Yes, it's true. I'm not being falsely modest. I honestly haven't used my sewing machine more than a handful of times since I bought it in 1991. But I made a ring sling about a month ago from a Mahogany tablecloth and it was so much easier than I thought it would be that I made another one. Then I made a mei tai out of a tablecloth. Then one for a friend who's pregnant. And then I bought a wrap specifically to use for a WCMT.
I was astounded at the postive response I received when I posted my "in progress" and "after" photos on Facebook in the DIY group. So I thought I'd go into a little more detail for anyone who's curious but nervous about trying a project like this. If you have basic sewing skills and a sewing machine, you can do this, I promise! But you might want to practice with some inexpensive fabric first so you don't have a heart attack when you start cutting out the pieces. Even though it wasn't my first project I still had minor heart palpitations the day I was to begin cutting.
I had made my first MT with the tutorial on the Fine and Fair Blog. http://www.fineandfairblog.com/2013/10/tablecloth-mei-tai-tutorial-with-wrap.html It was an incredibly beginner-friendly tute and it turned out pretty well, in spite of the mistakes I made. I used a Mahogany tablecloth and it's ridiculously comfortable. If you buy fabric with a random pattern you don't have to worry about lining up the pattern on the fabric nearly as much. All I had to do was line up the ugly chickens (I mean peacocks) in the center of each panel. Hey, it's not called a faux pfau for nothing!
My second attempt was with the tute on BarefootandPregnantEsquire's site. http://barefootandpregnantesquire.com/babywearing/diy-mei-tai-pattern/ In my opinion it's a great looking finished carrier and looks very similar to an Obimama (www.obimama.com) but it had a lot of features that I omitted because a) I was scared to try them, or b) I didn't need them. But it was a little more complicated for someone with my lack of sewing history. Look how the waistband attaches to the body - see that curve? Yeah, that's supposed to be a straight line. Hmm…
So when I was ready to try my hand at chopping a wrap I decded to combine the best (easiest) features of both tutorials and I also added a ring waist using this tute. http://mrsbethjames.blogspot.com/2013/02/guest-blogger-ring-tai-tutorial-mei-tai.html The only piece I took from this was the part about making the ring waist.
Before you begin - order your rings!
First, decide whether you want your whole carrier made of the same material. If so, you need a size 6 (probably with no hood) or a 7 with a hood. Mine was a short 7 and I still got a hood out of it plus I have enough extra to make a pocket for the tail. If you want the body of the carrier to be the wrap and you'll use twill or canvas or something else for the straps you can use a much shorter wrap. The body panels are about 25" wide from shoulder to shoulder and you'll lay them side by side (one for the front and one for the back side) so a size 3 would probably be more than enough to make the body and hood. Your shoulder straps will be somewhere in the 75"-90" range (depending on your size and how long you like them) so you'll need fabric that's at least 100" long before washing/drying to account for shrinkage.
So here's what I did, step by step. Hopefully I won't forget anything.
1. Print the patterns out on your home printer using the BarefootandPregnant (BNP) tutorial. By the way, this is brilliant! Lisa, the creator of it, said her husband spent a day drawing out the patterns in Photoshop or something. However long it took, it was time well spent for the hundreds of people who I hope will download it in the future. You save it to your computer as a pdf, open it in Adobe, and print it at home. Then you tape all the pages together to make one big pattern. See?! Told you it was brilliant.
I decided to make the body and waistband one piece instead of two because sinking the body panel down into the waistband kicked my butt with the last project. It was really hard and I didn't do a very good job with it so I decided to simplify it for myself. I also omitted the seat darts because I practiced on a piece of scrap and I couldn't get it right. But I vow to perfect them with my next project because they make a deeper seat and they are more true to a real Obimama. I also made wrap straps instead of padded to wrap straps since the wrap straps on my orange MT are so comfortable. If it ain't broke...
Since I left out the seat darts I trimmed the sides of the body panel pattern in about an inch on each side since that's how wide the darts are and that's how much the carrier would have compacted with darts. Did that make sense? I then taped the waistband pattern to the body pattern along the line that says "Sewing Line." I omitted the whole business with the elastics and buttonholes because I only have one monster sized toddler but if you have two kids of two different ages, or if your baby is an infant and you intend to use this for a long time, it would be a great feature.
I also decided to trim the curve off the bottom of the waistband and make it just a rectangle. I felt that the bottom curve makes it hard to roll the waistband when I wanted to and again, the flat bottom is more authentic to the Obi design. Yes, I admit, I'm making a blatant ripoff. It's not for sale, it's for my own personal use. So I'm going to make it look exactly how I want it. Jennifer of Obimama should be flattered that we all love her design so much, right?
2. VERY IMPORTANT: - fold your pattern in half down the center and make sure the two halves are symmetrical. If they're not even, trim where necessary. Mine was so far off it was pretty ridiculous, so I printed it out and did the whole thing over. It was much better the second time.
3. Now, tape several extra pieces of paper together to make a giant square and trace your body pattern. In fact, fold it in half and fold your paper in half, place the folds together when you trace, and cut out a second body pattern. Now it'll be perfectly symmetrical and exactly the same as the original body panel pattern. Don't skip this step! You will thank me for this when you're laying it out on your wrap! Print and cut out the pattern for the hood, and do the same thing as above. Make sure it's symmetrical and then make a second one. It's so much easier to visualize where to place the patterns if you're not trying to pin it, cut it out, then reuse the pattern again.
4. Ok, now let's work on laying it out on the wrap. I used a size 7 so all my pieces are from the wrap. Here's how I laid it out:
5. Cutting the shoulder straps - You want to use the hemmed rails and ends of the wrap as much as possible because it saves a ton of time hemming. Plus if your sewing skills aren't so fabulous the factory done hems will make the straps look well done at least on one side, right? When you cut your wrap straps you're going to make them half the width of the wrap. Mine was 28" wide so each strap is 85" long and 14" wide. If your wrap has tapers you want to measure 85" from EACH rail's end. Take a look at my diagram above again. See how I didn't just cut 85" straight across? It kind of zigzags across the width of the wrap. Otherwise one shoulder strap will be much shorter than the other because of the taper.
You can make the shoulder straps whatever length you want. I made 90" straps with my first and they were crazy long. 85" is just right for me, but I'm 6'1". You might need 75" if you're tiny. If you're not sure, go longer. You can always make them shorter after using it for a few days. You might notice that the tapers will be identical instead of mirror images when you tie off and they're hanging down. // and not / \. That was perfectly fine with me. No one is looking at the end of the tails when you're wearing your kiddo, right?
6. Cutting the waist straps - Start from the opposite end. I used the longer side of the taper. It doesn't need to be terribly long since it's a ring waist. Measure the circumference of your hips with a tape measure. That's how long you'll cut it. Mine was... none of your business. Oh wait, it's in the diagram above. Crap. Oh well. We'll cut a piece for the other side that holds the rings later from one of the scrap pieces. Your waist strap will be 10" wide. I suppose you could make it wider but I wouldn't go too much wider or it will bunch up around your waist. I managed to get the Little Frog tag on this piece, which I really liked. Makes it look like it wasn't DIY with a tag, know what I mean?
7. Ok, now the hard part - cutting the body panels! Figure out how you want your two sides to be different. My wrap is a rainbow, red on the top and purple on the bottom. So I laid one panel red side up and the other was purple side up. Or you could make one horizontal stripes and one vertical. Or one right side and one wrong side. You get the idea. Or make them exactly the same if this is making your brain hurt. Lay your two body panel patterns down and fiddle with them till you get them where you want them. Try to preserve as much wrap as possible by smooshing them close together. But DON'T line the pattern up right on top of the rails. You don't want to be sewing through three extra layers of fabric(the hems are rolled under twice) when the time comes to assemble it and start sewing.
