Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sewing a Soft Structured Carrier (SSC) from a free pattern found online

Hi all!  This time I decided to try my hand at an SSC.  I had an awesome Kinderpack but the straps were too long (I bought it hoping Hubby would wear it, but no dice) so I sold it.  But then I missed it.  So I made my own.  I don't know why, but the idea of webbing and buckles was really intimidating to me!  But I figured, how bad could it be?  I've already made three mei tais and three ring slings.

So here's the free pattern that I downloaded.  http://www.mediafire.com/view/whdfr3hbm9t/A+SSC+Pattern.pdf

It's a great pattern and the authors of this deserve a huge round of thanks!  But for me, a visual learner, the directions were hard to follow.  Plus I'm still a newbie when it comes to sewing.  There are no illustrations or photos along the way to show you the steps so I am writing this to help you guys out if you decide to try one.  I messed up a few times and had to improvise here and there but all in all, it looks and feels great!

Ok, first some details:  It cost me about $40 to make this.  I bought 3 yards of sturdy cotton twill on sale at Joann's Fabrics and I used it for everything except the interior panel.  I could have used it for that too but I used a bright red cotton duck because otherwise I couldn't tell my panels apart.  They all looked the same!  I bought the webbing and buckles from Strapworks.com and it came to about $10 including shipping.  I cut up an old yoga mat for the waist padding and an old fleece receiving blanket for the shoulder padding.  If you don't have that lying around the house you'll need to buy some padding too.

I also made it 2" taller and 2" wider for my toddler.  The first panel I cut out just looked way too small (thank god I bought 3 yards of fabric instead of 2!)   And the second panel I cut out was sideways, as DH pointed out to me.  He said, "Aren't trees supposed to grow up and down instead of sideways?"  Damned camo print!

As I said, I'm a newbie so I estimate it took me about 6 hours to make this, including cutting out the fabric.  Considering that a Tula or Kinderpack costs upwards of $159, $40 and 6 hours is not too shabby!

Ok, let's get started.  I'm going to copy and paste the directions from the pattern and clarify where needed and add a few photos.  

I made the straight shoulder straps.  I'm told curved straps are better for back carries.  They seem to stay on your shoulders better if your straps are always sliding off, but for this project I went with the tried and true strap style I'd used in the past.

6/12/15 UPDATE:  I am now making a preschool sized version of this carrier and I read somewhere that if you make the body of the carrier taller you have to reduce the length of the shoulder straps.  DUH!  This seems so obvious to me now in retrospect but when I made this toddler version it never occurred to me.  The only reason I think I got away with keeping them the same length is that a) I'm 6'1", and b) I almost always cross the straps so I don't need to use the chest clip, which I never got around to making.  I wore my 2 1/2 year old to Six Flags last week (and after a very lengthy wearing strike he FINALLY allowed me to wear him because he was pooped, so I was beyond thrilled!)  He's got to be 35 lbs now and good lord, that kid was heavy.  I crossed the straps in front but I have also done knots in the front like this:

After you tie it in a half knot you just clip it on the sides.  No need for a chest clip this way.  I've also done ring finishes with a large ring.

Ok, so be warned - if you make the carrier taller you should probably shorten the straps by an equal amount unless you need the extra length.

Assemble the Straight Shoulder straps:
1. Assemble shoulder strap pattern and place on fold as indicated. Cut two pieces.
2. Cut two 13” by 16” pieces of fleece and fold into four layers lengthwise, final size about 3.5” x
If you are adding a hood attach the D-ring to one layer of the shoulder strap using either a
short piece of webbing or a length of hemmed fabric (see pattern)
3. Fold over 1/2” and sew the tapered end (hem).
4. Cut two 2” pieces of 1.5” webbing and use them to attach the female half of the 1.5” buckles to
one layer of the tapered end with a single line of stitching.
5. Fold over the strap pieces lengthwise, right sides together and sew lengthwise stopping at the
tapered end.
6. Turn right side out.
7. Insert the fleece into the tube of the shoulder strap, leaving 5-6” unpadded at the top.
8. Make sure the fleece is laying flat and top stitch down the middle lengthwise start/stopping about
1” into the fleece
9. Top stitch the tapered ends closed and finish attaching the webbing, using re-enforced (x-box)
stitching to secure the webbing. 

When I got to step #3, I had no idea if she meant to fold under all three edges of the taper or just the one.  I guessed and did just the one.

