Friday, May 11, 2012

{Tutorial} a Quilted Sleeping Bag

To me summer is synonymous with ocean, camping, kites, sand and surf.  My favorite family tradition is our annual beach front camping trip at Hunting Island, a South Carolina state park.  Every year friends join us there to celebrate summer's arrival mid May.  Although I'm not a huge fan of camping, I'll do almost anything to spend a day at the beach.  The only dull spot to the entire trip is putting the kids to bed at night.  It gets pretty stuffy in those tents and the kids always look downright miserable chasing sleep on rustling polyester sleeping bags.

When Jennifer of Ellison Lane Quilts asked me to join her Summer Sewing blog hop, it took me about two seconds to realize that this was my chance.  A deadline was just what I needed to find motivation to make the lightweight cotton sleeping bags I'd once vaguely dreamed up.

a Quilted Sleeping Bag

Ok, so I only made one.  But, with my preoccupation lately with Handstitched Class, I guess I'm mostly proud that I did make one at all! (Oh my goodness, thanks to your enthusiasm the Handstitched Premium and Camp versions each have just a few spots left.  I am overwhelmingly grateful!)  And now that I know how to do it and how easy a sleeping bag actually is, I'm sure Aria's bag won't be long behind.  Here is a quick tutorial for you, should you like to make a quilted sleeping bag...

Sleeping Bag Tutorial

Quilted Sleeping Bag Tutorial

Step 1:  Prepare the Quilt Top

I fussy cut a selection of prints from Happy Drawing by Ed Emberley for Cloud 9 Fabrics.  They're framed in 3/4" muslin scraps and then in larger swaths of variously hued Scribbles prints.  I squared up the scribble print round with the fussy cut centers tilted this way and that and then set like-sized blocks together in rows filling in with solid grays here and there.

improv piecing 

My finished quilt top is 28" x 60", which is a good size for a large child - adolescent sleeping bag.

Happy Drawing improv style

Step 2:  Piece or Cut More Sections

You'll need (3) more cuts of fabric equal in size to your quilt top.  So, I needed (3) more 28" x 60" fabrics.  Here's the anatomy of a sleeping bag:
  • Outside Top - my Happy Drawing pieced quilt top
  • Outside Bottom - I used Kona Cyan for this section, which faces the ground when the bag is finished
  • Inside Top - I used Kona Fern combined with the green squiggly print for this section, which you see when the bag is unzipped and the top is folded open
  • Inside Bottom - I used the Alligator Happy Drawing print, combined with more Kona Cyan for this section, which you lie upon when you get in the bag
Join the Outside Top with the Outside Bottom along the long, 60" side.  Sew a normal 1/4" seam with right sides together and press seam open.  Next, join Inside Top with Inside Bottom in the same way.  Now you have (2) 56" x 60" pieces - the Outside and the Inside.

Step 3:  Add Batting

Prepare (2) pieces of batting about 4" larger than your Inside, so 60" x 64" in my case.  For a summer sleeping bag, I want 3 layers of batting on the bottom (the layer the child will lay on) and 1 layer of batting on the top (the layer that goes over the child).  Here's what I did....


Lay the Inside on the floor, right side down.  Secure all around edges with masking tape.  Lay both batting pieces over the Inside, centering them and spreading them smooth. Fold back both battings to expose one half of the Inside and spray with basting spray.  Replace batting and smooth out.  Fold back the opposite side of battings to expose the rest of the Inside and spray/replace batting/smooth out again.  Now one of your batting layers is spray basted to the Inside and the other batting is lying directly on top of the first.  Place a row of basting pins just along the center seam of the Inside piece.

sew at center seam

At the sewing machine, sew in the ditch of the that center seam with the Inside right side up.  Carefully remove basting pins as you go.  You do have to remove the basting pins from underneath the work, which is annoying, but doable.  Now you have stitched both battings along the center of the sleeping bag only and all basting pins have been removed.

batting folded over

Lay the work on the floor, batting up.  Fold the top layer of batting (which was not spray basted) towards the Inside Bottom.  Now there are 3 layers of batting over the Inside Bottom side and 1 batting layer over the Inside Top side.  Place a few pins along the outer long edge of the Inside Bottom side to keep the batting smoothly folded towards that edge.

Step 4:  Assemble Sleeping Bag

sleeping bag tutorial

Flip your work over so that the batting side is down and the right side of the Inside section is up.  Layer the Outside section over the Inside section, right sides together.

right sides together

Make sure that Outside top is over Inside Top and Outside Bottom is over Inside Bottom.  This part kind of puts knots in my head.  It might be easier to actually stick a label on each section with it's name (ex. Inside Top) if you're spatially challenged like me.  Also, make sure that the center seam of each section is aligned.  Done properly, the outer edges will all match up.

 right sides together

Pin along outer edges through all layers of the work.  Leave a section unpinned, about 24" wide for turning. Ideally, place this opening where the kids' feet would be when they are in the sleeping bag.  I suggest leaving the opening on the top side of the work since it only has 1 layer of batting to deal with.  Sew all the way around the work with a 1/2" seam, but not through the section left unpinned for turning.  Trim off the extra batting and turn work right side out.

left for turning

At the opening, fold the unsewn edges in and press neatly so that the seam matches the sewn edges.  Pin copiously!

closing edge

Now, edgestitch around the whole work a scant 1/4" from the edge.   This will close the opening and give the edge a nice finish.

