Tutorial: Tangram-esque Fabric Puzzle

This is one of those projects that’s been on my mental to do list for a while, like before I had my Pinterest boards, or I would be able to tell you exactly when and where I saw it. (Oh Pinterest, how did I ever get along without you?) I did pin a similar project as soon as I saw it, but this was months after the original inspiration struck me.

Curious yet? After tumbling the idea around in my head, I finally cracked down and did it, and rather than trying to work backwards to make a tutorial in the event that others might be interested in make their own fabric puzzle, I actually planned ahead on sharing the how-to with you (thoughtful, huh?). And now that it’s done, I’m so glad I took pictures because (a) it is way too cool not to share and (b) I’m not going to be making another set of these things for a while (yes, that means this is a tad labor intensive, but what do you expect when this, this, and this, are my typical project?).

I’m calling these tangram-esque because Merriam-Webster’s definition actually specifies the little Chinese puzzle with seven specifically shaped pieces in the definition of tangram, and this isn’t quite that. But it’s in the spirit of the tangram puzzle.

These are addictingly fun to play with, and I don’t just mean for the kids. My photo sessions got rather drawn-out because I was so into coming up with different designs.


It’s basically a open-ended puzzle that you make up as you go, and I love it. I’m not sure how age-appropriate it is for my toddler and 9-month old, but they pieces are soft, stackable, and colorful, so at the very least they make excellent teething toys and safe projectiles.


I think my older daughter was getting into them, but if not, I’m sure she’ll love them as much as I do in a few years.

Do you want to make your own set of tangram-esque puzzle pieces? Great. Let’s get to work.

The process is pretty simple. You’ll be making a bunch of half-square triangles, sewing a backing and batting to it, turning it right side out, and slip-stitching the opening closed. Here’s the details:

  1. First, choose your fabrics. You don’t need much of each color. I used seven different colors, and only used about 1/6th of a yard each color, and about a third of a yard of the white.
    Really, you can use whatever fabric you want, with as many different colors as you want, and make as many pieces as you want.
  2. Each color is paired with every other color once (7 colors, so the math is 6 + 5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 = 21; I think this works with whatever number of colors you have: take the number of colors, minus one, then add all the numbers to that number and on down), and by cutting the pieces in half (you’ll see later) you get a total of 42 tile pieces.

    If you want to end up with 42 finished squares like I did, you’ll need to cut six 4″ squares in each color, including the white (if you are using a different number of colors, the number of squares you’ll need to cut will be one less than the number of colors you have). For the backing, you’ll need forty-two 3 3/4″ squares in whatever combination of colors you want; I used 18 squares in white and 4 squares of every other color.
  3. Match up one of each color with one of every other color, red with orange, red with yellow, red with green, and so on. If you’re using fabric with a pattern, make sure to keep right sides together.
  4. Use a pencil or a disappearing fabric marker to draw a line from one corner to another.
  5. Sew from one corner of the square diagonally to the opposite corner, using the line you made as the guide for your presser foot.
  6. Turn the square around and sew down the opposite side of the line in the same manner. You will now have to parallel lines of stitching.
  7. Cut each square in half along the diagonal line you marked in step 4.
  8. Press the squares open with the seam pressed toward the darker fabric.
    (I’m sure there are lots great tutorials about how to do half-square triangles. Calli from Make It Do just did a very nice little tutorial about how to do half-square triangles, and it looks very similar to the way I did it, so if you need another tutorial on how to do half-square triangles, check it out.)
  9. Cut out 42 3 3/4″ squares of batting (I cut out twice that because the batting I had was very thin, and I wanted it to have a little more heft.
  10. Lay each pieced square on top of a 3 3/4″ square, right sides together.
  11. Lay your matched pieces on top of one piece of batting.
  12. Sew all the way around your square (1/4″ seam allowance), leaving a 1 1/2″ opening for turning out.
  13. Clip off the corners (sorry, I didn’t show this step, but basically you want to trim to as close to the corner as possible without cutting through the stitching).
  14. Using a turning tool of some sort (I used hemostats, which I read about here), turn out each piece, making sure to push the corners nicely.
  15. Tuck in the open seam, and slip stitch the opening closed. I don’t really know how to describe the slip stitch, I stitched through both sides of the fabric as closely as possible so the thread doesn’t show, then I pulled the thread back through half an inch, made a knot, and “popped” the knot through the fabric to bury it inside (that’s how it was described to me when I was first learning to sew as a teenager, so please forgive my lack of eloquence). Perhaps the pictures will help the description.Repeat 41 times, and you’re done. Now go enjoy your finished work.

