13 May 2012

Plane Activity Tray

We are planning on taking the kids on a long trip later this year. It will involve almost 60 hours of planes and airports, 6+ hours of trains, and a wedding reception, amongst other things. I'm not terribly worried (although a little more worried now that I add it all up and write it down in black and white) as I'm sure I can plug the kids into various electronics for most of that... but where's the challenge in that?

So I have been trawling the Internet looking for activities and ideas that can make the trip more enjoyable.

One thing that I saw and really liked the look of was an activity tray. I also liked the look of this table cover. I am still plotting a way to combine the two, but first I wanted to have my own attempt at an activity tray.

My guidelines were something slimline that could potentially fold behind the tray on multiple different types of aircraft, and yet a tray that was as big as possible. Preferably something big enough to fit the food tray on, so no knives and forks would be making a dash for the floor.

This is what I came up with:
Plane activity tray, Mark I.

I took the dimension of the aeroplane tray table to be roughly 24cm x 42cm.
I chose sides for the tray to be 3cm on the back and sides, but I wanted a lower front (2cm), so the kids wouldn't have to hold their hands so high to reach things. 

I took an old drop mat and cut it to size leaving 1cm around the edge to sew (so I cut a rectangle of 32cm by 50cm). I then took pieces of old laminated paper and cut them into 4 pieces; 2 to fit the sides (24cm x 3cm), and 2 to fit the back (21cm x 3cm). The back was made from two pieces, not one, as I wanted to leave a gap in the middle of the back so that the tray could be folded smaller than an a4 page, and easily fit into a backpack. I made sure the laminate pieces were a fraction on the small size so that they wouldn't interfere with any folding lines. I then folded the edge of the drop mat over (1cm) and sewed the laminated paper in place.
For the front edge I glued a fine strip of batting along and folded the edge over and sewed it into place. Again I left a gap in the batting in the middle of the front edge for easy folding. This made the tray more comfortable to lean wrists on and yet stiff enough to provide an edge. I am worried however that it also makes it too bulky to fit behind a closed tray.

Plane activity tray, folded in half ready to carry

The corners were the tricky bit. I had originally planned to use velcro, but the velcro I had was such poor quality, and the size of the corners was so small, it just didn't grip well enough. So (thanks to some inspiration from Mr Crafty) I decided to sew a loop of ribbon a little way from the corner, which the folded corner can be neatly tucked under. In the next prototype I think I'd use elastic instead of ribbon to made it even easier. To make the front corner a little easier I prefolded the top corner down and stitched it in place.
Front corner, folded
Back corner, folded

Front corner, unfolded
Back corner, unfolded
We then trialled the finished product at the dinner table, as a drawing tray and also as a bead threading tray. It worked well, although it didn't managed to catch strings of beads that were dropped half a meter away from it...

Edit: I made a second one with some improvements. Find it here.


  1. yay you made one! I did end up sewing two pieces of elastic to the bottom along with two D rings to make them adjustable. This way they stay on the tray table. I highly recommend doing this as they will move. Here is a link to the post with pictures of the elastic. You'll have to click to enlarge the photos.

  2. Thanks Jennifer! I did see how you attached it, and I know I'll want to do something similar, but I'm still trying to figure out a way I can incorporate it into a design with some pockets on the backside.


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