Step 5:  Quilt

With basting pins, baste the sleeping bag for quilting.  I quilted 5 or so lines spaced evenly apart.  It's nothing fancy, but for whatever reason I wanted a "traditional" sleeping bag quilting pattern.


Step 6:  Insert Zipper

Yes, you can buy sleeping bag zippers.  They're black and chunky and available where most zippers are sold.  You may have to shorten yours.  I took off 14".

almost there!

Fold your sleeping bag as if it had a zipper and lay the zipper from the fold at the bottom, along the bottom corner and up to the top of the bag.  If the zipper extends past your bag, measure how much you need to remove and shorten the zipper from the bottom of the zipper.  If you've never shortened a zipper before, it's super easy.  Most zippers have instructions on the package.

After studying a regular sleeping bag, I decided not to insert my zipper in the traditional manner.  I wanted to leave the bottom corner sharp and avoid making the edges of the bag bulkier.  My method does not cause the edges of the bag to turn under again at the zipper.

pinning that zipper

Load your sewing machine with black top thread to match the zipper tape and bobbin thread to match the outside of your sleeping bag.  Install your zipper foot.  Open the zipper all the way and place the bottom of the zipper at the bottom of the sleeping bag, at the center seam.  Pin the zipper tape there with the right side of the tape facing the inside of the bag.  Allow the teeth to extend just slightly past the edge of the bag.  Pin the zipper along the bottom, curving at the corner and up to the top.  Sew one side of the zipper to the bag, always sewing with the zipper tape facing you and your needle sewing about 1/8" inside from the zipper teeth.

zipper corner

Now pin the other side of the open zipper to the other inside half of the bag.  Again, pin the zipper's right side to the inside of the bag.  It's hard to get it just right near the center seam of the bag.  Just do your best, pin for about 12" and then close the zipper to see if things are going to look good.  If necessary, unpin and adjust and then close the zipper to check again. When you're set, open the zipper and keep pinning along the bottom edge. After pinning along the curve at the bottom corner, zip the zipper again to make sure that your sleeping bag corners match up when it's closed.  Finish pinning.  Your zipper tape should stop at the top of the bag near the same place it stopped on the other half of the bag.  If it didn't your bag will zip funny, so unpin the zipper and adjust.   When all is well, sew that zipper half on and you're done!

Happy Drawing sleeping bag

Summer Sewing Contest

I'd love to see any sleeping bags you make with this tutorial at the Stitched in Color Flickr group!  You could also enter your creation in Jennifer's Summer Sewing Contest.  Here's the low-down:

1. Sew something fun for summer in one of these 4 categories:
  • Quilts
  • Home Decor
  • Clothing
  • Bags & Accessories
You may enter one item in each category.

2. Link up your entry at Ellison Lane Quilts:  June 10-17

3. Finalists are chosen in each category: June 18

4. Voting Begins: June 18- June 23

5. Winners announced: June 26

The Prizes: 

The winner of each category will receive a $100 gift certificate to the Fat Quarter Shop. 

A randomly chosen winner in each category will win a Fat Quarter Bundle of fabric from Westminster Fibers / Free Spirit Fabric

A wild card winner will be chosen by Jennifer's husband and will receive a $25 gift certificate to The Intrepid Thread.

If you're looking for more inspiration on things to make for summer, Jennifer's organized this blog hop for your hopping pleasure....

Grab a button and spread the word! Then get sewing!

Summer Sewing Contest at ELQ


  1. So fun, Rachel! I saw your pictures pop on flickr and I literally wondered if I was too old to have a Happy Drawings sleeping bag of my very own. Probably so, but this is so fun and cute! I'm sure L will adore it! Thanks for sharing your tutorial!

  2. Such a cool idea! Love the fabrics =D

  3. What a fantastic idea!! We find our sleeping way too hot and other bedding to bulky to pack. I am going to try this out, one for each of us (that's five). I have struggled to make a quilt because we use quilts with covers here so this is perfect for me to have a go at. 5 crochet blankets will also go on that list!

    1. It's definitely more compact than a puffy polyester sleeping bag. I'm liking that too!

  4. I've had it in my head to make sleeping bags for the last year. We only need sleeping bags for sleepovers at Grandma's, so i knew they didn't have to be extra warm. I have the fabric all picked out and stacked up. I'm glad to see someone else had the same great idea. I like your method of dealing with the zipper. I was going to attempt to inset it, but I don't think I'll bother now.