When I got to step #4, I got stumped.  When you cut a piece of webbing only 2" long, once you thread it through the buckle and fold it in half it's now less than 1" long.  How the hell are you supposed to sew that to the fabric and put an Xbox through it?  She says to do a straight line of stitching and then later, in step 9, you'll finish securely attaching that same piece by doing an Xbox through all the layers of fabric.  But it's still only protruding into the straps by 1/2".

I'm holding the first piece I cut to show you how damned near impossible this is.  Unless you have magic fairies who are going to sew it for you during the night on their itty bitty fairy machines.  So I cut a piece 6" long instead.  I sank it about 3" into the fabric and you can sort of see my Xbox (I used brown thread so it's hard to see, but it's there.)  

A word about Xboxes - they're really no big deal.  I sew a line, leave the needle down, lift the presser foot, rotate the fabric, and sew the next side of the box.  Repeat until you've gone all the way around.  Then do it again two more times sewing just to one side of the thread you've already sewn.  You don't want to go EXACTLY over the same line as putting multiple holes in the same exact spot will weaken your fabric, not strengthen it.  After three boxes, stop at your original starting point and spin the fabric so you'll sew a diagonal line.  Go back and forth three times, then sew along one outer edge to get to the opposite corner and repeat going the other way.  It truly takes all of 5 minutes to make a decent looking Xbox.

I was worried I'd run out of webbing by using 12" total instead of 4" total but I was ok, just barely.  HOWEVER, next time I will definitely buy another foot of webbing.  It costs something like 39 cents per foot.  Definitely buy extra if you are fluffy, if this is for your big and tall husband, if your arms aren't flexible enough to reach behind you and grab the tiny bit of strap sticking out of the buckle unless there's a good bit hanging down for you to grab a hold of.

I always have the straps just about as long as they can go when I put the carrier on, then snug up after the baby is in.  There was not much sticking out of the buckle so you may want to err on the side of caution and just buy more webbing to be safe.  Also note, I did not lengthen the shoulder straps.  I made them the same size as the pattern since my Kinderpack straps were too long.  I'm still able to cross in back (ridiculously comfortable, by the way!) and I'm 6'1" and a size 12.

Melting the webbing - very important!!!  When I first cut that 2" long piece and tried pinning it in place, within 3 minutes the ends were frayed and shredded.  Grab a match or a lighter and run the flame along the edge back and forth a couple of times.  You can actually see it melting right before your eyes, which was fun!  Burning your fingers is not fun though, so please be careful.  Cut the webbing to length and immediately melt it before you start messing with it.

I also don't like that you cut the strap on a fold.  If you look closely at my strap, one taper is longer than the other.  That's because when you fold the strap in half and sew it lengthwise along that open edge, you've now made it 1/2" narrower but only on one side.  So the tapers at the end are now not the same length.  Does that make sense?  Next time I would sew along the folded edge too just to make the strap evenly taken in on both sides, not just the one.  I'm anal like that.

I didn't make a hood because I rarely use it.  My baby will not keep anything on his head for longer than .4 seconds - sun hats, winter hats, hoodie hoods, carrier hoods, doesn't matter.  Ain't gonna happen.  So I just modified the pattern for the body to add an arch along the top.  If, by some miracle, he actually allows himself to fall asleep in this the arch should help with head flop.  I cut four layers of fleece in the same arch shape and stuffed them in there before sewing the panels all together.

Assemble the Body:
1. Assemble body pattern and cut out 3 body pieces laying the pattern along the fold as indicated.
2. Sew the darts on each piece
3. Attach the shoulder straps and hood, as illustrated, on the center layer.
4. Cut the remaining 1.5” webbing in half, melt ends and attach as illustrated
5. Place the outside layer on top of the middle layer right side up
6. Place the inner lay on top of that right side down.
7. Pin the three layers together
8. Sew around the edge of the three layers, do not sew the bottom or over the four straps
9. Turn right side out and pull the straps through.
10. Topstitch around the edge, turning under the edges around the straps. 

This part was pretty straightforward.  For the darts, I did NOT cut out that little triangle of fabric.  I just traced the outline of the triangle with chalk onto the wrong side of each panel piece.  Then I pinched the fabric together and lined up the chalk lines.  Pin in place, especially at the very point, so they'll all be the same length.  Then sew it starting at the bottom edge of the body panel.  When you get close to the point reduce the length of your stitch so you don't have to backtack (reverse stitch) to keep it from coming undone.  I used a 2.5 length stitch for the whole project except for here, when I reduced it to 1.6 about half an inch before I came to the point.  Then just sew right off the edge of the fabric when you get to the point.

Attach the shoulder straps to the interior panel, which won't show.  Sink the straps down onto the body panel as far as it shows on the pattern, about 4" as I recall.  Sew a nice big, fat Xbox and go over it three times.  It doesn't matter if it's pretty because no one will see it.

So you're attaching the 1 1/2" webbing on the sides of the body panel.  These are the pieces that will be threaded through the male end of the buckles that will clip into the buckles on your shoulder straps.  Do Xboxes on these too.

If you want to add padding to the neck and leg areas, cut four layers of fleece in a rectangle for the legs (about 2" wide by 6-8" tall) and the same shape as the neck arch, just smaller by 1/2" all the way around.  Pin the four layers to the inner panel and sew around the perimeter, just to hold it in place.  The legs out padding I made goes from 1/2" from the bottom edge to 1/2" below the side pieces of webbing.

When you pin all three layers together, it's a good idea to put 2 pins in a big X on either side of your webbing and shoulder straps.  YOU DO NOT SEW ACROSS THESE or you can't turn it right side out.  I had to rip out some stitching because I was trying to hurry and do it during nap time and sewed right across my webbing.  Crap!  The pins in an X is a pretty big visual sign that says, "Hey stupid, stop sewing now."  ;)

If you decide to make an arch on top like I did, cut around the shape of the arch making little triangular notches every inch or so.  It should look like a stegosauras (did I spell that right?)  Then turn it all right side out.  I started with the shoulder strap buckles and pulled them through, then the webbing, and then the rest.  You can stick a ruler inside and push it against the seams to make sure it's all fully turned out or just use your hand.

Turning under around the straps always kicks my butt.  Why is this so hard for me?  I fold the fabric under one time, not twice, or it gets too thick to sew easily.  But the corners always look messy.  I usually do a 45 degree angle at the sides so that no raw fabric is sticking out, but if anyone has a better method please share it with me in the comments.  Seriously, please!!!

After all the raw edges are turned under and sewn, I go around the entire thing - up one side, over the straps, across the top, and down the other side.  Makes it not only finished and pretty looking but gives it one more layer of reinforcement.  You can also outline the padding.  Just make straight lines around the leg padding and a horizontal line below the neck padding.  I tried to do a fancy decorative stitch that looked like leaves.  On my scrap test piece it looked great!  But on my three layers of body panels with a camo print it didn't even show up.  :(

Assemble the waist belt:
1. Assemble the waist belt pattern and cut out the padding and fabric according to instructions.
2. Cut one 6” piece of 2” webbing, melt the ends and use it to attach the female end of the buckle on
one end of one waist piece where indicated on the “right” side
3. Attach the remaining 18” of 2” webbing to the other end of the same piece where indicated on the
“right” side.
4. Attach the body, inner lining to the wrong side of the other waist piece overlapping 2” as
indicated, with two lines of stitching, 1/4” from the bottom edge of the body and an x-box on
each end
5. sew the two waist pieces right sides together except where the body is
6. Turn right side out
7. Insert the padding, if using batting or fleece place on the inner side.
8. Tuck in the edges and topstitch along the waist strap where the body overlaps the body. 

I used two layers of a yoga mat.  I had to cut the pieces much smaller than the pattern.  First I couldn't stuff them in the waistband because they were too long, and then I couldn't fold under the top edge to sew it to the body panel because they were too tall.  So be prepared to do lots of trimming.  You don't want to sew through them and break 17 needles for this part.

Attaching the webbing - why would I want to attach it on the right side of the fabric?  I totally don't get this part.  I attached it to the wrong side of the fabric with big ol' Xboxes.  These WILL be visible so try to do them neatly.

In the photo above I have my two pieces of waistband fabric right sides together.  The top layer is folded back to show you how I attached the buckle and webbing the first time.  If you do it like this, when you turn it right side out the webbing will be on the outside of your waist band.  Not very aesthetically pleasing in my opinion.  I sewed it to the wrong side and then when I turned it right side out I folded under the raw edges (remember, don't sew across the webbing!) and topstitched a couple of times.

Step #4:  Don't forget to make a tiny Xbox right where the body panel meets the waist band BEFORE you sew the waistband pieces right side together. I forgot to take a picture of this but here's a photo of the Kinderpack I used to have.

See how tiny it is, right below the mustache fabric?   It will only show on the inside of the waistband so don't worry if it's not pretty.

Once you complete the waistband you're done!  Just thread the webbing through the male end of the buckles and give it a test run.  You can also make a chest clip but I still haven't gotten around to doing that yet.

Look at that knee-to-knee coverage, baby!!!

It wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be.  If you've made a mei tai or onbu, or if you even have basic sewing skills you can do this.  Good luck!

