Friday, October 21, 2011

How To Make Children's Bean Bag Chairs

Bean bag chairs.  I used to think ugh at the thought of them.  The only ones I ever sat in were at homes of people who tended to smoke a lot of weed and have brown toilets (and by brown, I mean...the bowl was brown, not the toilet!).  And instead of getting up, you'd sort of roll out of them.  And they always seemed to be made out of vomit-colored pleather that was cracking so you could see the mesh that held it together, and filled with either the kind of peanuts you'd use for packing a shipment or those sand-like polypellets that don't mold to your body unless you do a lot of shifting around.  That is, when the "chair" itself wasn't farting and splitting.  There is nothing graceful about sitting/laying in a crappy bean bag chair.  (Snorts, me talking grace?)

So needless to say, I had a pretty unfavorable impression of bean bag chairs.  To me, it conjured up memories of bad housekeeping, nicotine stains everywhere, overflowing ashtrays, and Pink Floyd cassettes. 

My kid's teacher made a request for three bean bag chairs for her classroom, and hey, I'm always up for a challenge!  Peep this!

This is a child sized bean bag chair made from red rose swirl minky and lined with red polyurethane laminate ("PUL"), filled with reground polystyrene (Styrofoam blocks ground up) with a matching 36" x 30"ish throw. I made a muslin bag from the same pattern pieces to hold the filler, and sealed it up with a polyester zipper, and then used snaps on the opening of the cover for easy removal/washing.  It's important to line the material with something waterproof because if some kid pukes on it, and it soaks into the bag holding the pellets, you're fuckedYou don't clean ground up Styrofoam!   However, if it's lined with PUL, you wash the cover and you're done!  I think this is why so many of those nasty-ass bean bag chairs are made out of pleather: so you can just wipe them off.  Frankly, I think that's gross, and who wants to snuggle up on pleather, man?

STOP!  Before you cut anything, wash and dry your fabric like you would normally.  Except maybe a little hotter.  Get any shrinkage/shedding/whatever out of the way before you cut. 

I used this pattern to make a pattern piece for the main parts, then ignored the rest because it didn't make sense to me.  But, I followed the instructions to make a pattern piece that was specifically tailored to be 20" wide at the widest point (this is important, I'll explain later) and 36" long from the longest points (also important).

For the top and bottom, I ignored the instructions and made circle with a radius of 7" for the top, and an oval ellipse with a major axis of 30" (also important) and a minor axis of 24".

Got that?

Now, what's so fuckin' magical about 20" and 36" and 30"?  This, my child, is how you minimize the scrap.  Because if you clicked on the links above for the fabric, you'll note that, a) it ain't cheap shit, and b) it's 60" wide. 

60"?  So what?

Fabric is sold by the yard.  What's a yard?  36".  So, this means you can cut three (20" x 3) pattern pieces out of one yard (36"), with minimal scrap, if you cut very very carefully. As for the top and bottom, you can use half of the width of the material, 30", to get the piece.  So if you're really careful, you could get away with using 2 2/3 yards of material presuming you're buying something with a width of 60" (for the minky AND the PUL) that sustains its width after washing.  And have very little scrap remaining, considering the curves and potential for waste with the shapes (round shapes just scream scrap!).  But I wouldn't recommend cutting it that close, natch.

Having said that, ensure that the major pieces line up with the grain of the fabric.  If you slap down the pattern piece and cut whatever which way thinking you can save some fabric, your final product will look like crap, patchwork.  Match your grains!!  Here are some tips on sewing with minky.  

I'm pretty particular about minimizing scrap just because I have a bit of an industrial engineering background...I used to analyze assembly lines and was trained in the concepts of Lean Manufacturing, which was promoted heavily by Toyota...which is why Japanese cars blew domestics out of the water in the 70s.  Because Lean--also incorporating tenants of another process known as Just-in-Time--is all about the muda, or waste (waste in a general sense; waste of time, waste of space, etc.).  Anyway, so I can't help but look at every project and think how can I improve this and do it faster/better/less scrap?  And it's a really annoying trait because I look at everything going on around me: construction projects, transit...fucking sewing projects, and think HOW CAN I DO THIS BETTER?????  GAAAAHHH!!!

