This is how I learned to make an Amish puzzle ball from the women in the Mennonite community near my hometown in Missouri.
The puzzle ball is intended as an educational toy. It can be grasped by babies and taken apart and reassembled by older children. It fosters small motor skills which stimulate brain development and abstract thinking abilities.
A puzzle ball can be made with fabric scraps of all types, preferably woven materials. You can use satins, velvets, calicos, denim, wool suiting, corduroy, whatever you have on hand. You can use felted wool, old blankets, sweaters. Stuff with wool, cotton, or other natural stuffing if you can. Not only do I detest the idea of a baby chewing on plastic fibers such as fiberfill, that stuffing tends to be too insubstantial for a puzzle ball. A good puzzle ball is solidly made.
Find a circular bowl or plate that is the desired size of your finished ball. Trace 6 of these circles on the wrong side of the fabric. Cut out the circles. Cut the circles in half and then in half again to make 4 wedges from each circle. You have 24 wedges. (Ignore the red polka dot circles in my photo. I decided to only use the white and red floral for the inner pieces.)
Now you need a pattern for the tops of the ball wedges. Trace the rounded edge of one of the quarters onto a scrap of reusable paper. Old mail ready to be recycled is ideal. Using the bowl, plate, or glass you used for the circles, match the rounded edge in mirror image and trace the other rounded edge of the ellipse.
Repeat on the other side of the ellipse, sewing the other rounded edge to a second wedge. Sew one side of the wedge together and halfway down the other side. Turn this piece right side out.
Now you can see the wedge shapes you'll be sewing, sew 11 more. Turn all right side out. Stuff solidly and whipstitch or ladder stitch your wedges closed.
Now here's what makes the puzzle a puzzle! Leave one of the wedge circles as is with only the outer tops joined. Take the second circle and imagining the inner points numbered 1 through 4, sew points 1 and 2 together and sew points 3 and 4 together. That circle now looks like a mouth opening. Take the third circle and sew all the inner points together closing the circle.
To put the puzzle ball together, work the 'mouth' circle over the fully closed circle, like a rubber band. Point all the inner points to the inside center of the ball. Next work the open circle of wedges over the combined circles. Point all the inner points to the inside center of the ball.
When the ball is put together is doesn't look or feel like it can be taken apart. And when it is in pieces it doesn't look like a ball at all! That's the puzzle of the puzzle ball.
The red and white ball was made from the glass shape as a Christmas tree ornament and was quite small. This one was made from repurposed 100% linen shirts in tan, blue, and green. All are stuffed with wool fleece and hand sewn.
A puzzle ball can be made in an evening and makes a unique and lovely baby shower or infant birthday gift. By the age of three, toddlers are anxious to learn the secrets of taking apart a puzzle ball and by 4 or 5 can also put it back together again. It also makes a wonderful soft ball for indoor play.
If you make a puzzle ball, please come back and share your stories. I'd love to include your photos.
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