This past Tuesday night I had one of my bad fits of insomnia. I fell asleep fine but when my youngest son got up around 1:30, I went to put him back into his bed and I was wide awake after that. I tried for hours to put myself back to sleep. I called a friend in Australia to take my mind off of it, I got up and ate a sandwich, I took some melatonin, I meditated with guided sleep meditation, I listened to sensory sounds, I cuddled my kids, I moved to the couch… nothing helped. Around 5:00 am I gave up and just decided to start working.
Amidst some of those efforts, I started thinking about how I tend to sleep easier when the kids are laying on me, and how both of my sons sleep better with someone. This led me down the path of revisiting the idea of sensory blankets to help my autistic son sleep comfortably as well as possibly help me feel comfortable on bad nights. I even considered the idea that my youngest would enjoy it simply because he’s a cuddler and that would be a way for him to feel like he had someone with him.
I knew weighted sensory blankets were expensive though, and I have a sewing machine and at least basic sewing skills, so I decided to plan out my own sensory blankets! I wanted it to be cost-effective, just in case none of us really liked them, and I wanted them to be washable in some way. The route I ended up going down won’t allow these to machine washable but I will be able to spot clean by hand. If they become an essential part of my home then I might consider shelling out for washable options in the future. But for now, this will work! I also came across an article about using a stretchy sensory sheet for a child to sleep under to help them feel some more pressure. Since a local fabric store is going out of business and I could get quite a bit of fabric for 70% off, I decided to try this as well just to see if either option (or both) could help anyone in this house get better sleep!
Overall, I spent around $50 for all the supplies I needed for both projects. That is cheaper than most sensory blankets online alone, and I’m going to be making 2 lap blankets and a sensory sheet for each child for the same cost.
The supplies you will need for the weighted lap blankets are:
2 queen size pillow cases (I got the cheap store brand in a plain pattern)
2 queen size waterproof pillow protector cases (again, I went with store brand)
A 20lb bag of rice (again, cheapest store brand long grain white rice)
Essential oils of choice (I went with lavender to help with sleep)
First, you need to soak a few sheets of paper towels with the essential oils. Carefully cut a thin opening in the top of the bag of rice (or if you have a large bucket that can be sealed, you can use that as well). Place the sheets in the rice, burying them throughout so they can soak evenly. Use duct tape to seal the opening again and allow the bag to sit overnight so that the rice absorbs the scent of the oils.
Next, you need to turn one of the pillow cases and pillow protector cases inside out, and place the decorative case inside the protector case. Line the corners up and pin in place. Sew a single seam to connect the two cases so that they don’t slide around. Turn them right side out again.
Tip: the pillow case will likely be slightly larger and won’t fit perfectly inside the protector, hold it up to the light to make sure you pin it straight and don’t miss nay parts! Not that I missed any the first time….. or had to sew it twice….
Take the pillow case and a pen or marker and draw 3 lines vertically, dividing it into 4 equal sections, and then 4 lines horizontally before the place where the zipper sits, creating 5 rows.
I’m actually glad you can’t see them in the above photo because the thread lines were atrocious, but I sewed three lines along the length of the pillow cases to create 4 long ‘tubes’. I didn’t go past the zipper on the protective case because I wanted to be able to zip it shut before finishing the blanket.
Next, I used a canning funnel that we had in the kitchen and poured 1 Cup of scented rice into each column, making sure to shake them all the way to the bottom.
After you add rice to each column, you will sew a horizontal line across, following your guides, to create the squares! Repeat this process until you’ve reached the last row before the waterproof case’s zipper.
Shake the rice down as far as you can and use pins to secure it so it doesn’t slide in front of the needle. You want to make sure you have enough room between the pins and the foot to keep a straight line… not that I learned that from experience either…. The photo above is absolutely not proof that it took me two rows to figure that out….
Once I reached the end, keeping the rice in place was made easy by zipping each column up before moving to the next. This way when the weight caused the squares to fall I didn’t get rice everywhere. (This time, I really DID figure this out before making the mess! I’m a little proud of myself.) You can either leave it zipped at this point or add another line of stitching just before the zipper, depending on how close to the edge of the zipper you were able to get your vertical stitches to keep the rice from falling to one square over time.
The ends of pillow cases often have two to three inches of ‘hem’. This was the part that extended past the zipper. Since it wasn’t protected, I didn’t want to put rice in it, but I didn’t like having the much fabric hanging over, or having the zipper exposed (fidgeting kids). So I folded the fabric in half inward, pinned it all together, and stitched one last line down it to hold it all together. Now the zipper and waterproof case and rice are all fully sealed inside the decorative case!
Since my sensory son, Briar, was in school when I finished, I decided to test it out on Ronan instead! He liked it, said it smelled pretty, and has been playing with it all day!
I hope that you enjoyed this tutorial! I know the benefits that weighted sensory clothing and blankets can have for autistic and other sensory disorder kids, but I have never been able to afford to buy them! If This blanket isn’t machine washable but I chose waterproof so that the rice would stay clean and I would be able to spot clean any places if needed. If these blankets work out, I may shell out for silicon beads next time to make it washable, but this works for now!
Have a beautiful day! And enjoy your sensory play!