***UPDATE 09/01/2015***  I ended up making a preschool sized carrier to be 20" x 20" when it was finished.  Mr. Man is now 35 pounds and 41" tall and it worked great for him (when he'd allow himself to go up!) on our recent trip to Disneyworld.  Luckily we got the cast off his leg right before our trip!  Talk about good timing... phew.

I bought the appliqué off Etsy and I got the Olaf fabric from Fabric.com.  The black and white polka dot fabric is duck and was used for the shoulder straps, waistband, inner panel, and the panel that touches his back.  Only the outer Olaf fabric is a lighter weight cotton. Everything else is super heavy duty.


  1. I don't understand the small x box on the waist band before you sew the waistband right sides together? Are you sewing half of the waist band on before you sew it together? I have a feeling I'm making this more difficult than it needs to be but I can't visualize this part.

  2. Yeah, it was hard to describe what I was doing. In the photo under step #4 do you see the red mustache on the fabric? Right below it is an Xbox. You are sewing the body panel to the back waistband panel with an Xbox. You do this before you sew the waistband panels together. If you skip the part, when you sew the body panel to the waistband and turn it all right side out you'll have to do an Xbox on the outside where it will be seen. Did that make more sense?

  3. Yes, I think that makes more sense :) I will give it a go and see! Thank you for answering!

  4. What kind of webbing did you use? I see various materials available (nylon, poly).

    1. The instructions called for polypropylene so that's what I used. It came in heavyweight and lightweight so I used heavy, just to be on the safe side, and it was no problem to work with. Good luck!

  5. Did you add 1" all around or 1" to the sides and 2" to the top? I am about to tackle making mine as soon as I get my buckles and webbing in. I think I've read this tutorial about 37 million times. lol Thanks!

    1. I made mine 2" taller AND 2" wider. I figured better too big than too small, and honestly it fit him just fine. It will look enormous when you cut it out but once you sew the seam allowance and turn it right side out it will be normal sized. Good luck!

  6. Excellent tutorial! I'm almost brave enough to try it, but I have some questions first. If I wanted a cute cotton print on the outside, would I do a cotton inner (touching baby's back) and cotton outer, with two layers of twill in between? And do you have any thoughts or suggestions for adding a koolknit panel? I'm in Arizona and it's hot!

    1. Thanks Ashley! I wouldn't make it more than 3 layers thick or it'd be too bulky and hot. I'd do the cute cotton print on the front, and twill for the inside and the inner panels since no one will really see them. I LOVE the idea of the Koolnit panel. I had a Kinderpack before I made this and I loved it. Used it in Key West last July and it's the only reason we didn't die of heatstroke! But I am not a good enough seamstress to know how to sew it and make it structurally sound. But by all means, go for it if you think you can do it.

  7. What is koolknit? I'm in Hawaii, so I'm worried about how hot it will be. I'm about to attempt my first carrier. This pattern really messed me up lol, so thanks for the tutorial! One question though….if adding a chest clip would you do that when assembling the straps I guess?

    1. Koolnit is something Kinderpacks use and it's kind of like a silky mesh panel down the center. It lets the baby's body heat escape and it honestly does make a huge difference, in my opinion. As far as the chest clip goes, mine is totally removable. It's just a strap with half the buckle on each end, and once the carrier is on I wrap the strap around the straps and clip it together. It's not sewn to the carrier at all.

    2. From the Kindercarry web site:

      Koolnit and Comfort Mesh are both technical mesh fabrics that are designed to keep baby cooler. Keep in mind that any carrier is going to be hot in really hot weather, but both meshes allow air flow to baby to help in moderately hot weather. Our mesh carriers can be used all year long, but really shine in warmer months.

      Koolnit is a non stretch small holed medium weight mesh. Comfort Mesh is a lightweight technical mesh with an airy fiber core that creates space in between the mesh and the tricot lining, making it soft and cushioned but still extrememly breathable and lightweight. Comfort Mesh is very similar in structure to the mesh used on child safety seats such as Britax.

    3. hi..where can i buy koolnit mesh fabrics?

  8. Do you think two layers is enough? I'm using a sturdy canvas home decor fabric for the outside panel and a cotton for the inside panel. I'm trying to keep it lightweight (the heat index today was 107). If I do need three layers, can I use a lightweight cotton? Thank you!

    1. Yeah, I really do think you need three layers. If anything, you want the lightweight cotton on the outside and the sturdy panel in the middle since that's where the straps are being attached, to the interior panel. I hear ya about the heat index - last week it was 96 degrees but more like 117 with the heat index one day. Ugh!

