By Margie Wuebker
Janet Smith smiles as she looks at the completed display destined to become a second birthday gift for her granddaughter in Roanoke, Va.
Little Kayla Fedison soon will receive a replica of Noah's Ark complete with a flock of animals ranging from lions and tigers to zebras and crocodiles. It took grandma the better part of two summers and thousands of stitches to complete the ambitious project.
Smith, a resource teacher at Celina West Elementary School and a reading specialist at Immaculate Conception School, decided during the summer of 2003 to use up a mountain of leftover fabric from numerous craft projects. She found information about the ark and its occupants while leafing through a notebook filled with possibilities.
"I collect patterns and people give me craft magazines all the time," she says. "I pull out pages that appeal to me and stick them in the notebook. Noah and his ark may have been lurking in there for some time."
The two-tiered ark posed the greatest challenge. Smith wanted something that was soft and 100 percent washable. She constructed the lower part -- the animals' domicile -- featuring a large gangplank door held in place with Velcro strips. Then came the upper deck -- living quarters for two sock dolls she affectionately calls Mr. and Mrs. Noah. "The directions called for cardboard reinforcing, but that would deteriorate with laundering," Smith explains. "A friend suggested plastic canvas and it worked really well on the deck."
She ultimately decided to use it in the rest of the vessel, requiring careful removal of completed stitches to allow for the insertion of more pieces into the side walls and base.
"Oh my, I can't begin to tell you how many times I ran into challenges and put the thing away," she admits with a sigh. "Somehow the solution always came when I set to work again."
The animals -- all 12 pair -- provided additional opportunity for creativity. Floral print from the fabric storage chest became hide for the long-necked giraffes while white terry cloth gave the polar bears a decidedly furry look. Gray fabric quickly materialized into big-eared elephants while the kangaroos look right at home in light brown corduroy. The whimsical crocodiles show no menacing traits in blue print while the lions proudly show off cream-colored finery.
Smith had to purchase some material -- the print for the ark as well as black and white striped material for the zebras. Alas, her generous stock also lacked spotted scraps for the leopards, distinctive tiger print and the right shade of brown for the rhinos.
"Noah took all kinds of animals aboard," she says. "I decided against the usual (cows, pigs, sheep and chickens) in favor of the unusual."
She used a sewing machine to make the animal forms and added washable Polyfill through open slits to create a well-fed look. She often reached for a pen or crochet hook to pack in enough to make even the long-legged giraffes stand on their own. More stitches neatly closed the slits. The pattern called for felt pieces to serve as eyes, noses and mouths but she created the feature with embroidery.
Finishing touches prompted a flurry of questions -- How long is a giraffe's tail? How big is a lion's mane? Do tigers have whiskers like other members of the cat family? What is the proper placement for a mommy kangaroo's pouch? The answers came in an animal book purchased at the store.
Smith felt something was missing as she looked over the completed menagerie. Roly poly gorillas proved to be the answer. Someone commented about the absence of the bird Noah released following the flood, according to Old Testament accounts. Her husband, Celina Auditor Pat Smith, came up with a logical conclusion -- "The dove flew away, found dry land and never came back."
The ark is designed to hold all the companion pieces. Smith added a braided shoulder strap so the little girl, who turns 2 in December, can carry it around like an oversized purse.
The accompanying play quilt, which Smith created from a hand-drawn picture, gives the illusion of blue sky, shaded woods, dry land with vegetation and a colorful rainbow. The brown summit recreates Ararat, the mountain where the original ark came to rest after a 150-day odyssey. A small tag in back lists the name of the creator, the intended recipient and the date for posterity.
Smith has shared the display with Immaculate Conception students as part of a Scripture program. With October as Noah's Ark month, youngsters heard the story and viewed the elaborate recreation arranged in a glass-fronted case near the school office.
"People ask me about other craft projects," Smith says. "And I always reply 'Which one?' because I have numerous things in various stages around the house. I expect other arks are possible in the event of more grandchildren in the future."