They’re great for throwing,

stacking,

sucking on,

designing,

and undesigning.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do; I’m telling you, hand stitching 42 seams closed is worth it for this little toy. If you make your own, I’d love to see them!

Have a great Monday!

ps. I’m linking this up at skip to my loutatertots and jello, and here:

Visit thecsiproject.com.

55 thoughts on “Tutorial: Tangram-esque Fabric Puzzle

  1. What a lovely project, I am sure whoever gets to play with all those brightly colored squares is quite pleased. :)

    Lovely tutorial also. If I had small children this would most certainly be on a list of projects to keep in mind.

  2. Lovely! I’m definitely going to make this for my 2 year old..though I suspect I will be playing with it more than she does! Thanks for the tutorial!

  3. What gorgeous colors, Rebecca! This was definitely a labor of love, but so worth the results. I think you could figure out some really cool quilt patterns with these little squares. Neat project! Visiting from TT&J.

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  7. Thank you so much for sharing this awesome idea! I have just completed one set last night. and am about to start my second set now! I made the first lot for my friends children, and the second lot will be for me. I loved making them, they were easy to pick up when I needed a break from some tricky knitting that I have been up to as well.
    Thanks again!
    Heather

    • I love hearing when my tutorials get used, and it’s even better knowing that people like them enough to use them more than once. I hope I get some time to make another set soon! Thanks for commenting!

  8. I think this needs to go in my “To do IMMEDIATELY” list instead of just my “ideas for later” bookmarks.

    And that “slip stitching” it closed is actually called “ladder stitching” if I recall correctly.

    Nicely done! I am thanking SMS for sending me this way!

  9. this is so awesome!! your math seems a little off… 26 times 2 is 52, not 42. but with something so fun, does it really matter how many you have? lets see.. 6+5+4+3+2+1= 21, so that must be where the 42 comes in. ok!!! looks like fun. visiting from sew mama sew

  10. What a great idea–I think this is something my 4-year-old son would enjoy. If not, I know I would love playing with them! I love the pictures of all the designs–they look like beautiful quilts.

    • Top stitching would work just fine. I’ve seen some people do it this way. I just liked the look of the invisible stitching. But I agree, hand stitching all those pieces is rather tedious. Enjoy!

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  13. Sadly, I don’t have any little kids to make these for right now, but I enjoyed the tutorial. However, I did learn an easy way to make triangle squares, which will be useful in quilting; and was also reminded of using hemostats for turning. Now I will have to locate mine. Which drawer did I put them in?

  14. Love this project! But being lazy I think I’m going to top stitch the top so I don’t have to do all that hand sewing :)

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  16. Wow! these look great! Just started making some for my daughters who love playing with pattern and already have friends hinting at birthday presents!

  17. I made some of these today for my grandson who is almost 3. We fly 8 times a year and I’m going to have these for him on the plane and airports. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks for the idea!

  18. Wow these are incredible! But I can see why you wouldn’t be eager to make another set any time soon, that’s a lot of sewing! Pinning just so I can look at them on my board and feel guilty for being too lazy to make them! :)

  19. What a brilliant toy idea! And it would be an easy project to just have along for all those times when you’re caught in a waiting room or other unavoidable down time. I had never heard of using a hemostat for sewing purposes, but what a perfect tool!

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