Feb 26, 2009
DIY Mei Tai!
There is nothing like the magic of a baby wrap or carrier. Your little one has been fussing for what feels like (or has been) hours on end, when you finally think to strap her into her carrier. Walk around the block or bounce on your birth ball, and voila: sweet, sleeping baby. Some people use washing machines, strollers or a drive in the car for the same effect, but I love the cuddly closeness of the carrier. Plus we live in New York City and don't have a car or a washing machine, and use our stroller sparingly due to the MTA's spotty elevator service.
My husband and I have relied for months on our Action Baby carrier (which Ryan always says makes it sound like our daughter is a spy or something). It's a soft, structured carrier that can be worn on the front or the back, baby facing inward. But at seven months old, Lucy is getting heavy and I wanted to try a Mei Tai. Also I thought the classic Chinese fabric carrier would be cute in the right print. Since I carry her so much, I deserve a back-up, right? The Mei Tai is simple: a rectangle of fabric with four straps, two for your waist and two to cross over your shoulders and tie around your waist. Soooo....how hard could it be to make one?
It turns out, not hard at all! Even someone with the most basic of sewing skills can make one easily. Though you will be carrying your baby in this, so I would advise against hand sewing. And like my dad, a sailor, always says, "If you can't tie a knot, tie a lot," i.e. sew the crap out of your mei tai, reinforcing it and then reinforcing it some more. You want this thing to be sturdy. After all, you'll be putting your baby in it!
My new Mei Tai is so comfy, and my seven-month-old, 18-pound daughter feels very well supported, hugged on all sides by the soft cotton fabric. While a Mei Tai looks a little like a four-legged fabric octopus when it's not on, I found it very easy to strap Lucy to my front — easier in fact, than our Action Baby Carrier, which requires reaching up behind yourself to adjust a buckle across your back. The only drawback is the straps are so long they dangle on the floor, gathering dust while you adjust it.
To get started, you need:
2 yards of heavy cotton broadcloth, twill, denim, etc.
1/4 yard each of cotton in a print you'd like wearing often (optional)
1/2 yard polyester batting for extra-soft straps
1/2 yard interfacing (optional)
In designing this Mei Tai, I thought about how a wide bra strap provides better support. Following that principle, I wanted to make my mei tai's straps nice and wide, distributing the weight of my baby across my back, shoulders, and hips.
Just as I don't always follow recipes to the letter, I'd advise you to consider how long you need your straps to be and amend this pattern based on that. I'm short but have wide-ish hips, so my straps are all quite long. If you're really tall or larger through the shoulders, you might want to lengthen them in your pattern. Better to make them too long. You can always shorten them later. I pinned a tape measure at my shoulder and wrapped it across my back and around my waist to determine how long I needed my straps to be.
From your broadcloth/main fabric, you will cut out the following pieces:
-2 shoulder straps, each 8 inches by 72 inches or longer (you will be folding the straps in half lengthwise, so they will only be 3.5 inches wide in the end)
-2 waist straps, each 8 inches by 42 inches (again, you will be folding the straps in half lengthwise, so they will only be 3.5 inches wide in the end)
-1 waist band, 10 inches by 36 inches (waist band will also be folded in half lengthwise, giving you a 4-inch-high waistband)
-1 body panel, 17 inches by 15 inches (or bigger)
Fold your fabric and cut pieces along the fold like this:
To mark the pieces for cutting, you can use masking tape to create straight lines along your measurements. Or cut pattern pieces first from pattern paper, newsprint, or old wrapping paper. Pin, and cut. (But always do like carpenters do: measure twice, cut once!!)
I wanted my Mei Tai to be pretty as well as functional — and reversible. So I cut out two more panels slightly longer than the body panel cut in the broadcloth: 20" by 15". Cut two slightly smaller pieces of interfacing — about 19" by 14". We will come back to these pieces at the end.
