Parents are rebelling against plastic toys by creating pretend edibles for toddlers out of felt and fabric. You can do it, too.
This photo taken Oct. 6, 2009 shows play food items made of cloth stored in a play refrigerator made of wood at the home of Deena Niemat in Nashville, Tenn. Niemat made the food items and bought the wood furniture so her daughter will avoid contact with plastics.
Rebecca Haacke started making play food out of felt for her children because she was tired of cleaning out their toy box during recalls of lead-contaminated toys.
The 29-year-old from Orem, Utah, first made a whole stuffed apple, then sewed a ham sandwich with a felt lunch sack.
She is one of a number of mothers who, worried about plastic toys' safety and environmental impact, have created interest in homemade play food.
"It's not a run-of-the-mill, China-made toy," Haacke said. "I get tired of my kids playing with plastic all the time."
Miranda Kuskie, 25, of Nampa, Idaho, went on a felt-food sewing spree for her 3-year-old son because she was unimpressed by the play food for sale and concerned about contaminated plastic. She likes that her children can pile up separate strands of felt spaghetti instead of a plastic blob of noodles.
"They like to stick all the noodles in the pot and stir it up. And they can't really do that with the plastic food," she said.
People with little or no sewing experience can make felt food; there are fabric versions of strawberries, hamburgers and cupcakes that can be sewn by hand with one or two basic stitches.
Crafter Deena Neimat, 29, of Nashville, said it's satisfying to whip up a fabric carrot in 15 minutes or a milk carton in about an hour, then watch her daughter play with them.
"It's really just a night sitting in front of the TV, sewing. It's not like you have to set aside hard-core work time," she said.
The items are durable and wash up easily, and many people expect them to become heirlooms.
Kuskie, who has provided some instructions on her blog, Keeper of the Cheerios (www.keeperofthecheerios.com), said people who make felt food find themselves examining dinner for a close look at food colors and for ideas on constructing fabric versions. She made her 9-year-old daughter a baking set that included bags of flour and sugar, pies, cakes and a wooden spoon with a little blob of felt glued on to look like cookie dough.
"I've made everything from carrots and bananas with peels to chips with cheese sauce and jalapenos," she said.
Felt food can be inexpensive, depending on the type of fabric used. Many people choose acrylic "eco-felt" that's made from recycled plastic, while others prefer more expensive wool felt without plastic in it. Some use old wool sweaters, while pricey felt made from bamboo can be found on the Internet.
At American Felt & Craft, an Internet store (www.americanfeltandcraft.com), a piece of wool felt about the size of a sheet of notebook paper costs about $5. A sheet of wool/rayon blend costs 75 cents. Recycled plastic felt costs even less. A sheet of red felt would make a bunch of strawberries.
Andie Clark, 30, of Peoria, Ariz., co-founded American Felt & Craft last year to sell goods for felt crafts. The company daily ships about a dozen orders of $50 to $100 each. Ready-to-assemble kits, especially the shrimp stir-fry, are top sellers.
Some crafters form groups to swap pieces of felt food, with each person making multiples of one item so everyone ends up with a variety. Trading felt food is also popular on websites such as Craftster.org, where people share ideas for projects.
After the apple and ham sandwich, Haacke starting making any food she could think of: sushi, a salad set, a crab bake dinner, caramel apples. And she turned her hobby into a business, Bug Bites Play Food (bugbitesplayfood.etsy.com), where she sells fabric burritos, cinnamon rolls, banana splits and other items.