You might have come across our Sensory Backpacks on a visit to Seven Stories. They are jam-packed with all sorts of treasures to help families explore the exhibitions and introduce new ways to enjoy reading stories together.


But who makes these the stunning, bespoke textiles that are the real winners in these backpacks?

Let us introduce you to Lynn Telford who is a dab hand at the sewing machine and transforms stories and illustrations into marvellous, handmade creations.


I am really pleased to have been involved in creating the sensory story mats for the latest Sensory Backpacks. Families of all ages who visit Seven Stories can enjoy using the backpacks but they have extra appeal for families of children with additional needs, who might not be able to fully access aspects of the exhibitions. They can be used within the exhibitions or anywhere in the building. Why not pick one up from Reception and find a quiet corner in the Attic and let your imaginations fly?

My role is to design and make the bespoke story mats after I have a conversation with Seven Stories’ Learning team. Each bag needs to help families bring the stories to life in immersive, accessible and exciting ways so they are full of resources like magnifiers, puppets and toys to help explore the content of the exhibitions. I love coming up with new ideas for making the sensory mats and try to include elements that will appeal to all learning styles; visual, auditory and kinaesthetic.


Choosing the right materials is an important part of the design and making process. I like to make things tactile so I contrast smooth, shiny materials with coarse, furry or prickly ones.

Before I start making new story mats, I have fun searching through my threads to make sure I have all the right colours. There are some fantastic names for the colours too; Erin Green, Dutch Blue, Gladiole Red, Myrtle, Biscuit and Dark Olive Drab. I try to use older sewing cottons sourced from second hand shops and markets. 

I have enjoyed working on these mats for a while and each time, have new ideas on how to improve and develop them with help from your feedback. This time round, I have tried to include five common functions:

1: Opportunity for Role Play

2: A Transformative element

3: Opportunities for Tactile explorations

4: An element of sound

5: An element of scent

Each story mat is different, in terms of the materials used, the layout and purpose. Some have hidden pockets or flaps that reveal surprises. Although they are intended to be used with an adult to encourage families to share stories together, there are also plenty of opportunities for young fingers to explore and discover on their own.

I have made four new story mats, based on four books featured in the Michael Morpurgo: A Lifetime in Stories exhibition. Here is a bit about what to expect from each:

Where My Wellies Take Me, by Michael and Clare Morpurgo, illustrated by Olivia Lomench Gill

This is such a rich book with so many possibilities. It does a brilliant job of celebrating nature and encouraging the reader to get out into the country to explore. The illustrations, sketches, scrapbook feel and snippets of familiar poetry are all full of glorious observations about nature.

I have designed the story mat to follow the map of Pippa's journey. Visitors can use the Pippa finger puppet to trace her journey through the village and surrounding countryside, meeting some of the animals she encounters on her way.

A wellie footprint links to Christina Rossetti's poem Hurt no living thing which appears in the book.

Make sure to watch out for the insects in the grass and under the hedgerows as you explore the story mat. Fidgeting Fingers following the course of the river will have several encounters with hidden wildlife and more familiar characters from poetry.

When Pippa passes through Bluebell Wood she observes that "Bluebells aren't blue when there are hundreds and thousands like this. They're purple and they smell purple too." Don’t forget to jingle the bells!


The Rainbow Bear, by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Michael Foreman

The story mat forms the icy backdrop to this lovely story.  In this frozen landscape live a Polar Bear and his fellow arctic animals.

Sensory explorers can be animal detectives and follow tracks in the snow to identify paw prints.

Try catching fish through an ice hole or follow the route of the icebreaking ship, forcing the ice to reveal its sleeping contents.

There might be a lot of snow and ice but if you search long enough, you will find a rainbow!


War Horse, by Michael Morpurgo

War and conflict is an emotive subject and sometimes tricky to explore with children. War Horse is one of Michael Morpurgo's most famous stories. To help families engage with the story, I decided to design this story mat in the style of a WW1 gas cape. These were the groundsheet capes that soldiers wore during the war. The story mat can be worn as a soldier's uniform but if you open it out, the lining of the cape tells the story of Joey and his servicemen.

I created farm fields to give way to battle fields with soldiers illuminated against a background of smoke and fire to show how Joey went from ploughing the fields in Devon to being ridden into war in France.


Wombat Goes Walkabout, by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Christian Birmingham

This Story mat celebrates the beautiful light qualities in Christian Birmingham's sensitive illustrations in Wombat Goes Walkabout.

Use the mat to explore the colours, sounds, smells and textures of the Australian Bush. Little hands can investigate the holes that wombat has been digging and experience the warm glow and crackle of the bush fire.

I hope you enjoy sharing these mats together as much as I have enjoyed creating them. See if you can match some parts of the story mats to the illustrations in the books, read the poems, act out parts of the story and have fun!


Sensory Backpacks are available to borrow from Reception for a £10 refundable deposit. Just ask on arrival and our Reception team will be delighted to chat more about the backpacks available. Find out more here.

Don’t forget to let us know how you and your family have used them!