Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Montessori infant puzzle ball tutorial

How about this then??
I give you the Montessori infant puzzle ball!!......[applause]

These puzzle balls look beautiful and are wonderful developmental toys for a baby who is just beginning to grasp with both hands. The many "handles" of the ball help the child build wrist strength and coordination. Plus, it rolls a very short distance if dropped, thus eliminating frustration of a bouncy ball that rolls hopelessly out of reach. It does roll a bit, however, encouraging the not-yet-crawling child to scoot over and grasp it again.

The design of the ball has quite a history of tradition with quilt makers in the United States because it has been a favorite toy for many years.  It can also be used as a hanging toy by fastening it to a toy hanger with a piece of elastic, string, or ribbon. 

I found a tutorial to make the ball over at The Secret of Childhood and have added a few tips and tricks from a beginners point of view below.

Here's how to make it:
  • First decide how big you want the ball to be.  The ones that are sold at Michael Olaf come in two sizes: 5 inches and 3 inches in diameter.  
  • Select the fabric.  I like it when these balls are made with a combination of plain and patterned fabrics so I chose to go with a plain red and a white fabric with little red reindeers on it (so cute!). 
  • Find a plate or bowl which is the same size as the ball you want to create and use it to draw 9 circles of equal size; 3 of them on the patterned fabric and 6 of them on the plain fabric.  I chose a small metal bowl which has a diameter of about 15cm.  At this point I should say that I used an old pair of trousers for the red fabric and it was a cotton mix with a bit of stretch.  In hindsight I wouldn't recommend using a stretchy fabric as it can make it quite difficult to get the ball looking just right. 
  • After cutting out all of the 9 circles the next step is to further cut them into quarters.  To mark out the lines to cut just fold each circle in half and mark the fabric at either side of the resulting semi circle.  Then turn the circle through 90 degrees and do the same again.  Join the marks together with a ruler and pen as shown below.
  • Do the same for all of the circles (patterned and plain) and cut into quarters.  You will end up with 12 patterned quarters and 24 plain quarters.
  • Then take the patterned quarters only and fold them as shown below so that an ellipse shape can be cut from each of them.   For the first ellipse you need to fold and mark the fabric as shown before cutting but for all the others you can use the cut ellipse to draw around. 
  • Repeat this for all of the patterned quarters so that you end up with 12 ellipses. 
  • The next step is to begin sewing two plain and one patterned pieces together.  I had an overwhelming desire to hand stitch all the pieces of the ball but thankfully it subsided and I got the machine out which is just as well because there are a lot of them to make.
  • Lay one ellipse on top of a plain quarter so that the pattern is facing inwards.
  • Start the sewing of these two pieces together in the middle of the outside edge of the ellipse.  With this ball it is important to never start stitching in any of the corners of the ellipses as they need to be really strong.
  • Sew from this mid point towards one of the corners.
  • Then, when you reach the corner make sure that the needle remains in the fabric, lift the foot and perform a u-turn and sew to the opposite corner going over the stitches you had already made.
  • The picture below shows this finished edge.
  • Next add another plain quarter onto this piece.  To do this you need to tuck under the side that you have just sewn so that you don't go through it again.  Once again start from the mid point of the outside edge of the ellipse.
  • Sew to one corner then you need to leave the needle in the material and perform a little flip of the fabric so that you can sew down towards the point of the plain quarters without going through the ellipse underneath.  This is easy one you try it a few times.
  • Don't continue all the way to the point but instead stop about 10mm from it.  Leave the needle in the fabric and turn the work around so that you can continue back over the stitching you just did.
  • When you reach the corner again flip the fabric once more so that you can continue over the half completed edge from where you started. Make sure that you are only going through the ellipse and one plain quarter.
  • Continue to the opposite corner to complete the stitching around the ellipse.  Once again leave the needle in the corner of the ellipse and flip the fabric so that you can go through just the two plain quarters.  The photo below shows the fabric as it is flipped over ready to be pivoted around the needle.
  • As before stop about 10mm from the tip, turn the fabric around and back stick another 10mm.  Here is the finished piece.
  • Repeat this for all 12 segments and carefully turn inside out.  This is a bit fiddly if you are making a small ball.
  • It was at this point that I started worrying that my ball would be too small but I stuck with it (mainly because I didn't want to do another 12 segments).
  • Stuff the segment quite tightly.  For the stuffing I used an old polyester pillow that I had tried to wash in the washing machine but when it came out all the stuffing was in one big lump in the corner.  
  • Here is a stuffed segment ready to be closed but before I sewed it up I put a little bell inside to make the ball into a rattle.
  • Then close up the hole like so.  This part doesn't have to be so neat as it won't be visible.
  • Once you have 3 completed segments you can sew them together.  
  • Start by sewing the three points together in the middle.
  • Then sew all of the corners together to form the shape below.  It is important to make these corner joins very strong so double up the thread if possible.  I avoided sewing through the ellipses to keep the overall look neat.
  • The rest is pretty self explanatory.  Join three of these sections together going over the same corner stitching you just completed.  
  • Then join these three together to form the almost ball shape below.  At this point you can add a few more stitches to the centre of the ball as it will be your last chance. 
  • Turn over the ball and add in the last group of 3 segments (without joining the middle to the centre of the ball (unless you really want to and have very little fingers).
  • Finally I finished my ball off with some yellow embroidery thread to tidy up and reinforce the joins.

In the end I was very happy with the size of the ball (the same diameter as the bowl that I used despite the seam allowance) and I'm glad I put a bell in it too.

I can't wait to give this ball to the new baby when he is ready to begin reaching and grasping and I might even knock up a few more for fantastic new baby gifts for some expecting friends.


  1. Yikes! I am going to give this a try tomorrow. I have read both tutorials and am still a little confused! I hope it comes together ok.

  2. Cool! Good luck with yours!
    Just let me know if there is any part in particular that is confusing and I will try to help. Once you get going I'm sure you will be fine.

  3. I assume you meant to say, in step 3, 9 circles, not 12? That's a great tip about the plate - thanks!

    1. Oops yes, you are right. I'll update the tutorial. :)

  4. Hi - This is a great tutorial! I can't wait to make one. Brilliant blog, so informative and helpful. Thank you.

    A bit confused regarding number of circles required. You say 12 but then you mention we need 3 patterned and 6 plain = 9

    Might be my baby brain ;-)

    1. Thank you so much! Yes I totally made a mistake with the numbers of circles. It must have been my baby brain while I was making it!
      I also realise now that there is no need to cut the plain circles into quarters but instead just cut those circles in half and it saves a bit of sewing.

  5. That's an excellent tip. Thank you :-)

  6. Thank you so much! I am going to start my son's ball tomorrow!

  7. Thank you again! Here is my son with his puzzle ball! http://sewingforme.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/my-first-montessori-puzzle-ball/

  8. Thanks for this tutorial! That was hard (and my finger ends still hurt), but the result is fantastic! Thank you again and good luck with other projects! :)


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