Lastly, cut out three pieces of batting to add extra squishy softness to your shoulder straps and waistband:
-2 shoulder strap pieces, each 7 & 1/2" by 33"
-1 waistband piece, 7 & 1/2" by 34"
The thickness of the batting I bought meant I needed to fold it in half to get a nice soft strap. If your batting is thicker, you may choose to cut pieces 3.5 inches wide instead.
NOW, I worked on all my straps first, so they would be ready to attach to the main body as needed. Moving along....
Making the waist straps:
For the waist straps, simply fold in half lengthwise, right sides facing. Iron and pin. Sew together, giving yourself 1/2-inch seam allowance. Use your pinking shears on the edges so you won't worry about fraying.
To create a tapered end, sew to the edge from the top corner at an angle. Trim along seam with pinking shears.
Turn right side out and iron. Set aside for now.
Making the shoulder straps:
The shoulder straps are slightly more complicated than the waist straps because you will be lining part of each strap with batting to make them softer at the point where they cross over your shoulders. Mmmm, comfy.
First, fold each strap in half lengthwise, right sides facing, and iron. Sew together half way along the length. Turn right side out and press, folding in edges of unsewn strap, like so:
Fold your batting in half lengthwise and sandwich it between the two layers of broadcloth. Fold edges in, press, pin and topstitch.
At the end of the strap opposite the batting, turn in the edges and top stitch. Set aside for now.
The body panel:
If you're lucky enough to have a serger, serge all around your body panel to finish the edges. Otherwise, turn all edges under, press and sew.
Attaching the body panel to the waistband:
Fold the waistband in half lengthwise, wrong sides facing, and iron. Unfold and press in 1/2-inch on top and bottom. Now fold your piece of batting in half lengthwise, and sandwich it between the two layers of broadcloth.
Fold edges under a 1/2 inch, lining them up. But before you pin together, lay your body panel down on the waistband at the midpoint. Layer the batting and top of waistband on top, then pin. Topstitch, reinforcing at edges.
Attaching waist straps to waistband:
Turn in open edges of waistband. Iron. Now tuck the waist strap 3-4 inches into the opening, and pin. Top stitch, and reinforce by sewing a rectangle with an X in the middle like this:
Repeat on the other side.
Attaching shoulder straps:
Turn down top corners of body panel a couple inches and press. Lay bottom end of shoulder strap (the end with the batting) on top of the folded-down corner. Make sure the strap overlaps the body panel by about 3.5-4 inches. You want a lot of overlap so that you can reinforce, and then reinforce some more. This part of your Mei Tai needs to be strong!
Pin and topstitch, again making a box with an X in the middle. This creates a really strong attachment (like you and your baby in this carrier! Aww....).
Reinforcing body panel with your printed fabric:
OK. You could stop here and have a perfectly fine Mei Tai. But if you go the extra mile here, you will have a pretty and reversible Mei Tai! Who doesn't want that?
Attach your interfacing to the wrong side of the printed panels, following the manufacturer's instructions. I always use fusible interfacing — just lay a damp washcloth on top and press at highest temperature. You could skip the interfacing if you don't have it or think it's needed. I like to use it because the interfacing makes the fabric a little stiffer and more sturdy, also less see-through.
Press the bottom edge of the panel under 1/2 inch, then press sides under 1/2 inch, up to where the straps are attached to the main body panel. Lay one printed panel right side down, and lay the main panel of your Mei Tai on top. Now lay your other printed panel on top of that, and line up the three edges. You may need to re-press some edges to make it all line up properly. Pin and topstitch all three sides, reinforcing at corners. Fold under top corners and topstitch all around.
After I started working on my mei tai and this tutorial, I realized there are numerous other patterns out there on other blogs. Sometimes reinventing the wheel is satisfying. But here are a few others at Jan Andrea, Make Baby Stuff.com, Walter and Veronica.
Use common sense and test your carrier each time before you put your child in it, tugging on the straps and testing the body for holes, pulls, broken stitches, etc. Give yourself generous seam allowances and use pinking shears (or your serger) around all edges to help avoid fraying at the seams. And if you wash your mei tai in the washer, double-check afterward to make sure it's still safe.