Weighted quilt tutorial

I’ve made three of these now so clearly I’m qualified to explain in great detail how to make a weighted quilt or blanket.  They cost a crazy fortune to buy or have made for you, so if you are at all capable with a sewing machine it’s worth the hassle.   The basic idea here is to make a quilt that is heavy for deep pressure for people with sensory issues including people with autism.  Weighted lap pads or blankets can be really helpful for some kids (and grown ups!) but others don’t like them as much.   I made my first weighted blanket for the boy when he was 4 and he hated it.  I sewed squares of Thomas fabric into a lovely patchwork.  No go.  A few years later I passed it on to another sensitive Thomas loving boy and gave up.  But recently he has been wanting a lot of “squishing” at bedtime and he has been having a lot more trouble than usual going to sleep, so I thought one of these might help, and surprisingly he agreed to try it!  I took him with me to pick out our fabrics.

This is what he picked out.  Pretty snazzy colors!  The weight in the quilt comes from Poly-Fil,

otherwise known as “poly pellets, ” which are sold at Joann’s and Michael’s and are usually used for making stuffed animals.  Don’t use any other stuffing.  These are smooth and totally washable.  Do not use beans unless you intend to never ever wash the blanket (ugh).  The recommended blanket weight is about 8 lbs for a 6-10 year old kid.  I used 4 1/2 bags of these at 2lbs each, so that’s about right.

Other materials:  Heavy weight thread and an extra package of heavier gauge needles.  You are going to break some needles on this project.

The quilt has three layers:

1) A quilt top, made any way you like.  The easiest is just one big piece of fabric, but if you like to piece quilts, go right ahead!  I am not a great quilter so I’ll refer to the many wonderful tutorials on the ‘net: e.g. Oh, Fransson, Cluck Cluck Sew, & Freckled Whimsy, to name a few.  One thing to keep in mind:  you’ll need to quilt this in about 4×4″ squares so tiny pieced patterns probably aren’t a great idea.  The more seams in there, the harder it is to smoosh your beads into place.  A nice patchwork pattern works well, or this improvised wavy log-cabin/strip thing like I did here.

2)  Cotton quilt batting.  I guess you could use polyester, but it’s hard enough to keep the beads in place with the thinner cotton.  I made a 4’x5′ quilt (48″x60″) which came from the “throw” size of Quilter’s Dream cotton batting (60×60).  I wanted something bigger than the crib size but smaller than a twin and this worked perfectly.  I had to buy the batting at a quilt shop though, as I’m not sure they carry that size at Joann’s.

3)  Quilt backing.  I used white muslin with some extra blue & orange pieced in for fun.

Step 1:  Press top and backing and assemble your layers with the quilt top on top, batting in the middle, and backing on the bottom.  Make these as smooth as possible and pin in a few places to keep the layers together.  You should have something that looks like this:

I haven’t trimmed any of the layers, and so the batting and backing are a lot bigger than the top.  Not a problem.   It’s better to have too much than too little here.

Step 2:  Mark your quilting lines in a checkerboard pattern.  I’ve found the squares have to be a minimum of 4″x4″ or else it’s really hard to get the beads in place.  You could make bigger squares if you want a lighter blanket, but you also don’t want the beads shifting around in there too much.  I use a ruler and dressmaker’s chalk to mark my lines.   If I weren’t making this quilt with weight I would quilt it in a much more interesting pattern with the stripes but squares will be fine here.

Top with quilting lines in chalk

Step 3:  Time to quilt!  Normally with a regular quilt you would quilt from the center out to smooth the fabric, but that isn’t going to keep your beads in the blanket, so sew the vertical lines first.  Start with the middle one and work your way out to either side.  Sew only the vertical lines right now so you have “channels” to fill with beads.  Make sure you backstitch at each end, especially the top because those seams get a lot of handling. At each edge sew a double seam .5″ apart.  This will give you space to bind the quilt without fighting with the beads.  Leave the top open.  When you’re done it will look something like this:

Step 4: Sew two horizontal seams at the very bottom .5″ apart (like the vertical edges).

Step 5:  Time to fill!  A few tips:  1) I use a 1/4 cup scoop in each “pocket.”  A funnel will probably be useful, though I usually just use a paper one. 1/4 cup seems to be the ideal amount to give the right amount of weight with the least bulk.  If you want your blanket to weigh less, you can either use the same scoop but make the squares bigger so the beads spread out more, or use a smaller amount of beads in each square.  2)  I number my “channels” so it’s easier to keep track of what I am doing.  If you are filling 100 pockets it’s easy to forget where you are.  I had 12 channels here, so I numbered them 1-12 at the top as you can see here.  If you fill one and then forget where you are, you can feel down in the bottom to see if there are already beads in there, but if you have attention issues (no, not me!) this can be time consuming.  I use a washable marker.

Numbered channels

This next bit is VERY important.  Make sure you put the beads between the quilt top and the batting, NOT between the backing and the batting.  This is important for a couple of reasons:  first, it keeps the beads away from your user so they can’t be felt, and second, being able to feel the beads just under the quilt top is essential for the quilting process.  You have to be able to smoosh them around under the fabric.

Fill each channel with one scoop of beads.

Don’t spill the beads!

Once each channel has a scoop, take the quilt and shake the beads as far down into the bottom as possible.  I use an ironing board to fill my quilt so that the bottom hangs off the board.  This helps the beads go where they are supposed to go.

shake it down!

Step 6:  Closing the pockets.  Take your quilt to the machine, making sure to hold it vertically so that the beads are at the bottom, and roll up the open edge so that you can quilt the horizontal line to close the first set of pockets.  Follow the grid lines that you have already marked (as much as possible).  This is the trickiest part of making this blanket.  You have to squish the beads down into their channels as you quilt the seam to close them in.  I made a video to explain how I do this without mangling my fingers or breaking too many needles so hopefully this will be more clear than photos.

smooshing the beads as I sew

Step 7:  Repeat.  When you finish closing a row of pockets, go back and put 1/4″ scoop in each channel again, shake down, sew closed.  Once you have done about half of the pockets, turn the blanket around so that the part you roll up and stuff under the arm is the half that doesn’t have beads yet.  Having a big enough table is really important here.  This blanket gets really heavy towards the end.  At the very top sew a double seam again as you did on the other edges (two lines .5″ apart).

first row of pockets is done!

Step 8:  At last, you are finished filling the pockets.  Trim the edges 1/2″ away from the outer edge seam.  Prepare your binding.  Again, there are so many better tutorials than I could ever give, so I’ll refer to this one for bias cut binding.  Attach your binding, trim your threads, and it’s done!  Here is the finished product: