Almost nothing is better than a tight hug when we’re stressed or anxious. We feel good not only because of the intimacy resulting from being close to someone who cares, but because our bodies simply love being squeezed.
In 1992, scientist Temple Grandin noted that both people and animals seem to relax when experiencing “deep pressure touch,” citing numerous studies and her own work with a so-called squeeze machine. Later studies found that a constant external force around our bodies stimulates the release of neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine, making us feel calm and happy. And it doesn’t matter what provides that pressure, the result is still the same.
Enter weighted blankets: extra-heavy duvets filled with minuscule glass beads that replicate the sensation of being hugged. Research suggests that these comfy covers can help children with autism sleep better and also treat insomnia in adults, patients with depression, ADHD, and other mental health issues.
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The price tags on weighted blankets can exceed $250, but you can make a high-quality one for around $70 while boosting its calming effects by stuffing it with a few fragrant aromatherapy sachets.
This blanket is 50 by 74 inches, and weighs between 15 and 17 pounds depending on your choice of fabric. It’s a simple project, but you’ll definitely need patience and some muscle power—wrestling this uber blanket under a sewing machine can be a bit of a workout.
- Time: 6-8 hours
- Cost: $70 to $100, depending on size and weight
- Difficulty: moderate
- 2 ¼ yards of fleece at least 50 inches wide
- 2 ¼ yards of cotton (denim, corduroy, or soft twill) at least 50 inches wide
- 2 ¼ yards cotton batting
- 4 yards of muslin or other inexpensive cotton (for pouches)
- 8 yards of blanket binding
- 15 pounds of glass beads
- 1 to 1 ½ lbs of polyester stuffing
- 18-inch ruler
- Sewing machine
- Tailors wax (or marking pen with disappearing ink)
- Straight pins
- Kitchen scale (or measuring cup)
Make your pouches
1. Cut 96 (7-by-7-inch) squares from muslin. You’ll be pairing your squares to make 48 pouches measuring 6 by 6 inches. The extra initial fabric accounts for ½-inch seam allowances on each side.
- Note: These pouches will not be visible, so if you have some leftover fabric or anything similar to muslin, you can use it here.
2. Sew the pouches. Press the right (outward-facing) sides of two squares together and sew around three of the edges. Partially sew the remaining edge, leaving a 2-inch opening you’ll use to turn the pouch right-side out. Use a point turner if you need to. Repeat this step until you have 48 pouches.
3. Fill your pouches. Pour in ½ cup of polyester stuffing and 5 ounces (approximately ½ cup) of glass beads.
- Note: Your blanket should be 10% of your body weight—15 pounds for a 150-pound person, for example. If you want to make a heavier blanket, divide the desired final weight (in ounces) by 48 (the number of pouches), and evenly add more beads to each pouch to make up the difference.
- Pro tip: Use a funnel to avoid spilling the beads. If you don’t have one, roll up a piece of heavy paper, tape it closed, and insert it into the opening in your pouch.
4. Close your pouches by stitching along all openings.
Measure, cut, and lay out fabrics
5. Cut your fabric. All three layers—cotton, batting, and fleece—should be 49 ½ by 73 ½ inches.
I used corduroy for this project because I have a ton of it and, personally, I love it. But if it’s not your thing, you can use whatever cotton fiber you like. Heavy fabrics like denim and corduroy will give your blanket some extra weight, but you can go for lightweight cotton if you want to prioritize softness.
6. Lay the blanket layers on a flat surface. Sandwich the batting between the cotton and fleece, making sure all edges line up.
7. Mark up the cotton. Mark the seam allowance ¾ of an inch in from the edge of the blanket and do the same on all four sides. Use these lines as reference to draw a grid of 6-inch squares.
- Pro tip: Use something you can wash off later, like a water-soluble marking pen or something that disappears with heat, like a Frixion pen or tailor’s wax chalk (which is what I used for this project because it shows up best on corduroy). Whatever you use, make sure to test it on a scrap of fabric or an inconspicuous corner of your work to make sure you can actually get it off.
8. Add your pouches and polyester stuffing. Working between the cotton and batting layers, and using your grid as a reference, start by placing a pouch in one corner and pinning it in place. Skip the next square, and continue alternating until you finish the first row. Fill the pouch-less squares with ½ cup (small fist-full) of polyester stuffing, and pin them closed too. Make sure you go through all three layers—the pins will keep the pouches (and the fabric) in place as you work (and when you sew). When you finish your first row, do not proceed to the next one—read the note below this step and proceed to Step 9 when necessary.
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- Pro tip: The most efficient way to use your pins is horizontally, and directly on the grid lines you drew. Don’t pin vertically: standard straight pins aren’t quite long enough for this and are likely to bend or break when you sew.
- Note: You’ll be working (filling and then sewing) one row at a time, so don’t add more pouches until the previous row is sewn and ready. If you have sewing experience, you may sew two or even three rows at a time. I don’t recommend doing more than that, though—things will become too difficult to handle and you’ll keep pricking yourself with the pins.
9. Sew the layers in place. Once you’ve stocked a row full of bead pouches and stuffing, stitch around all sides of each square, removing the pins as you work. Repeat Steps 8 and 9 until you’ve sewn all rows.
(Optional) Add aromatherapy pockets
10. Cut fabric for the pockets. Using the same cotton fabric you used for your outer layer, cut out four 7-by-8-inch squares. This will ensure all the pockets match.
11. Fold and press the seam allowance. Measure and mark ½ inch in from all four sides of each square. On one of the shorter sides, measure and fold under 1 inch of fabric. This will be the top side of your pocket. Press, and stitch down. When you’re done, you’ll have four 6-by-6-inch squares.
12. Attach the pockets. Position each new square on top of a quilted square, near one end of the blanket. Sew along three of the sides, and then 1 ½ inches on each end of the top side of your pocket. This will leave a 3-inch opening in the center to insert an aromatherapy sachet.
13. Apply binding. Line your binding up around the edges and pin it in place. One of the sides is ¼ inch shorter than the other. This is not a mistake. You’ll sew this shorter side onto the cotton layer of your blanket, which will allow you to catch all the layers of fabric without excessive pinning and using only one stitching line. Make sure the binding’s main crease fits along all the edges of the blanket. Pin it in place.
- Note: When you complete one edge, you’ll need to make a mitered corner. Open the binding two inches away from the corner and fold it at a 90-degree angle, ensuring the binding’s main crease lines up with the next edge of the blanket. Pin it in place. Fold the binding back in and pin it in place. Continue with the next edge.
14. Attach the binding. Stitch the binding to enclose all edges of the blanket.
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15. Enjoy your new warm, portable hug.
I sometimes have trouble sleeping and, like everyone, occasionally suffer from stress. I was somewhat skeptical at first, but I found the weight of the blanket more comforting than I thought I would. Its first test came on a cold February afternoon in New York City, and it helped me enjoy an extremely restful nap.