Now do the same with the hood patterns. Think about how you want the hood to look against the body. Do you want the stripes to go the opposite way? Be wrong side out against a right side out body? Stripes to line up perfectly? How much fabric you have will play a big part in this so spend the time to figure it out.
I wanted the stripes to line up just right for my front panel so I placed the hood on the fabric and lined up the top edge of the hood and the top edge of the body panel against the top edge of the red stripe. Having a striped wrap sure helps with making straight cuts! With the second hood I didn't have enough fabric to line it up the same way so I went with vertical stripes. I pinned the pattern down so that one stripe was dead center. I just felt that looked best.
Pin all the patterns down on the fabric. Spend two hours fiddling with them to make sure they're straight. Freak out a little and agonize over placement. Grab your scissors or rotary cutter and have a minor panic attack. Then get a cup of coffee or vino to settle your nerves. Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything. Try to get the patterns as close together as possible to preserve as much fabric as you can.
8. Start cutting! You will also need to cut a third body panel out of a piece of bottomweight fabric to use as the interior panel so just use one of the patterns you already have once you've cut it out.
Find some leftover fabric and cut a piece to use for the ring side of the waist according to the MrsBethJamesBlogspot tute. I cut a piece so that my purple stripes would line up perfectly with waistband. When I pinned it that sucker looked perfectly lined up! But somehow when I sewed it the whole thing was off by half an inch. Argh… Speaking of the waistband, I had originally gotten medium rings from Slingrings.com and because my wrap fabric is pretty thin, the rings wouldn't hold the fabric without slipping. I threaded it through and pulled and the strap came right back out with almost no resistance. So I had to order a set of small rings and wait three days for delivery. Order yours before you start to save some time.
9. Unpin the patterns and marvel at how perfect your placement was. ;) Or start swearing, whichever is more appropriate.
10. Woo hoo, now it's time to start sewing! For needles I used size 110/18. I just bought the ones that said Universal Heavy Duty since I knew I'd be sewing through the yoga mat and many layers of fabric.
I followed FineandFairBlog (FNFB) for the strap attachment. I made wrap straps. You can attach with xboxes or bartacks, whichever you prefer. I did three rows of bartacks at the shoulders and xboxes with one row of bartacks at the waist. (Photo below shows my first attempt at attaching the waist strap with a bartack. I didn't sink the fabric in deep enough to the interior layer so I had to rip it out and start over. You want it to be about 4" deep.) There's a great discussion of the pros and cons of each on TheBabywearer.com if you're interested.
11. If you want to do legs out padding and neck padding, get some polar fleece (I used one of the 8 million fleece receiving blankets I had lying around.) Cut four layers of the fleece according to the BNP pattern. They're shaped like half circles. Pin them to the interior layer and sew around the edges to keep them in place. I just did a straight stitch but I'm sure a zigzag would be great too.
12. Decide what padding to use for the waistband. I used an old yoga mat that I cut to size. I just used one layer so we'll see over time how that works out. You can do polar fleece if you prefer something soft and squishy but that's what I'd used on my previous two MT's and I wanted to see if it made a difference. So far I really like it! The waistband stays flat and doesn't smoosh down on itself from the weight of the baby after you've worn him for half an hour. My fleece waistbands usually look like the pillows on my bed after I've been lying on them. But I digress. Sew it down to the inner layer material according to FNF's instructions. Leave about half an inch of room across the bottom between the yoga mat and the edge of the interior panel or it's a bitch to sew. Trust me on this.
13. Now make the hood according to the BNPE tute. I had an adorable little applique that I wanted to use so I centered it on the right side of the front panel, ironed it on, and then zigzag stitched around the perimeter. Use thread that matches the edge of the applique and it won't show. Do the "zig" on the applique, "zag" off the edge and into the wrap fabric, then "zig" back onto the applique, etc. Keep the zigzag pretty tight so that when you go off the applique the needle goes right up against the edge of it, not way out into the fabric. Make sense? Go all the way around it. (I actually skipped over the owl's feet because they are brown and the blue thread would be too obvious. But I did sew between his feet.)
