Sunday, August 27, 2017

Fabric as a Loose Part


Someone recently asked me about durable fabrics for an indoor play cafe--isn't that a cool concept?!

Here was some insight I shared--I look forward to hearing your ideas and what is working in your situation! I find there are various fabrics that work well in different situations. And one of my bigger criterion is price point--I really like FREE--it's always nice to repurpose or use something that would otherwise be going to the dump.


  • Scarves! There are lots of options for scarves. I love the silks that are available. I like a larger size--these have made many impromptu costumes, carried trinkets, blown through our wind tube, decorated the table and so much more. In their situation, I worried a little about how it would last with so many littles using them in a more public setting; however, I have used nylon scarves from Nature Explore and others I bought off of Amazon. I like the sheerness and the durability--these all have really held up well, even when outside. I have also just browsed the scarf selection at our thrift shops and found neat options. Give them a good wash and they are good to go!  This decorated tree probably has some of all of the above! While not technically a scarf, I've loved these scarf like butterfly and woodpecker wings. Such imaginative play happens! 
  • Tulle--I love the sheer quality of tulle. It seems like one that is fairly easy to get for free or cheap. However, I find that it does rip over time; however, it doesn't seem to be problematic for the kids to use it. We've had really long pieces, small pieces, and in between. 
  • Double Knit Polyester--I used to dislike what my grandmother made with this fabric, but really, I'm finding it to work pretty well in my life now. It seems like many garage sales and freecycle type sites have bags of this stuff, already cut in good lengths to use as part of play. A yard square or so seems to work great and offer a fair amount of flexibility. This fabric is durable, easily washable, and doesn't ravel or wrinkle, so it's a win in my book. It can be colorful and have different textures. It is usually not sheer though, which can be a drawback at times. Note the skirt from this fabric below and other fabric in the mud kitchen. :-)                                                                       
  • Old Sheets--My sister-in-law pulled together a fort kit for my boys a few years ago as a Christmas present. We've been adding to this over the years as we get stray flat sheets or find them at yard sales for less than $1. These are great for table cloths, forts, experiments, and more. Plain ones can easily be decorated.                                             
  • Curtains or Shower Curtains--I have long sheer panels in sage that used to be part of our decor--that is so "out" I'm sure now, but these have made way into our play bin instead of going to the thrift store for resale. These have been very durable and happen to be sheer. We are selling a house this week and our cheery "fish" shower curtain is still there. I recently saw one in a picture at an adventure playground that looked just like it--I'm thinking of snagging that before we sign the papers. If using less breathable fabric (like some shower curtains), do think of safety with the ages of the child using it. I typically like breathable fabrics. Canvas drop cloths can also be good outside.
  • Camouflage Hunting Material--Our local sporting goods store recently went out of business and they had great sales. I found specific material to blend in outside that could be used as a blind, a cover, etc. I'm looking forward to the boys hiding from me in it! I've even found "play" (almost plastic) pieces like this as well, though the real thing works too. 
  • Burlap--Inexpensive and looks "rustic".  It is often meant to be outside (or can be treated with waterproofing spay) which can be a plus. I often see this being used with pop up adventure play spaces. It is made of natural vegetation and is safe to use near plants and kids. 
  • Muslin--Muslin is inexpensive. I like having some on hand for art projects. It's really a blank canvas for anything you might want it to be! 
  • Outdoor Fabric from Nature Explore--I typically like free or really inexpensive; however, I did buy 3 of these (about $30/each) after using them in programming for a few years. I love the LARGE size, the sheerness that also gives children a sense of privacy, the pop of color outside, breathability, ease of use, and versatility. I have seen these form hammocks, add decoration to an outdoor space, as part of forts, as dress up play, as part of a group performance, creation of a "river" or "rainfall" during music and movement play, and so much more! I have also found other outdoor fabric at garage sales and stuff. 
     









As far as sizes, I like a variety--smaller sizes can be helpful and we also love larger sizes! The sky is the limit! I usually store fabrics in a large crate that can easily be transported, though I've seen some hanging from hooks other places. 

What materials do you and/or the children like for loose parts play both indoors and out? Any tips for washing and storage? Thanks for sharing your wisdom and pictures!

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