessories that you can stick to them to make your own crazy characters. When you are done, the parts come off easily for storage.
Step 1: Make the Frame/Main Background
Sharp fabric Scissors
Lots of fabric in multiple colors
PC with illustration software (like Adobe illustrator)
For my felt board, I decided to go with a 4'x3' frame as that seemed to be a good size where it is portable or I could store it away when not in use. So, everything from here on out is scaled to fit this area.
I am sorry for not getting photos of this part, but it is relatively simple.
Go to store and get 1/4" plywood cut to 4' x 3' (or use similar material from your scraps)
Get a large enough piece of felt to cover it. In my case I used two pieces, one for the "sky" and one for the "ground".
First, position the felt and cut it to size. I made the top a dark blue for the sky. The fabric was cut to 24" x 54" to include 3 inches of overlap on each side and the top. For the grass I used green fabric cut to 18" x 54". Where the ground meets the sky I also overlapped them by about 1/4 inch. These measurements and placements are approximate. They need not be exact, just make sure you have enough fabric to cover the plywood fully.
Put fabric glue on the plywood to secure the fabric in place. I laid down the bottom first followed by the sky.
Flip the frame over. Wrap the overlap to the back and tack it down to secure it in place.
This will give you a basic grass/sky background. If you are feeling creative you could add mountains, buildings, or create any kind of scene that you can imagine! Cut out the shapes in fabric and glue them to the plywood.
While this dries we can create the characters to add to the scene.
Step 2: Create Your Characters
Now comes time to design the characters. I started with a sketch on a grid sheet of paper, each square representing one inch for scale. Attached is my actual first sketch, which isn't too far from the final shapes.
Each character should have semi-matching pose. Since they will share clothes and parts, one character should closely match the other. You will see in my final printouts that the characters arms have been adjusted so that they are positioned in a similar method so they both can wear the same shirts. If one character has one arm up and the other down, and the other character has both arms down, then their outfits will not work on each of them. This is key to making it fun and easy where every spare part fits on either character.
This is also important for the head shape. While one is fat and the other a funny peanut, they both peak about the same at the top. This way the hair shapes work on either character.
Finally, the same with the legs and their position, this way the dresses and pants fit both.
Step 3: Print Out Final Characters
I'm old school, meaning I used Macromedia Freehand as my helper. I scanned in my sketch and made the final character shapes. I decided to make the heads separate. If you want you can put the head on the body and cut out one giant shape.
I made the characters 100% to scale (1:1) in my illustration program. Their final sizes are around 21" square for their entire bodies (without the heads).
Finally when I got them right I printed out the bodies using tiling, then I put the tiles together with tape and cut the shapes out. Repeat this process for the second character.
If you want to do this even older school, get a large sheet of paper and draw a cartoon body on it. Cut it out with scissors and go on to the next step.
Step 4: Cut Out the Characters
This step is very important, as this is the technique I'll use for the remainder of this instructable. You use this" print, cut, trace, and cut" method to cut out precise shapes in the felt.
Roll out a piece of fabric. Place the assembled tiled printout of the first character on the fabric. Using a fabric marker, trace the shape onto the felt. When you are finished, very carefully, cut out the shape with very sharp fabric scissors. Do this for each character on the felt board. I will include templates at the end to print out the characters seen in this instructable.
Mine are named "Pinkerella" and "Orangina".
Step 5: Attach Characters to the Frame
Before attaching the characters with glue, lay the frame down and position the characters where you want them. At this point you can still make adjustments. I spaced them evenly so that each of my children could work on a character at the same time.
Once they are in place, hold the fabric up small sections at a time while applying fabric glue. I mostly concentrated on the edges. Be careful, as this part is unforgiving. If any glue hits the fabric you'll see it (regardless of how hard you try to clean it off), so take your time attaching the characters to the frame.
Kidding, now the real fun starts!
Step 6: Get Nutty, Lets Make Some Parts!
I did all of the clothing in an illustration program, but the face parts I just cut out random shapes in fabric.
The technique is the same for the rest of this instructable as it was for creating the body. I draw out shapes on paper, or design them in an illustration program and print them out. Then I cut out the shapes on paper as a guide, trace them on fabric with fabric markers, then cut out the fabric shapes. If the pieces are layered, I glue the multiple layers together.
I will include eps files for printing out a few different shirts, dresses, and pants.
This is where kids can help. They can trace the shapes, or help glue the pieces of fabric together.
One important note here: since I made the characters in an illustration program to size, I was able to design clothes on top of these characters to make sure the piece would fit on each character.
Step 7: Have Fun!
I attached the frame to the wall in my family room using some straps on the corners screwed into the wall. Then I let the kids have a good old time adding different faces and things to the felt board. Over time I'd ask if they wanted any new parts or toys for the characters. You can make holiday themes such as costumes for them on Halloween. As I've said over and over, the only limit is your imagination (and creativity, skill, and budget).
Have fun - here is the link to all the necessary files to making your felt board exactly like mine:
Just unzip the file, and you have all the necessary full sized EPS file templates for the characters and some clothes. You will need some skills and a program that prints out EPS files.
Good luck, have fun, and post some photos if you make your own!