Late one night last week, as I tucked a few coins in a wee envelope with a tiny missive from the tooth fairy, I reflected on the fact that my daughter would still be more excited about three nickels than one quarter. I cannot recall when I first learned the value of each coin and bill as a child, but no doubt I had many more opportunities to practice my currency skills than the average child today. I know that often I find myself without a single dollar in my wallet, as we rely on other forms of currency that allow us to monitor our spending very carefully (and with less effort).
There is, however, one circumstance that always necessitates having cash on hand: a trip to the outdoor farmer’s market. With spring around the corner, this year I hope to prepare my older child a bit more for counting out paper money and coins and ultimately growing to understand the value of the lovely vegetables and still-warm gluten free bread we bring home from the market each weekend.
To that end, I whipped up a little set of fabric play money as a tool for beginning to learn the value of each bill and coin. Long after those paper money sets have been crumpled and torn, this quick fabric currency will still be used for purchases of painted orange carrots, felted tomatoes, and crocheted pomegranates.
Fabric scraps in patterns and solids
Rubber stamps or stencils of numbers
Netting or crinoline
Sewing and cutting tools
Paper and pen for templates
Optional: wooden “coins,” ink pad, and smaller number stamp set
Begin by stamping sets of numbers. We live in the US, so I’ve chosen to make bills in 1, 5, 10, and 20 dollar denominations. I recommend thinking about making change, and how many of each bill you’d like to have. I made plenty of one dollar bills, but only two twenty dollar bills. I used a bit of fabric paint applied to a stamp with a paintbrush, but other methods like stenciling would work equally well. Just use the tools and materials you already have on hand. I had the most luck with a more saturated color of paint on a paler solid fabric for the numerals.
Next you’ll want to create a little paper template for cutting out an oval shape around the numbers. My oval is 2.25 inches wide and 1.25 inches high, but yours will vary based on the size of your stamps or stencils and the size of the finished bill. Once the ink or paint is dry, center the oval template over each number and cut.
To make the body of the bill, I cut into stacks of scrap fabric to create lots of pairs of rectangles about 4.5 inches long by 2.5 inches high. I used quilting cottons for all of the money, so the two layers of fabric felt a little insubstantial for my taste. Therefore I rummaged around and found some stiff netting and cut two pieces of that for each bill, ever so slightly smaller than the fabric rectangles. It gave the finished money a bit more sturdiness without adding any thickness at all. You can also experiment with using corduroy, felt, or upholstery fabric on one side of the money to give it more weight.
Once you’ve cut all the pieces, press all of the pieces (except the netting) so they are ready for assembly.
To sew the bills, sandwich two pieces of netting in between two fabric rectangles which are wrong sides together. It’s up to you whether you’d like to put a oval number piece on one side only of each bill or on both sides. Line all the layers up and pin the number oval in place. Stitch around it through all layers of fabric to secure. I did a second loop around, making sure not to overlap my previous stitching, to give it more of a whimsical look.
After you’ve applied the number in the center, it’s time to stitch around the four sides. You might want to pin the flaps in place to keep them from shifting too much. Again I stitched around the edges twice. Trim all your threads and any netting which might be poking through the edges.
Once you’ve finished the fabric bills, you might want to add some wooden coins to them. These are easily found at any craft store. In about five minutes I stamped a few sets of 1, 5, 10, and 25 cent coins with some smaller number stamps and black ink.
This simple fun play money set can be enjoyed in kitchen, shop, farmer’s market, and grocery play, and gives you the opportunity to slip in some currency concepts with your older children.
Bernadette Emerson, Co-Editor and Publisher of Rhythm of the Home, raises her two children with her husband on a small lake in Missouri, and believes parenting and education to be an artistic and creative journey. Her background as an actress, musician, and passionate birth advocate and doula has informed her current roles as an editor, writer, and an advocate for the creation of a Waldorf school in the Kansas City area. When she isn’t chasing after her little ones, she can be found sewing, enjoying art and the outdoors, or reading a great book.