Next, grab the leftover scrap fabric and cut out the hood straps and sew them, again using the BNPE tute. For the straps I made four, two for each side, so that I'd be able to cinch up the hood and tie the two straps in a bow on each side to keep it in the scrunched position. Alas, I didn't leave enough room when I topstitched so I could only fit one strap on each side. Oops! So if you want to use two on each side be sure you put them both inside the hood before you topstich so you know how much room to leave. Mark the line with a pencil or chalk before you topstitch. Don't eyeball it unless you're a pro. Which you're probably not or you wouldn't be reading this. See the topstitching line across the top of the waistband on my first MT? This is what it looks like when you eyeball it. Don't do it. Promise me you'll mark lines with rulers and chalk! Turn right side out and press the hood flat.
14. Sew the hood to the front panel, just a line across the top to keep it in place as you're sewing the whole thing together. Leave a pretty small seam allowance since you don't want the stitching to show when you turn the whole thing right side out later.
15. Time to start assembly! It goes:
Bottom: Interior layer with the straps attached right side up
Middle: Back side right side up
Top: Front side wrong side up with the hood between the back and front panels.
16. Sew according to FNF. Leave bottom edge and straps open, but sew across top and down the two sides. Turn it all right side out. Don't sew over the straps or you won't be able to turn it right side out!
17. Press the whole thing. Turn the raw edges under once, press, pin, and topstich. Note: If your fabric is all bunched up at the curve where the body meets the waist on each side, turn it inside out again and clip the corners the way you did for the curve on the hood. Makes all the difference in the world! Same if this happens at the top between the shoulder and the top of the carrier where that curve is. Be sure to line it all up exactly evenly so that when you topstitch it you go through all the layers. This is a pain but it really pays to be painstakingly accurate with the pinning. It'll look soooo much better when you're done, I promise. When you're sewing across the shoulder and waist strap openings sew pretty close to the edge. Then you can topstitch around the entire thing one more time for security if you're not secure in your sewing skills, which I am not so I did. However, I also backtacked a lot at the corners (when you put it in reverse and go over the stitching to reinforce it) and I'm not sure it was necessary, plus it doesn't look good. The stitching looks all gunked up in the corners. Use your own judgement.
18. Topstitch around the legs out padding. Just make a half circle right around the curve of the padding. Topstitch whatever design you want on the waistband. I just made four straight lines about 1/2" apart. This was sooooo much harder than it looked! Make sure you mark your lines with chalk or something. Don't eyeball it - learn from my mistake. Remember that orange MT photo you saw earlier? If it weren't such a PITA to rip it out with a seam ripper I'd go do it right now. But come on, that poor MT will still have that wonky stitching a year from now, I guarantee it. You can also topstitch around the neck padding, although I forgot to. Someday I'll get around to it. Maybe.
19. Make little loops to put on the shoulder straps for the hood straps to tie to when the hood is up. Cut pieces 2x3" and fold, press, topstitch just like the hood straps. Measure up about 7 or 8" from where the shoulder straps attach to the body and center on the shoulder straps. Topstitch.
20. Voila! You are done! With any luck your baby is awake and you can try it out. Or you can grab the nearest stuffed animal and give it a test run till he wakes up.
Updated to add:
Today I decided to make a pocket for one of the shoulder straps. When I wear my baby to the store I love to leave the diaper bag in the car. This pocket is big enough for my phone, keys, wallet, and sunglasses. I luckily had a scrap piece that matched the stripes on the wrap strap. I also had a package of elastic in my sewing box that was probably circa 1991 but hey, it worked. I used this tutorial from SleepingBaby.net. Just scroll down to where it says Optional Pocket.