When our middle daughter was getting ready to start kindergarten two years ago, we received a note from the school about the supplies she would need. Among them was a beach towel for her daily nap time. "A beach towel?!" I thought incredulously. Lying on a towel on a classroom floor certainly didn't sound very nap-inducing to me, so I immediately decided to make my daughter her own portable nap mat and tiny pillow to keep in her cubby at school for her daily naps. She loved her handmade nap set then and at age 7 now, she still loves it and often includes it in the pillow forts she loves to build.
Her younger sister isn't due to go to kindergarten until next year but since it's back to school time for lots of others, I thought that a nap mat tutorial might be useful to all you parents with kiddos starting school. Read on for the details of this cozy project!
This finished nap mat is 50 X 34 inches and the little pillow finishes at 13 X 8 inches.
Materials for mat and pillow:
–2 yards of cotton fabric; I used 2 yards of Spoonflower cotton poplin printed with my daughter's choice of Heidi Kenney's Bunny Bunch design. (Bunnies have been much on our daughters' minds lately as we've just adopted two of our own!)
–1 yard of snuggly backing material that coordinates with your cotton fabric; I used 1 yard of 62-inch wide pink Minky fabric bought from my local fabric shop but you could also choose flannel.
–quilt batting; I used 100% wool batting because it's fluffier than other types, rendering it more comfy for napping. The crib size is large enough for this project.
–extra-wide ribbon or webbing, about 30-inches long; I used a length of 1-3/4 inch-wide ribbon trim I scored at the thrift store. It doesn't exactly match the print, but I think it goes.
–coordinating perle cotton or embroidery floss for tying the mat
–polyfill stuffing for the pillow
Making the Nap Mat
Cut one piece for the top of the mat from the printed poplin measuring 51 X 35 inches. Cut one piece from the backing fabric measuring 51 X 35 inches. Cut a piece of wool batting measuring 51 X 35 inches.
Step 1: Layer the poplin, backing, and batting together in one "sandwich" in this order: Batting on the bottom, then backing with right side facing up, then poplin with right side facing down. Pin all these layers together around the perimeter, leaving an 8-inch opening at one short side of the sandwich.
Step 2: Next, you'll be marking a point for the strap on the other short side–that is, the short side that is opposite the side you left the opening in previously. Mark a point about about one-quarter of the way in from the edge with a washable marker in a light color. (I love this use for washable markers!) I was apparently a bit math-challenged when I marked a quarter of the way in as 11 inches below! One-quarter of 35 inches is 8-3/4 inches. (Ahem.) Pin the short edge of the ribbon or webbing you're using for the strap, lining up the raw edges of the strap and the mat sandwich. Take care to keep the ribbon well out of the way of the seams you'll be stitching next.
Step 3: Stitch around the perimeter of the mat. Begin your stitching at one edge of the opening you left using a 1/2-inch seam allowance. I used a universal 80/12 needle, 2.5 stitch length, and a tension setting of 4 on my machine without problems, but you may wish to experiment with your machine's settings before stitching to be sure this works for you, especially if you haven't sewn with Minky before.
Remember that strap pinned into the sandwich, and be sure you're not sewing it into the seam!
Once you've sewn around the mat perimeter, clip the corners to minimize bulk.
Step 4: Carefully turn the mat inside out and poke out the corners with a chopstick, knitting needle, or point turner. Press the edges with an iron, pressing the seam allowances of the opening you left to the inside.
Step 5: Now you're going to edgestitch along the perimeter of the mat. If your machine has a walking foot, you may want to use it so that the layers feed evenly and you don't get a lot of wrinkles and tucks. Stitch about 1/8 of an inch away from the edge of the mat all the way around.
Edgestitching here will strengthen the seam a bit more, enclose the opening you left, and will also create a bit of a poofy edge that to me looks pleasingly like piping. Once again, be careful that you don't stitch the loose strap into your seam.
Step 6: Now we're going to tie the mat to stabilize the mat layers so they don't shift as your child uses it. If you've never used this method of quilting, it's super-easy and fast. The first step is to mark the dots using the washable marker so you know where your ties are going to be. Four-inch intervals will do the trick, so I'm marking a 4-inch grid all over the poplin side of the mat. Note that since neither 50 nor 34 is evenly divided by 4, there will actually be a 5-inch gap between all edges of the mat and the first row of dots. Make the first dot five inches up and five inches over from the bottom corner. The dot next to that will be 4 inches away, then the next dot will be 4 inches away and so on, ending the row with a dot that is 5 inches away from the other edge of the mat.
Continue marking dots. After marking the first row of dots, I used an acrylic quilting ruler to mark the next row, lining up the dots I marked previously with the 4-inch mark on the ruler. Do this until the entire mat is marked with a grid of dots.
Step 7: Thread an embroidery needle with the perle cotton or embroidery floss. Take the first stitch on the first dot of a row, beginning and ending the stitch on the poplin side of the mat.
Continue along the row, taking a stitch through each of the dots on the same row. There's no need to cut the tail of the thread or to cut between each dot yet. You can stitch an entire row first, then trim the tail to a couple of inches once you've made a whole row of stitches.
Step 8: Tie the little threads over each of these dots, being careful not to tie so tightly that the fabric is bunched up in the center. Tie a whole row before you proceed to the next row. You can either trim the tails at the end of each row so they're not so long and dangly, trim them all at once at the end, or even leave them long if you like how it looks.
Making the pillow
We're not quite done with the mat yet since we have to finish the strap that will help to bundle everything together. I've opted to configure the strap closure so that my child can wrap her little pillow up with the mat, so this means I have to make the pillow first.
For the pillow, cut two pieces of poplin measuring 13-1/2 X 8-1/2 inches.
Step 1: Pin the two pieces of poplin right sides together and pin, leaving a 4-inch opening for turning. Stitch around the perimeter, using a 1/2 inch seam allowance. Trim the corners to minimize bulk.
Step 2: Turn the pillow inside out and poke out the corners. Press the edges. Stuff the pillow with polyfill so that it feels like a comfy bed pillow when you're done stuffing and not hard and bouncy. Try to poke the stuffing into the corners, too.
Step 3: After stuffing the pillow, hand-stitch the opening closed using an invisible or ladder stitch.
Step 1: First, finish the raw edge of the strap. Since I used ribbon for my strap, I was able to fold in the raw edge about a quarter-inch, then fold it down another quarter-inch again to encase the raw edge, then stitch it down. Webbing may be too thick to do this, though. You may wish instead to zigzag stitch the edge to keep it from fraying, or use a product like Fray-Check. I've heard you can also melt the edges of webbing, but that sounds scary! I haven't tried that.
Step 2: With the edge of the strap finished, it's time to roll up the mat so that you can determine where to place the Velcro. Fold the mat in half lengthwise so that the strap is sticking out one of the very short sides. Begin rolling it up at the end opposite the strap like you would a sleeping bag, leaving the strap loose. Stack the pillow on top of the mat, then wrap the strap around this bundle. Wrap it tight enough to be neat but not so tightly that your little one can't manage to get it all bundled up again.
Step 3: Decide where you want the Velcro to be placed on the straps where they overlap. Cut two pieces of Velcro–one each of the hook and loop sides–about 1-1/2 inches long. Place pins on the two sides of the strap at the top and bottom edges of where these two 1-1/2 inch Velcro pieces will be sewn.
Step 4: Fit the first piece of Velcro inside the first set of two pins and stitch around the edges. Be sure to backstitch at the beginning and end to be sure that the Velcro won't come loose as the mat is used. Repeat with the second piece of Velcro.