I realise this whole thing may seem slightly daunting. And it is a lot of work compared to just going out and buying a sleeping bag/quilt. But then I didn’t really have that choice to begin with. Since at the time I couldn’t find anywhere to buy a double quilt in Europe. And importing one from the USA came at quite a cost. So I set out to make my own helped by youtube videos and people writing down how they’d done it, much like what I’m doing now.
I am in no way qualified to do these kinds of projects. The closest I’m getting to any kind of related training is at taking half of what they, in my school, called a “sewing machine drivers license”. Mind you that was 20 years ago.
What I’m trying to say is, you really don’t need to be a designer or a seamstress to make your own gear. You just need to wan’t to do it. And of course it’ll take you five times as long as it would someone qualified, but really anyone can make something that works proficiently for most conditions. And since you’re not paying yourself by the hour, it’ll come at a much cheaper price(although it will cut in to your Netflix time, and probably frustrate your partner a fair bit at times).
Design & sizing
I personally find sketches and models to be very helpful in visualising the end result and highlighting any possible flaws in the design. As stated I have no training to fall back on, so I really have to emphasize this step in the process. I usually make at least a few models, trying to better any short comings they may have before I move on from here.
The beauty of MYOG is that you have the liberty to design something just for you, and in this case your partner. So if your quite tall you can make something that for once fits you perfectly. Or if you’re both quite slim and relatively short people you can trim down the design. If you enjoy sleeping quite close together, you can make different choices about the size and taper of the bag, than someone who needs a bit more wriggle room.
It helps to look around at what other people or companies have chosen to do with their design and work out what will suit you best.
I tailored our bag to fit our height, girth and sleeping positions. We are relatively slim both of us, neither of us are taller than 174cm(5’7″) and we like to sleep quite close to one another. Also we don’t move around a great deal during the night. All of this put together means I could get away with quite a slimmed down design, sparing us a bit of weight. But it might not work for you and your better half. Keep in mind that you actually need more width if you sleep on your side than you do if you sleep on your back. And that you need some of the bag to wrap around and under your body in order to keep out draughts of cold air.
What I ended up with for our quilt was basically a 180*180cm(71*71inch) square. With two matching cut outs on each side at the bottom end in order to form the foot box. And a cut out on each side slightly more than 2/3 up the sides, which main purpose was to save weight. Because you need a bit less width around the waist, than you do up around the shoulder, you can get away with putting in a slight cut out at about waist height. It’s purely a weight saving design feature, so if you’re not that bothered about weight, contemplate leaving it out. It will add a bit more hassle when it comes to calculating the down fill of each chamber or baffle.
For the shell you will need a soft and breathable piece of downproof nylon fabric, and some fine mesh netting for the baffles. You can choose to have the inside and outside of the quilt be the same, or different colours. I went for black on the inside and green on the outside. For the double quilt, buying just one colour will save you money, more so if you don’t plan on using the leftover material.
In my experience both nylon and mesh netting comes on rolls that are around 150cm(59inches) wide, so if your making a regular quilt you’ll likely be just fine buying just one piece of fabric. But since I’m making a 180cm(71inches) wide quilt, I have to buy an extra 180×145 piece of fabric just to add 35cm to the length of my quilt *sigh*. In the end I bought 4m(4,37yards) of both the green and black downproof nylon taffeta.
I chose to have 15cm(5,9 inch) wide baffles, which means I need netting enough to make twelve 8,5cm(3,34inch) wide and 180cm long baffle walls. For the baffles I bought 2m(2,18yards) of fine mosquito mesh netting.
For the insulation I chose down. The calculations for how much down you need are a bit less straight forward than for the shell. But what you basically need to do, is calculate the internal volume of your quilt. Width*length*height/loft, and divide that by the fill power of your down. Of course, unless you’re doing a straight up and down box design, not all of your baffles are going to have the same amount of down in them. So depending on your design, and how thorough you want to be, you will have to calculate the internal volume of every baffle individually. I did calculate them all individually, but not until I had the shell ready to fill.
How much loft/height you need, depends on what you want the temperature rating of the bag to be. See the excel sheet below. I wanted us to be able to manage temperature just around/below freezing. Instead of overstuffing by 10% to account for the loss of loft over time, I just erred on the side of caution and went for a baffle height of 6,3cm/(2,5inch).
Getting the most out my investment – cost vs. weight
I will admit it took me a minute or two to remember what each of the calculations on this notebook page meant. Basically what you see below is me working out the cost effectiveness of using either one of three shell fabrics and either 860 or 700 fill down.
I was a student at the time as was my better half, so our funds were limited. All the same I didn’t fancy making something that I would want to replace the moment my financial situation changed. After all I was putting quite a bit of effort and money into this project.
And of course there is a moral cost to making the materials, that go into a quilt/sleeping bag, not only for the environment. But also, and this will not matter to everyone, something has had to die, so that I can get lightweight insulation for my hobby project… Suffice it to say that it’s important to me that this is a lasting investment.
- Is the exact amount of fabric I need for my quilt.