  5. Oooh, very nice! I might need to make one for my regular sleeping bag to go inside (no, really, have you tried camping in Scotland? o.O )

    1. Nearly, we camped in Wales and I can't believe how cold we were and it was only Sept/Oct but we were up high in a national park. I think we put on every item of clothing we had with us (that included our motorbike gear since that was our mode of transport for the trip).

  6. Now that's cool! Of course, I've only needed a sleeping bag once in the last 20 years, but it would have been great to make one instead of buying one! I think I shall have to give this a try for the grandchildren, I LOVE this!

  7. Oh, my!!! Rachel, this is such a fantastic tutorial, what an amazing idea. I so, so love it and hope to make one for my son soon. Thanks for sharing.

  8. What an insanely adorable idea.

  9. Very cool! My kboys and spouse are camping tonight and I don't envy them (except for the fact that they are at the beach.) Nylon sleeping bags are great for fall mountain camping, not spring beach camping. I must get to work on this! They will adore me!

    1. Awesome! Yes, it's true that those synthetic bags have their place. But, it's nice to have a totally legitimate reason to quilt, right?

  10. Oh, Rachel, that's so cool! We go away all the time (not camping!) and this would be perfect for my little 4yr old boy! Thank you!

  11. What a brilliant idea! I love it. Would be so great for sleepovers too. Thank you.

  12. What a great idea, Rachel! Super tutorial. Your kids will be the envy of their friends :)

    1. Well, I'll just have to keep this one in mind for birthday gifts then!

  13. That is brilliant! and absolutely adorable!!!!

  14. this is such a great idea! i want to make one for every person in my family, even my husband! xo

  15. Your lucky lucky kids!!! I have lots of hot memories on polyester sleeping bags that were never cozy. This is a fantastic idea! I am pregnant with my first so it will be a few years before our kid(s) will need a sleeping bag but I plan to make this so they never know a my little pony screen printed sleeping bag :) thanks, this is brilliant!

  16. Wow! I now need to make these. Also so jealous of your happy drawing fabric!! I want some so badly but need to use up some stash before I go on another fabric binge!

    1. My green and blue fabrics have officially outgrown their place on the shelf. Uh-oh. What happens next?

  17. Wow! I absolutely love everything about that sleeping bag. When you have the time, do you think you could do a more in-depth tutorial for step 1. Because I don't understand how you made those blocks wonky. I would try to find an online tutorial but I don't know what to type into the search engine.

    1. I'm saving your note for the post idea. Thanks, Elizabeth! If you don't want to wait, try searching "square block wonky".

  18. This is amazing! Great use of that fabric! Your son must absolutely love it.

  19. Rach, you have outdone yourself this time! I think this Ed Emberley collection is perfect for a boy's sleeping bag and the tutorial is great. I want to give a go sometime, we don't do many sleepovers and no camping but I can see that the kids will need them as they get older. Much nicer than buying a Disney sleeping bag!

  20. love it got to make a couple for my grandbabies, thanks for sharing

  21. Wow that is fantastic. Great for sleepovers.

  22. simply amazing - I hate the polyester sleeping bags too - always have. I think if I were to do this I would still put a heavier weight on the bottom tho' - maybe a home-dec weight fabric. Thanks for the tutorial.

    1. Yes, I agree! I was wishing I had home dec for the bottom.

  23. Lovely pattern - and I do like your method for the triple-batted bottom. I have previously (30 years ago - I can't believe it!) made a seperate "ground mat" in tough material and lined with an old blanket, for outdoor use, and did a double-sided sleeping bag which the kids loved. Tip for those pins - before going to your machine, insert pins from the top in the same positions, remove the bottom ones, and then removing pins from the top whilst sewing is easy.

  24. Rachel, this is great! I lost my sleeping bag awhile ago and haven't wanted to buy one. I may take up the task of making one in the future.

  25. So beautiful and fun! Thanks for sharing this.

  26. would love to have instructions for step 1, thanks so much!
    my son would just love this!

  27. Please, please, please give some instructions for how you made the quilt top, just love it so!

  28. I made 3 of these a few years ago for my son and 2 of my grandsons. They still use them. Mine were all car/truck themed and I used fabric with a fire print inside to "keep them warm" and the black and white checkered flag fabric for the bottom. I was new to quilting and it was a big project for me to take on without a tutorial... I have 1 more grandson that is in need of a quilted sleeping bag so I'm glad I found your tutorial. Maybe this time it will be much easier. :)

  29. Instead of using a zipper, how about velcro or even some type of magnet????? Has anyone tried that????

  30. I've heard of using velcro to close a kids bag. Definitely would work, but you'd want to watch that the velcro doesn't get full of lint and become difficult to close.

  31. Thanks so much for sharing this! It's adorable!! I was looking for measurements/ a pattern to make bags for my 4 boys for our camper that would match everything. The 4 share 2 full size beds so bags will work much better than 4 separate blankets. Might actually stay a little neater? Maybe? Ha! Ours will be tan, cream, and red plaid striped to match the disappearing nine patch I plan to make for my and hubby's bed. Can't wait to get to work on this!


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