Monday, July 19, 2010

Sewing For Baby, Part 4: Toys

There are so many baby toys on the shelves that you might wonder if it really makes sense to make your own. After all, you can buy plastic toys that are brightly colored and light up and ones that talk. Or you can go the more natural approach and buy toys that are hand crafted from wood by family owned businesses. Some people (myself included) have a worry in the back of their minds about toys produced in China containing lead or other harmful toxins. However, I can buy toys produced in Germany under good working conditions and strict quality control standards. So why would I bother making toys?

There are many answers to this question, but the one that springs to my mind first is "tradition". When I was a kid my granddad made my sister and I cars for our Barbies out of wood, empty shoe polish tins and old lids. My mom made us dinosaurs out of scraps leftover from various projects and remnants (I'm assuming). My dad helped me make a swing in the back yard and let my sister and I build things with scrap wood. One of my earliest memories of my mom sewing was when she was working on a larger version of the ball you see to the left. The ball was probably about 6" across and belonged to my little sister. It had some of the neatest fabrics, various scraps that went together to make a pleasing whole. As a kid I always thought this ball was really neat, not just because it was neat in and of itself, but because my mom was clever enough to make it. I would love it for my children to remember me that way.

This alludes to a second reason to make toys for your children. Even the simplest toys are special when they are made with love. Add a dose of creative play and special memories are created. Even a simple gauze swaddle blanket, made at home because Target didn't have them for sale when we needed them, can become a fun toy. We use ours to play peek-a-boo, build forts, provide shade and act silly. I can only imagine how much more fun we will have as my daughter gets older and starts playing pretend. The best part is that since I made it myself I was able to pick colors like coral, melon and kelly green that are so saturated that they are fun in and of themselves. I love that they things that I make to fill my need to be creative can help my daughter fill hers.

Another reason to make your own toys is that you can make something that can't be found in stores. My daughter is small for her age which means she has small hands. When she reached the stage where she wanted to grab, hold and toss toys they were all too big for her hands. I found a pattern for this puzzle ball in Last-Minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts and realized it fit the bill perfectly. I checked out a copy from the library and was able to use the instructions and scraps from old projects to make this ball for free. The ball is big enough to have some real substance, while still having surfaces that can be grabbed with small hands. Add to that the bright colors (or make it in black and white for a young baby) and it is a real hit.

The final reason to make your own toys is, obviously, cost. Good toys are expensive and even cheap toys add up quickly. While I definately try to limit the number of toys my daughter has and only offer a few at a time so that they stay interesting and engaging, the cost still adds up. Given a choice I would rather she play with sturdy toys that aren't going to break. Toys that are not made in sweat shops, but instead giving what money I do spend to companies that treat their workers with respect and provide them with a living wage and safe working conditions. I want toys that are made by someone who cares, not by the lowest bidder. These toys cost more and for good reason. Unfortunately, I can only afford so many and my daughter does need enough to keep her entertained and stimulated. I don't want her to feel that she has to sacrifice because of my ideals so I make up the difference as best I can and she seems to like the arrangement. If she seems to be really drawn to a given fabric I use some in a toy that she can play with. I focus on how special each individual toy is instead of on how many she has or doesn't have. This is the balance that works for us. What about you? What kind of toys do you buy for your babies and children? Do you think about the impact that those toys have or how your child will receive them? Do you try to teach lessons through play or do you feel it is better to let your child discover them on their own? I'd love to hear the thoughts of anyone who has time to answer.


  1. I really like this post, Theresa. Though our outlooks might be a little different here and there, you've really brought to light a few things that I just haven't ever thought about before. The only thing that I really remember anyone making for me as a child was the swing-set that Peter made when I was in about the 1st grade. Besides that, most of my toys were bought...and I must admit, that with 2 sets of parents & 4 sets of grandparents, things started to add up quite quickly. Elli is in the same situation...she has 4 sets of grandparents as well! And with her birthday quickly approaching, Chris and I have been talking a lot about toys, what they teach her, how many one little girl really needs, and how to make the ones that we do give her more meaningful. You've really made me think about making my own...I'll keep you updated :)

  2. Way less content/relevance than the last comment, but when has that stopped me?

    1) Coral is a pretty darn good color for The Boogs.

    2) You remember my childhood toys better than I do. I do remember that Cera helped me get through shots when I was very wee. And I remember picking out the fabric for Petrey. That was some quality time rummaging through the remnant bin at Craft City or whatever that place was called before it was JoAnn's. I loved it, I remember you loving it as well. Also, you were more conservative and coordinating in your color choices. I was more vulgar and bright.

  3. Amy, I love that you guys are talking about this. I see so many people in my neighborhood caught up in getting their kids the latest, greatest thing and then having to work so hard to afford it that they don't spend as much time with the kids. Just being mindful of what you give her and what you do with her goes a long way no matter what that is or where it is from. Whatever you decide will be what's best for your family, I'm just glad you are thinking about it. If you decide you want to make some toys or see any great patterns I'd love to see them. I'm always on the lookout for new ideas and my best inspiration is almost always from other moms.

  4. M., I love coral and picked it because if we were going to be using them as capes in a few years I wanted one that looked good on me too. Looking good on her is just a bonus. :)

    Being 2 years older makes it easier for me to remember the toys. Mom made the ball for you when you were still a baby, but I was 2 or 3. As for the fabric, if we were picking out remnants it would have been either at Jo-ann's or Hancock. Craft City was the place that had the giant loose button bin that kicked us out because Dad got tired waiting for us to find just the buttons we wanted and went outside. They seemed to feel that the two jr. high girls standing by the button bin methodically looking for sets were somehow a problem. We never went back and they went out of business a few months later. However, I don't remember looking through remnants to make Pteri and Petrey, though you are probably right. I do know that Cera and Rex were both made from scraps Mom had left from other sewing projects which is why Rex's legs were different colors.