- Just to get really confusing, we’re now changing briefly from metric to imperial measurements. Since the place that I wanted to buy from, listed their down by fill in cubic inches(cuin). 180cm is roughly 71 inches and I’m shooting for 2,5 inches of loft. So (2) is a calculation of how many grams of down I will need to fill my quilt. I need to fill 12.602,5 cubic inches, I divide the volume(12.602,5) with the fill power of the down (700/860) to get the amount of down I need in ounces.
Now while the shop lists their down by fill power in cuin they sell it by weight in grams. So we’ll swiftly return to metric by converting ounces into grams(1oz= 28.3g).
If you’re still hanging on throughout all of this, the difference between using 700 or 860 fill down is about 95g(3,35oz). And I have the difference in price written down as about 373kr(62dollars/50Euros). But this is not exactly true, considering that if I buy the 860 fill down, I will have down left over for another project, because the shop sells their down in set amounts.
- Is the weight and cost of the three different fabrics.
- Is the weights and prices for all six different fabric and down combinations.
- Is me working out how much I’m paying pr. gram of weight.
I fully realise that this is very confusing and that I’ve clearly neglected to write everything down. I can see where I’ve skipped over stuff or I’ve done the calculations on a different page. Or I’ve not bothered to write it down, because at the time I could remember the numbers in my head. In order to remedy this mess, I’ve tried to redo all my calculations in an excel sheet, see below for the new and improved “quilt calculator” 🙂
The excel sheet should be fairly easy to use for anyone wishing to make their own quilt. Just copy/paste the sheet and pop in your own figures in the bright green fields and leave the orange fields alone. If you’re working from imperial measurements you will have to rework many of the formulas in the orange fields. But still you should be able to work it out from the existing formulas.
Making the shell
All the calculations, all the choices, all of the complicated stuff is now done and from here on out it gets really quite simple. You measure and cut out your material. And then it’s just a case of attaching one side of the shell to the other with a slim piece of netting material.
I suggest marking the baffles, on both pieces of shell material, with a piece of cloth chalk. And keeping a ruler at hand to make sure the baffle walls are consistent in height, the netting material is really quite stretchy. I folded the netting over on itself where I attached it to the shell material so that I was sowing through two layers of netting. In order to insure against the netting ripping at the seam. It’s sturdy stuff for netting, but it’s still netting, and it’ll rip more easily than the ripstop shell.
I attached all the of the netting baffle walls to the inside shell, the black material. And then worked my way up the other side, attaching the baffle walls one by one to the green piece.
I then closed off one side of the quilt with a simple straight stitch. I left the bottom open for now, I had yet to make the oval end piece that would fill the open end of the foot box. At the top of the quilt I made a drawstring hem/casing and fed an elastic cord through the opening and along the top of the bag. On one side I attached a cord buckle and on the other a simple cord lock for adjusting the width of the quilts opening. I figured we would both of us want a way to adjust the opening. Even if it was just so that you could exit the bag at night, to go outside and pee, without necessarily waking the other.
The shell alone with buckles and drawstring weighed 330g(11,6oz).
Working with down
I then filled the bag with down. I cleared the bathroom and worked in there, on recommendation of another MYOG how-to. And I’m glad I did, because my word high quality down is lighter than air and it just floats away from you even if you’re very careful. Containing the outbreak really helps in cleaning up after yourself(which counts towards not frustrating anyone else living with you).
Someone recommended using a vacuum cleaner with a reverse air function, for the job. But since I don’t have one of those, I weighed out the down for each chamber in a plastic freezer bag on my kitchen scales and filled the chambers that way.
It really is harder than you can possibly imagine. This was probably the most fiddly and time consuming part of the entire project. Not only does the down go everywhere, you don’t want it to go, it also refuses to go anywhere you do want it too. Once in the freezer bag the absence of air pushing on the down, makes it very hard to shift the down out of the plastic bag and into the baffles. But given time and patience you will prevail.
I closed off each baffle individually, with a straight stitch, after filling them with down.
Once all of the chambers were filled with down I finished the sides with a rolled hem. And sowed the sides of the foot box together. You may want to reinforce the top of the foot box, where the two sides join, it is subject to a lot of sideways force. And in time the seam could rip apart due to pulling and tugging from you and your partner.
I unfortunately don’t seem to have any pictures of making and fitting the oval end piece of the foot box. But what I did, was make an oval with four chambers filled with down. Which I then fitted to the opening at the end of the foot box.
Et voila, you’re done… Finished product has yet to fail in keeping us snug and warm on any hiking trip. As of right now we’ve taken it to the Austrian alps, around Scandinavia and along highway 1 in California.
The finished weight is 761g(26,8oz), which I’m quite pleased with, because it’s only 11g(0,38oz) more than the weight of my one person 3 season sleeping bag. So in the end making a double quilt has saved us not only money, but the weight of carrying almost an entire sleeping bag, save those last 11g(0,38oz).
Links to more on how to make your own quilt:
Backcountry Banter youtube video – how to calculate how much down you need
Backcountry Banter youtube video – Thoughts on quilt design
Backcountry Banter youtube video – how to cut baffles easily