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How to Make a Picnic Table Look Like Thomas The Tank Engine (or Percy, or James)

When I originally saw the space we had reserved for Mini’s second birthday party, it occurred to me that it was structured well for a replication of Thomas, James, and Percy in the sheds. What I had envisioned originally was to make cutouts for the ends of the picnic tables as if they were frontal views of the three trains, and then find some kind of faux-finish brick covering to make the tent look like the sheds themselves. In the end, I didn’t have enough time to figure out a way to make the shed structure itself, but the cardboard cutouts of James, Percy, and Thomas worked well to set the theme of the party, even from far away.


To make these cutouts, I bought a Thomas the Tank Engine coloring book–one of those giant-sized things with pages as big as a small child. Inside, there were individual pictures of Thomas, James, and Percy that I thought I could somehow make bigger.


I ended up finding tri-fold presentation boards at a craft store in a variety of colors. Regular posterboards were too small, but these, when unfolded and placed lengthwise, were almost exactly right. I bought one in red, one in green, and one in blue.


Here’s where it gets a little tricky. I wanted to blow up the pictures so as to use as much of the boards as possible, so I looked at the coloring book pictures and determined what the widest point of the train was on each drawing. It was always the bottom part of the engine. I determined to do this mathematically, setting up a ration between the actual length of the longest side of the engine being equal to 36 inches, because this was the width of the board. Using this relationship, I realized that I would be making the pictures about 4.5 times bigger than they were on the coloring book.


What followed was a bunch of calculations in which I would figure out how long a line should be if it were blown up 4.5 times. This took a while, but eventually I was able to sort of reverse engineer the cutouts through this process, despite having no artistic ability to speak of. I used a pencil tied to a piece of string to make the round parts, and occasionally would have to draw a triangle to figure out what angle a line should be. But overall, it worked well.


We attached the cutouts to the ends of the tables with tape, and then used table cloths in the color of the engine to complete the look. If I had more time, I would have put piping on the table cloths with colored duct tape, but alas! it all went too fast. There’s always next year, I suppose.