It doesn't help that I hoard fabric and always buy an extra yard or two.  I call that my oh FUCK! fabric.  And having a little stash is nice for quilts and school projects and stuff.  I'm a contradiction in terms, man.  Here I am about minimizing scrap and then I go out and buy like 1 or 2 extra yards of whatever I need.  I have a problem, yo.

OK, getting back on track here.

First, I made a bag entirely out of muslin, and used a 14" zipper on one seam to fill it up with the pellets.   Unfortunately, I didn't take pictures of it, because I was just fooling around and didn't think the mock-up would actually turn out good enough to be used as an interior bag!

The bag was...not easy to fill.  Static city!  I tried to keep it neat but it looked like it was snowing in my living room.  I was covered from head to toe with pellets (static).  I put maybe 5 cubic yards of pellets in one bag.  I couldn't really count.  It was more like, fill up, zip, throw a kid onto it, ask kid opinion, brush off kid; repeat.  Since I'm a cheap bastard, I picked up as much loose stuff as I could and repacked it, and used a broom to brush it off my carpet then packed that too (along with everything that was stuck to me).  Then the laws of diminishing returns started kicking in, and I vacuumed up the rest. 

This minky is sooo cuddly.  Just look!


There's a price to pay for all that cuddle though.  HOLY LINT!

This was the amount of lint after just cutting out one large piece!!

After cutting out all the pieces, I threw them all into my dryer on a no-heat setting for 5 minutes.

Tick tock....

I had lint everywhere; it was in my eyes, my nose, all over my face.  I kept having to splash water on my face to get it off me.

Next, you cut out all the pieces in both the minky (or whatever you've chosen) and the PUL.  Here's the rub about can't exactly put pins in it, it's not a good idea because, hello, it's waterproof.  You're probably thinking why not just use something like a shower curtain instead of splurging on PUL?  Well, because PUL has fabric on one side, and the polyurethane is 1mil thin (that's a mil, not mm) so it doesn't make that crunchy sound.  A shower curtain, by contrast, is very thick and does not have fabric on one side, unless it's some fancy curtain, which is probably pricier than PUL by the yard, unless you find it at a thrift store or something.  So, sure, you can use a cheaper material, but you get what you pay for, know what I'm saying?


I am making several red chairs, so I bought a lot of PUL.  Probably...way too much PUL....

Yes, folding that much PUL was a major pain in the ass.  And this is after I cut out all I needed for the first chair.

The pin issue ended up being rhetorical anyway, because I had such a thick sandwich of material to run through my serger, I used clothespins to keep it together.  Thank goodness for the sewing machine's feed dogs sure hated this muppet shit! I layered it like this: PUL fabric side down, minky right side up, minky right side down, PUL fabric side up.  This way, you end up with minky on the right sides, and the fabric side of the PUL on the inside.  You never see the shiny polyurethane part when it's all finished.

I stitched three sets (one "set" = minky + PUL) together, then the other three sets, resulting in two huge pieces.  Then I stitched the two pieces together, leaving one seam open.

On this open seam, I turned the hem over twice so that no raw edges were exposed, then used my sewing machine on a straight stitch to stitch it down.  Again, using clothespins in lieu of pins...although I could have put them in the seam, it didn't really matter.  But they were pretty thick, my pins were getting all bent up, and I had the clothespins handy.  It doesn't matter.

Once I stitched it down, I couldn't even see where I had sewed it, on the right side!

Next, I sewed the final seam together on my sewing machine (not the serger).  I sewed around 5" in on each end with a zig-zag stitch, leaving an opening about 26" wide, in which to stuff the bag.  I also reinforced the ends by sewing another short zig-zag perpendicular to the first seam. My sewing machine was NOT happy sewing this stuff.  I really don't recommend sewing with fake fur or rose swirl minky unless you have a serger, and a heavy duty serger at that (more on that later).

