I have been dying to do this project ever since I was still pregnant and readying the nursery (I still need to do a reveal of our little girl’s room!). After struggling for an age to find a foam playmat that wasn’t entirely hideous, I sought an alternative method to paint one myself. But then I got sick and the project just ended up on the enormous pile of discarded things to do. So since I am finally well enough and since Gia is really starting to become mobile, I decided now was a good time to get cracking on my DIY Playmat at last!
So, firstly – Why don’t these things come in acceptable colour combinations?! They’re hideous! The only ones I found that were white, grey or pink were from overseas and were ridiculously expensive. Come on, South Africa! I actually intended for Gia’s room and wardrobe to be completely gender neutral and grey, but since all of her stuff was gifted and were mostly hand-me-downs, it ended up being all pink, grey and white! And I actually love the look :) I am not about that gender normativity and societal engendering of silly things like colours – pink is pink, not a girly colour for goodness sakes (I am *all* about Gia deciding for herself as she grows up what she is comfortable with and how she self-identifies), but, since I am shrouded in pink by no intention of my own, I’ve embraced it as a decor element and not a signifier of her gender. This mat then needed to blend in with the existing nursery theme and not overpower it, so I chose grey and pink along with white to soften it.
A WORD ON THE PLAYMAT
Ok, so honestly this whole DIY is a bit tedious and involved, but if you’ve got the time (*lol* what’s that, right?), it’s actually quite a relaxing activity. Put on some music, set up a space for yourself and listen to the rain – yum! In full transparency, this project took me about a month to do, applying a couple layers of paint per day (Quick math: [3 x coats of primer + 3 x coats of paint + 3 x coats of sealant] x 52 pieces = 468 coats!!!), so this isn’t one of those quick fixes unfortunately, but I am so happy with it!
It will save you a ton of time if you use a plain foam playmat instead of the alphabet one that I used (why are there SO many letters in the alphabet?!), but it was all I could find and I quite like the educational aspect of it for when Gia is older. Also, all the tutorials I found say to paint the underside of the playmat but I painted the top for two reasons: 01. It’s the alphabet and not all letters are reversible, duh… and 02. The underside is softer and more absorbent than the shiny top which means more painting, since the foam just sucks up the paint. The other blogs say not to paint the top because it’s very textured and bumpy while the underside is smooth, which makes the top difficult to paint but I didn’t find this to be the case at all. It will need several layers of paint irrespective of painting the top or bottom, so patience (and a ton of paint) here is a must.
Oh, and make sure your paints (acrylic or craft is fine) and primer are water based otherwise the solvent variety will eat through the foam. Ready? Let’s do it!
Here’s what you’ll need:
01. Lay down some newspaper and arrange the foam squares with all parts disconnected, including the letters or numbers if your mat has them. Begin by applying primer to the foam squares with your paint brush and allowing to dry between layers, about an hour or two. I used Dulux Supergrip Primer. You’ll notice the primer bubbles or doesn’t completely cover the coloured foam at first, but don’t worry. With enough layers it will gain complete coverage. I ended up needing about 3 layers on each square so it did take some time to complete.
02. Choose your design or pattern and paint on top of your dried primer with your paint of choice, using the foam roller for a smooth application without brushstrokes. I used regular, water based acrylic paint and instead of a design I just painted each block a solid colour so that the letters didn’t get lost, but if you have a plain mat go wild! If you’re doing a design, place the individual squares back together, paint them and then dismantle them to allow them to dry separately or they’ll get stuck. Removing the sections is simple but you may need to do some touch ups. Also, you may need a couple layers of paint here too. Allow to dry fully.
03. Cover the pieces with a water based gloss coat in three coats, drying properly in between. I used Plascon Paint Effects Glazecoat Varnish to seal my paint and protect the design. Allow to dry individually and then put the mat together. Ta-da!
So far it’s got Gia’s tiny stamp of approval :) YAY! I can’t even tell you the relief of putting this thing together and seeing it work so well. It’s soft and shiny and smooth and just looks so lovely. Garish colours be gone!
This should last a long time (hopefully), even with plenty of the foot traffic and use it’s intended for. It’s not perfect and I don’t expect it to completely stand up to the test of time, but it’s good enough. I’ll update this post in a few months when Gigi should be crawling (what!!) to see if there’s been any need for touch ups.
All materials are from Builder’s Warehouse (my personal mecca) and this post is not at all sponsored.