T is for Town
This is my very favorite page in our quiet book so far. I have a lot of near-favorites, and pages I like very much, but I think this one comes out on top. After I show you all the details, I think you'll see why. The whole thing is entirely personalized to our home, our neighborhood, our town, and our favorite places to visit. It's so much fun!
Inspiration and Page Design
Many quiet books include some kind of car driving page, and even more frequently you'll find stand-alone car mats. One of my inspirations was BeepsPeeps' On-the-go Car Mat, especially for the fold-in pocket garage for storing the toy cars. I made my pocket into a parking lot that folds up and hooks into the main page for storage. It's bulky, but stores pretty well for all that. I also loved the City Quiet Book Page from Imagine Our Life, with all its lovely details and the button-backed vehicles.
One of my favorite parts of this page are the street and business signs made from Grafix Shrink Film. I had some of this left from other projects, including the C is for Clock page in our alphabet quiet book. I'd seen online that other crafters have had success in running this standard shrink film through an inkjet printer after prepping it with sandpaper, but when I gave it a go the result was runny and disastrous. Actually, the whole thing wiped off with a swipe of an alcohol-soaked paper towel. Since buying shrink plastic that's made specifically for inkjet printers was cost prohibitive, I came up with another solution. I printed off a reverse image of the signs that I wanted for the page, and then carefully colored them onto the back side of the shrink plastic with colored pencils.
After cutting the signs out, punching the buttonholes with a standard hole punch, and baking in the oven according to instructions, all the imperfections from the hand-coloring evened out. As the last step, I painted the backs of nearly every sign with several coats of white fingernail polish. The signs that had no white (the school, railroad, church, and traffic lights), I protected with a light clear coat of nail polish.
Once I had all the signs finished and laid out on my desk, Annie examined them thoroughly. She has a good eye for signs and logos, so she quickly recognized Aldi and a number of others. Then she asked, "Which one is Walmart?" I told her, "We didn't make a Walmart. We're only making signs for our very favorite places." Annie exclaimed, "But Walmart IS my very favorite place!" I nearly made her a Walmart sign after that, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it.
In my opinion, the best car mat pages are personalized with landmarks familiar to the kids who will be using it. I love this example by Sweet Mama Duck, and how it includes specific places, as well as as super cute gas pump and car wash.
I was thinking about a number of ways to represent our town on the page when I got a promotional e-mail from Spoonflower offering a quick giveaway of a 8" swatch of their (at the time) new fabric, Performance Knit fabric. If you're not familiar with Spoonflower, they are a company that allows independent artists to design and print their own fabric designs, and they have really high quality, if pricey, results. I quickly ran out with the girls and our camera, and took pictures of our house and around our neighborhood, and put them together into a square mosaic to print. We picked four of our favorite places on our street: our house, the church one block down, the public library, and "The Castle" which houses the city offices and police department.
Before I cut into the swatch, I backed the fabric with lightweight interfacing to help stop any fraying of the edges. Then I cut out the buildings, and laid out the signs and various pieces until I had an approximate layout for the design. One problem I encountered was that all the buildings I'd chosen were on the same street in real life, so I had to make a more creative road layout so the cars would have an interesting path to drive on. This kind of bothered Collin who has a real head for maps, and he said that if the girls tried to use the Town page as a map in real life they'd get hopelessly lost. Oh well.
When you have this many elements to a page, it's essential to think in layers. I stitched the river down first, since it goes under the road. The railroad zipper runs parallel to the river, but it crosses over the roads, so it would go on later. For the roads and parking lot pocket I used an old charcoal-colored t-shirt from Collin's closet, and yellow ribbon for the center lines. The buildings went on next, and the sign buttons and embroidery went on last.
When the page was entirely assembled I added some hooks and eyes to hold the parking lot pocket down. I wasn't going to do this at first, but the pocket flopped around terribly at first. After I sewed in the hooks and eyes the problem was completely fixed the problem, securing the pocket and making it more flush with the page.
To make the parking lot pocket I sewed a double-thick rectangle of fabric. I added more of the yellow ribbon for parking space stripes, and then folded it up and zigzagged along the edges to form the pocket.
To create the reserved parking spaces, I cut freezer paper stencils with an X-Acto knife and used regular acrylic paint on the fabric. I used the recycling symbol for the trash/recycling truck, the star for the sheriff/police car, and the mother's with small children symbol for the family car. I love it any time stores have a space for mothers with small children. Even when I don't make use of such a space, it seems like such a considerate gesture.
The cars themselves came from rummaging through a couple bins of toy cars at Goodwill. This was a very fun part of the project for the girls and me, and only ended up costing 75 cents! We really enjoyed picking through all the vehicles - outlandish ones, beat-up ones, bright sports cars - to find three that would work for our car page. I really like the ones we settled on, even if we drive a green station wagon in real life. The red shows up better on the green background anyway.
Here's a close-up of our home, with our street sign and even the trash can sitting out by the street waiting for pick-up. You can see how well the Spoonflower fabric shows the image - the detail and color are wonderful.
Last year was huge year of transition for our family - new house, new job, new town, new church - and Laurel who turned two shortly after moving here had a rough time. She developed new fears that took a while to overcome, and cried in her bed almost every night when we said goodnight. For months. So when Laurel looked at this finished quiet book page, pointed at our house and said softly, "I like our home," I just melted. Sewing the whole page was worth it, just for that moment.
Preschool goals for using the Town page
My main goal for this page was to get the girls to learn what different street signs mean, and to be more observant as we walk around downtown. We talked about, and paid attention to stop lights and crosswalks during our walks. We learned the different shapes of different signs, and what they mean. Annie got very good at this game, and would call out "library!" any time she saw the blue book-reading symbol around town.
So there you have it. T is for Town - in this case, a very personalized town, with all the places we're growing to love, in a place that is becoming more and more home to us. And that is a very sweet thing.