I closed up the opening with snaps as the very last step.  Stupidly, I didn't get pictures of that.  Now that was a real pain in the ass, because I'd poke the awl through, and the hole would instantly disappear in all that fluff!  And the fabric was a tad bit on the thick side; ideally I should have used long prong snaps but I have thousands of snaps and didn't feel like ordering more of them!  I had one pull out and had to cut off the rest of it with wire clippers.   I though about using a zipper, but not with this furry stuff, and not around kids.  If the snaps don't hold, I will cut them all off and redo them with long prong snaps

Next, I had to sew the tops and bottoms of the cover.  I started with the top. 

I left the cover wrong side out (meaning the fabric side of the PUL was out) and placed the top circle of minky + PUL on top.  I could have basted them together, but I didn't bother.  It didn't fit exactly perfectly, and this was intentional.  I left a lot of room for error.  I used clothes pins to fit it on, then took it for a ride on the serger.

What you see below is what I call "the fail spiral."  See, first I'd serge it on, just to get it on.  Then I'd serge it again, correcting any mistakes and cutting off the first run.  So the circle is a good bit smaller than what I started with, but it's even, and that's what counts.

Take time to ensure that all the layers are being picked up as well!  Since you're serging sort of blindly here, you could be serging PUL and the minky isn't getting picked up at all.  Since I was going in a circle, I finished the ends by oversewing where I started, then doing an aburpt 90° turn, and tying an overhand knot to finish it off. 

Do the same for the ellipse on the bottom.

Now, there's about 2 hours difference between these photos.  Why?  Because serging this bitch broke my serger!  See this particular seam below?

That seam is about 10 layers thick: you have the rolled hem (6 layers) plus both layers of the PUL plus minky.   When I serged into that mess, it got so stuck, it yanked both needles clear out of the needle bar and impaled it onto the stitch finger, fucking up the timing and the stitch finger's parts.

I quite literally had to take my serger apart (we're talking going WAY beyond what's in the owner's handbook!) to get it out of there, and then somehow fix what was happening.  After I reassembled everything, I couldn't get the stitches to slide off the stitch finger.  So when it ran, it would just create a giant mass of thread.  It was a disaster.

One nice thing about sergers?  They're all still mechanical, unlike good but new sewing machines which are all stepping motors instead of cams.  If a new sewing machine breaks, you have to take it somewhere.  It's like cars, you can't fix your own anymore.  But a serger is still just a big old hunk of metal and screws.  I was just about to throw in the towel and call Brother to find the nearest dealer to fix it when I threaded it one last time and good lawd it worked perfectly.  YES!  (Self-fives)  Then I was able to finish it.

I took my extra yard of OH FUCK! fabric and made a nice little throw.   I thought about quilting it, but said meh it's thick enough, and just folded it in half, serged it, and left an opening to turn it out.

I hand-stitched the opening closed using a blanket stitch.  Seeing how lost my stitches got into the material, I probably could have machine sewn it, but naw.  

And there you have it!

This is child sized, but my big ass fit in it too.   Here's what happens when your three year old gets a hold of your BlackBerry:

I sent this to one of my friends, and she said it looked like I'd just given birth to the cat, Fred. 

It was nice!  It didn't shift around, and it held its shape.  I have major nasty back problems, and if I wanted extra lumbar support, all I had to do was scootch forward a bit and back and instant support.  If you reached for something to the side, you didn't roll out either.  It was a very unique bean bag experience...that sounds perverted, but it's not.  Now I get why there's high end bean bag manufacturers out there, I didn't understand the difference between those and what you can get at somewhere like IKEA.  This one actually held its shape and was very supportive.   I'm totally making an adult sized one for myself!! 

So, if you want to make a child sized one like this, here's what you need:

This is for fabrics of 60" width!!!

