homepage: Dr. Carol JVF Burns

See the Sewing/Crafts section of my main Table of Contents for other sewing projects!

Fabric-Covered Cardboard Blocks

(A) Finished blocks!

(B) Some cardboard blocks,
before adding fabric covers.

(C) Use chaining to finish a long edge
on single center pieces;
repeat with other long edge.

(D) Use chaining to finish the short edge
on single center pieces.
(E) Use a hot-glue gun to attach the ends;
use the ‘gift-wrapping’ technique.
See detail at left (E1, E2, E3).

(F) wrap cloth tape around the raw edges
to secure the ends

(G) start gluing on the center piece

(H) continue gluing on the center piece;
glue the raw edge side first

(I) finish gluing on the center piece;
the finished edge is on the outside

I have fantastic childhood memories of playing with blocks in our Nielsen Lane cellar in Lenox, Massachusetts:
forts, collapsible chairs, stacking and knocking down.

I had lots of cardboard, fabric scraps and glue to use up, so I decided to make my own pretty building blocks for our kid's loft.
You can make any size you want—the ones pictured above are 3" x 6" and about 1.5" high.

They're easy-to-make, lightweight, and fun!
Of course, they lack the precision of store-bought blocks—but they make up for it in character.
It's another fun way to use up boxes from my Amazon purchases.
  1. Decide on your block dimensions:
    Define the following dimensions, in inches: For the blocks pictured above: $\,\ell = 6\,,$ $\,w = 3\,,$ and $\,h = 1.5\,.$
  2. Cut many pieces of same-size cardboard:
    You can use all types of cardboard: old boxes, cereal boxes, whatever.
    Feel free to mix-and-match cardboard types.
    With my mix of cardboard pieces, it took from 12 to 20 pieces each to get a 1.5" high block.

    For extra strength, cut half the cardboard pieces with the ‘lines’ going one direction;
    cut the other half with the ‘lines’ going the other direction.
    When you assemble (next step), alternate the pieces—this way, you'll take advantage of the different strengths in both directions!

    I use these tools to cut both the cardboard and the fabric covers: Tip:
    If the cardboard is thick, don't struggle to get all the way through with a single cut.
    Cut most of the way through, flip the cardboard, fold along the just-cut line, line up the quilting ruler along this fold, and cut again.
  3. Stack and glue cardboard to the desired height:
    I do all my gluing on an old cookie sheet, to protect other surfaces.
    Elmer's glue works well.
    You don't need too much—I put a thin strip about 1/2" in around the perimeter, then a few squiggles inside.

    Glue together two pieces of cardboard, aligning carefully.
    Continue gluing on additional pieces, aligning each carefully, until you reach the desired height.

    Picture B above shows some of my glued cardboard blocks, before covering.
  4. Choose your fabric cover material:
    If it's too light, the glue may show through.
    If it's too heavy, it's hard to work with.
    A medium weight fabric (like cotton quilting fabric) is best!

    If you really want to use a light cover fabric, then line it first:
  5. Cut fabric to cover the cardboard:

    Two ends:
    Cut two pieces, each $\,w + 2\,$ by $\,h + 2\,.$ (Units are inches!)
    This allows one inch of overlap on all sides, used for gluing on the ends.

    Single Center Piece:
    Cut one piece that will wrap around to cover everything except the ends.
    The dimensions are:
    $(2w + 2h + 3) \times (\ell + 1)$
    This allows for three finished edges (with 0.5" seams), plus a good overlap.
  6. Finish three edges of single center piece:
    The stitching described here will show in the finished block, so use a thread color you're happy with!

    two long edges:
    Fold both long edges of the center piece in 0.5", and zig-zag near the unfinished edge.
    If you're doing more than one block with the same fabric, use chaining to speed the process!
    Chaining is when you sew from one piece to the next without cutting your thread.
    I do a few lock-stitches at the end of one piece, and then again at the beginning of the next piece.
    See picture C above.

    one short edge:
    When you're done with the long edges, then fold one of the short edges in 0.5", and zig-zag near the unfinished edge.
    Use chaining again!
    See picture D above.
  7. Attach two fabric ends with a hot glue gun:
    The ends are glued on using the same folding technique you might use to wrap a gift.
    Here are details of the process:

    The following flaps just need to be lightly tacked in place;
    the cloth tape (step 8) will hold them securely:

    Repeat to attach fabric to the other end.
    See picture E above.
  8. Secure both ends with cloth hockey tape:
    Wrap cloth tape around the raw edges to secure the ends.
    You must use cloth tape! Glue (next step) will not adhere well to other tapes!
    Make sure the cloth tape is wrapped a little bit in from each end, so it won't show after attaching the center piece.
    See picture F above.
  9. Use hot glue gun to attach center piece: