Monday, 1 August 2011

Monday Makery - Montessori Number & Alphabet Branches

Our house is full of alphabets and numbers at the moment. Sophia is reading and writing and learning how words are put together. Oona is learning her numbers, understanding them and matching them to the appropriate number of objects, although most of the time she'll say there are six! Yes, a cat has six legs, so do spiders and sometimes even I seem to have grown a couple of extras. I think for her any number above three begins to merge into the same blur of six!
So I have been looking for ways in which we can incorporate their desire to learn but keep it playful. Then on a hunt for inspiration to find some sewing projects I came across what is perhaps the most fabulous sewing book I could have imagined. Growing Up Sew Liberated by Meg McElwee is a beautiful book with inspiring projects ranging from simple baby clothes, storage baskets, puppets, bibs and of course this genius idea here which I have adapted to suit my own children's ages.

I love the endless games that can be played, the feel of the little fabric patches and how irresistable they seem to be to young and curious minds.

Here I made an alphabet version for Sophia and a more basic number one for Oona. Follow the steps below and get creating your own. It may seem like a big project but once you get off the starting blocks you'll be finished in no time.

You'll need:
  • a large piece of  cotton/linen fabric for the number rectangles. 46 x 114.5 cm is the recommended but you'll obviously need a lot more to make the alphabet. I found a pair of unlined tab top curtains for less than £5 in a charity shop and used this to keep the cost of materials down. 
  • You'll need the same width and length again of wadding
  • scraps of fabric for making the numbers.
  • cotton and embroidery threads
  • a branch or as I've used here a bamboo pole easily found and garden centres.
  • wood glue though I can't see why super glue wouldn't work just as well.
  • scissors
  • paper and pen for creating the templates.
  • and then the marvel that is my hero - fabric glue.

here's how:

  1. Begin by cutting your fabric rectangles. For your nine numbers you'll need 18 5" x 4" rectangles. 
  2. Then get your numbers ready. The book provides a template to trace and cut but you can draw the numbers onto paper as I did for the letters in the alphabet. 
  3. Once you've got your paper numbers cut each out and pin to your fabric scraps and cut out.
  4. I used the modern marvel that is fabric glue to stick each of the numbers onto their own fabric rectangle then I embroidered with a simple stitch around each one to give it a clear edge which is nice for young children to trace with their fingers.
  5. Now for piecing the rectangles together: take your base fabric rectangle, place your wadding rectangle (cut the same 5" x 4" as the fabric rectangles) on top and then sandwich it all together with your prepared numbered rectangle. Sew together around the edge. The wadding I found in my local haberdashers was quite thick so I only used one layer when putting this together but you can add 2 layers of wadding if you prefer. For the alphabet version I discovered my sewing machine could easily do a pretty embroidery stitch so I gave the edges a pretty finish with a coloured embroidery stitch around their edges.
  6. Finish and tidy: you can cut the edges of your finished rectangles with pinking shears to prevent any fraying and you can use fabric glue to seal the edges together to create neat lines, I skipped this step as I quite liked the soft look of the layers on the sides.
Now you have your numbers its time to prepare the branch
  1. I bought plain clothes pegs from the local pound shop and then my girls had fun setting about painting them, mixing the colours to create their own tones from basic poster paint. Set aside to dry.
  2. Once the paint is dry decide on the spacing of your number rectangles along the branch by lining up the pegs against the stick.
  3. Using wood glue (follow the manufacturers instructions) fix the pegs to the stick. I found that by placing a magazine under the ends of the pegs as the glue dried allowed the pegs to dry flat against the bamboo pole, which means they'll hang perfectly and not tend to tilt toward the wall when hung.
  4. When the glue has dried use your string to hang the branch, be sure to hang it at a height that your children can easily reach by standing or sitting. 

Of course now that you have your branch you can make more numbers to place in a basket beside the branch, you can add a 0 (zero) so that older children can make 10's or perhaps an = , a - and a + for children who are beginning to get to grips with mathematics. 
For Sophia's alphabet branch I doubled up on the letters and placed them in a basket next to her branch and I think i'll need to add yet more vowels too, its surprising how many 'oo's' are used! 
As children are now learning to read and write by learning phonics I think I'll add the appropriate phonic sounds like 'oo', 'ae' 'ie' etc giving each phonic sound their own rectangle.

We've been enjoying our Montessori branches all week now and the girls are playing with them brilliantly. I spell out messages for Sophia when she's fallen asleep and she loves to read them when she wakes up. Oona thinks its quite funny that when a 6 stands on its head it turns to a 9 and she's already starting to recognize numbers in their written form. Sophia who is rather smug about being big sister and therefore is already confident with her numbers teaches Oona games by grouping a small number of objects together, counts them with Oona and then asks her to find the number that matches..... I hear quite a lot of loud applause and 'well done Oona' coming from her room. As we have double the amount of numbers we play 'pairs' by turning all the numbers over on the floor and taking it in turns to turn 2 over winning the pair if we find they match.
There are endless games and ways of learning with these branches and Meg McElwee offers ideas in her craft craft book too.

I shall be making everything that is in the book as everything is brilliant. My enthusiasm for creating far outweighs my abilities and this book sits perfectly with me. The ideas are genius but the method is gentle so I feel like a makery master with results like a pro! love it!

We have more Monday Makery craft & recipe ideas here.

If you would like to share some ideas as a guest blogger on the Monday Makery we would be very excited to hear from you. Use the contact form on our main website here.

For behind the scenes photos of Sisters Guild we have the gallery of the A-Z of Sisters Guild here.


  1. fabulous!
    Happy Monday sisters!

  2. i LOVE this! Did you just print off letters to use as templates?

  3. Hello Monica, to make the letter templates I cut rectangles in equal size for each letter then my daughter and I drew each letter out. The result was quite child-like but it was fitting for the project.The key is not to strive for perfection!
    The easier option would be to find a printable sheet of letters in a font you liked. I hope you make these for yourself. We play with ours all the time and I can certainly say it has helped my child with her reading and spelling.
    Do send us a picture if you do. Have fun.

  4. thank you! i want to work on this for my boys to enjoy while i do "school" with my daughter. It looks like a fun (pretty!) way to learn. i'll definitely send a pic if I make these!

  5. i saw this on sew liberated via interest. just had to tell you how incredibly lovely it looks! makes ME want to play alphabet!! well done! :)

  6. Amazing. such a great ideas to use up scrap fabric.

  7. Such a lovely idea! I'm already thinking of all the possibilities. I'm thinking of adding a pouch on it to match pictures and later words, or even putting velcro dots on the front.