  • Make your own pattern piece (link is at the beginning) and ensure that your width doesn't exceed 20", and the length does not exceed 36".  Save yourself some grief and make half a pattern piece that you place on a folded piece of fabric, and line up everything with the grain!  I got one of these from IKEA for making my own pattern pieces and it's awesome.  
  • 3 yards of minky or another cuddly fabric.  Make it 4 yards (or more) if you want a little throw (blanket) to match.
  • 3 yards of PUL.  You don't need PUL for the throw.
  • 3 yards of muslin for the interior bag (you can buy muslin by the bolt or anywhere)
  • 14" or 22" polyester zipper for the interior bag
  • 4.5 cubic yards of fill.  I used reground fill instead of virgin fill.  I got mine from Ahh Products, who also make chairs like this if you'd rather outsource this project!  They'll also make chairs from fabric you send them.   Because of the volume, the shipping is killer, but there's no way around that.  I looked locally for something similar (JoAnn, Michael's, etc.) but came up empty.  The only things I found were little bags of plastic pellets intended for filling dolls.   I do not recommend going with the cheap "bean bag filler" that resembles sand, which you may find in stores .  That's like reclining on a punching bag, you might as well use sand if you're going to use something like that! 
  • Snaps, buttons, or a zipper for the cover closure.  I used my handy dandy Kam Snaps.  Buttons would be a real pain in the ass.  Zipper would be great for a non-plush fabric.  Velcro would probably stick to everything but itself, so don't go there.  I'm doing two more bags in a dimple dot minky, and I might use a zipper for those. 

I'm jealous.  I have two more to go, and then I can make myself a big ass chair to match my big ass.  Yeah!!!

In other PB news: mucho gracias to Marseille for solving the mystery of the great Percostitch!  It's actually an extended double crochet!  There's some videos on youtube demonstrating it differently than what the link above describes, so one of these days, I'mma make a video demonstrating it.  I'm so sick of yarn demo videos that are more about LOOK HOW FAST I CAN CROCHET! and "look, you can learn by watching me crochet off these 5 chain stitches here!"  If I'm going to make a video though, I'm gonna do it right.  Someday. 

And hey, have you seen me on Facebook?  Come like me to get first dibs on promo codes and sales and giveaways!


  1. Whew, that looks like a ton of work, you are a pretty amazing. I appreciate it though - we make huge bean bags all the time at But we have 20 people working on it. I love your red fabric choice. It looks super soft and comfy.

    I agree, don't get the cheap bean bag beans. They are just crappy. Get some good shredded foam - its totally worth it.

  2. Where did you find your pattern for the bean bag?

  3. Right here -

    I've made a few tweaks here and there with other bags (made it a bit shorter or longer to maximize fabric usage and minimize scrap according to the width of the material) but all the directions are in here. :)

  4. I was seriously cracking up thru your whole tut. I'm going to attempt this tonight... although I might have to read it about 5 more times before it sinks in. lol. ty!

  5. Thanks for mentioning us! If you ever need more bean bag filler, just let us know - perhaps we can offer a small discount next time :)

    Jade - Ahh! Products

    1. Thank you, that is very kind of you. However, to remain unbiased, I don't accept any swag. Which kills me sometimes because I'm a total tightwad. But thank you for the offer! :D

    2. LOL! That's awesome. Very high level of integrity. Love that. Very much.

      P.S. Thanks for the repeat order yesterday!

  6. Very good post with a lot of beautiful pictures. Keep up the good work!

    Bean Bag Chairs

  7. One thing why not use the PUL as the interior bag instead of the muslin. save some time and not have to sew so much.

  8. PUL has a fabric side, and if you have something wet against it, it will get wet. Assuming you made the interior bag holding the stuffing with the fabric side out, any mess on the exterior bag would transfer to the interior bag. And if you want to wash it in a washing machine, you'd have to empty that bag to do so, which is a giant mess.

    OTOH, if you made the interior bag with the slick side of the PUL facing out, you could wipe messes off the bag. Yes, you could save time sewing it, but if it gets messy, you'll be cursing yourself when it comes time to clean it.

    Ultimately, it depends on who the bag is for: a kid that pees and pukes on it, or someone with better bladder and stomach control. Unfortunately, I have the former so I'm prepared. ;)


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