  9. You are amazing for sewing this!! I'm going to "attempt" one for myself BUUUUUT I am wondering what size yours is equivolent to in kindercarry terms. I need to make one Preschool sized, if the pattern is more for a toddler size do you think that'd be an easy modification?

  10. i was wondering how the buckle feels being in middle? do you think it would be hard to put it more towards the side so it would be in your back for a front carry?

    1. I happen to be making this today with the help of this awesome tutorial. In the pattern pieces the female half of the waist buckle is attached to the outside of the fabric because it sits on top of the waistband. This means that the buckle ends up with the waistband padding behind it. I put the female part on the outside as the directions state, but I attached the webbing for the male part on the wrong side like the tutorial suggests.
      Hope that helps.

  11. wooooow! you really are amazing ... best wishes ...

  12. How come I can't print the pattern? It opens in media fire and won't print at the correct size

    1. It's not my link so I'm afraid I can't really troubleshoot much. The only thing I recall reading somewhere was that you have to download it first and then open it once it's on your computer. Don't just open it online. That seems to fix the printing issue, but you'd have to ask the creators of the pattern. I hope that helps!

  13. How much bigger did you make the preschool one? TIA!

    1. I made it 20x20". It was plenty big enough for my 35 lb, 41" tall 3 year old when we went to Disneyworld a few months ago.

    2. Let me clarify - 20x20 was the finished size, so add an inch or two for the seam allowances.

  14. Replies
    1. I ordered it from Strapworks and I used the heavy duty webbing. I bought slightly more than what the pattern called for so I'd have extra in case of mistakes.

  15. very nice job!!! congrats!! what kind of sewing machine are you using? thank you!

    1. Just a Brother machine my husband bought at Walmart last year. It's nice but it's nothing super fancy. It does do some fancy embroidering stitches though, which was why I thought the leaf pattern would be cool. Too bad you can't see it at all!

  16. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I was searching for a carrier that I can sew for my 7 year old to carry one of our babies in this summer - I think I'll be able to adjust sizes accordingly so he can help with his brothers!

  17. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I was searching for a carrier that I can sew for my 7 year old to carry one of our babies in this summer - I think I'll be able to adjust sizes accordingly so he can help with his brothers!

  18. Great Article it its really informative and innovative keep us posted with new updates. its was really valuable. thanks a lot.
    baby carriers for hiking

  19. You! Yes you the lady who writes this blog. Where in God's green earth have you been all my damn life?!?! I've been sewing since I was all of four years old and I still can't figure out how to construct these things with out a map and 4 Mennonites!!! I'm on kid number five and this one has cerebral palsy so at three years old I just can't get around it anymore, I need one. But at 175 a pop, I almost popped! Thankyou! This is more helpful then a glass of sweet tea in the July sun!

    1. Hahahaha, you rock, Mindy! The pattern is great, I just needed to put it in my own words so that it made sense to someone (me) who has NOT being sewing since she was 4 years old. I have owned several SSC's and my homemade one was every bit as comfortable as the pricey ones. Maybe not quite as fabulous looking but I like it. Best of luck with your new project!

  20. Hi! Thanks for a great tutorial! I'm going to make a toddler size as well, I know you said you forgot to shorten the straps but it worked out because you're 6'1 and cross them...what would the measurements be if I also want to cross them but 5'4? Do you think I need to shorten still or keep the length (keeping the taller panel).

    1. I would think that if you make the body 2" taller then you shorten the straps 2". If you make it 3" taller, then shorten the straps the same amount. You should still be able to cross the straps as long as they're adjustable and you leave plenty of length on the webbing straps to shorten and lengthen as needed.

    2. Ok thanks! That's what I was thinking but wanted to be sure

  21. So I'm rereading for the millionth time because I'm prone to a major learning curve on first projects haha. You said you didn't see the chest clip because you cross the straps and have another chest clip. How is your chest clip made ? My Boba & Ergo were both sewn on and I'd love to rig a removable one for my Mei tai. Thanks!

    1. It's literally one long strap of webbing with the female buckle on one end and the male on the other. It looks like a really big dog collar. Then I just loop it around both shoulder straps and buckle in the center. I seem to recall that the tutorial had chest clip instructions but mine was so basic I didn't even follow any instructions.

    2. It does, but it didn't mention how it stays in place or if I sewed it into the straps like my other SSC. Thanks again!

    3. No, it's totally removable. I just loop it around the straps and click it shut, then take it off and stuff it in my pocket when not in use.

  22. I wished I would have seen your post before I bought a pattern on Etsy . Oh well! At least I was supporting a fellow neighbor in my $10 purchase.