Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Weighted Blankets

Weighted blankets are really powerful things. Maybe people have heard of Temple Grandin's squeeze machine (if you haven't, its quite cool), or maybe not, but very frequently deep pressure is something that regulates our sensory systems, and resets our bodies.

For those of us who are hypersensitive, for many of us, deep pressure is the one thing that resets us, or at least is the one that does it best. Our bodies hate most senses, they're attacks on our systems, but deep pressure, instead of being attack, calms us, protects us, and makes us feel safe. One of the things that is quite interesting about deep pressure is that it frequently helps those who are hyposensitive or seeking as well, because in both of those cases, they require increased sensory input, and this provides the increased sensory input. Deep pressure is the only area where all three of the sensory modulation areas seem to agree in enough cases that its worth defaulting to assuming it'll likely work; giving someone deep pressure is more likely than not to help them regulate better.

Deep pressure is the squeezing of strong hugs, the compression of joints when you jump, the weight of lying under a mattress. And this feeling, helps many on the autistic spectrum, with sensory processing disorder, with anxiety disorders, and even without any diagnoses, calm down, think better, sleep better, and generally function better.

For some of us, this is necessary, things that calm our sensory systems are the only way to be able to manage to get through daily life activities. For many on the autistic spectrum, sleep is a huge challenge; the same thing holds here.

So we get back to weighted blankets. Weighted blankets are, as it sounds like, blankets that are weighted instead of just being fabric, while still being functional as a blanket rather than stiff or uncomfortable. Sleeping with these blankets allows those of us who need sensory calming to sleep better; I know of multiple cases of melatonin being stopped after a weighted blanket was used while before it was required for sleep. It also allows our days to function better because we're starting from a more de-escalated state sensory-wise at the beginning of the day. Throughout the day, they can be used as a blanket might, wrapping up on a couch while working. Again, it causes reduction of sensory-overload even before it hits, holding it off or even preventing it if it reduces it enough. If overload, meltdowns, and shutdowns occur, they tend to be shorter if the blanket is provided, because it gives the sensory needs without someone constantly worrying about providing a type of input that can be difficult for people to provide for themselves or others for anything more than a very short period of time.

My weighted blanket is one of the largest coping skills I use. If I go somewhere for a weekend, I deal with carrying around a 24 lb queen size blanket. It's not convenient but its worth it. I frequently can write when I otherwise wouldn't be able to only because of my blanket. It helps me through many overloads. It helps drastically with my sleep. It's a very valuable tool, enough that I'm working on getting another blanket.

The downside of weighted blankets is that most places that sell them are expensive. However, the other option to buying one is making one. What I'd done for mine was make it. If you sew, have a sewing machine and have time free, its not bad to make one, just time consuming

The method I'd used might not be the most efficient at times; but it seems to have generally been a good one. The basic idea is that that you want evenly weighted pockets, all about 4 inches x 4 inches (that's been found to be the right size), that add up to the proper weight. The proper weight will generally be 10%+1 lb of the body weight of the person who will be using the blanket.


  1. Determine size and weight

    I wanted a blanket that I could both completely wrap around me and would work for two people sleeping. I thus decided I wanted a blanket about 55-60 inches wide. As my boyfriend is 6'4", I decided to make a 80" long blanket. For a 43" wide blanket (twin size) its recommended to use 10% of body-weight + 1 pound. Because this is larger, I'll use an increased weight, probably about 23 pounds instead of 15 pounds.

  2. Gather equipment

    In order to make this blanket it required I borrowed things such as a sewing machine. Necessary equipment includes

    • Sewing machine
    • Measuring tape, pins and other sewing supplies
    • Kitchen scale for measuring weights
    • Butter knife
    • Funnel (can just be paper)
    • 2 cups for measuring plastic in and pouring into that first cup.
    • Tweezers or pliers
  3. Gather supplies

    In order to make my blanket, I needed to gather up supplies to make it out of, including trying to minimize prices. Optimal design seemed to include having four layers of fabric, to increase durability, the outer shell being removable for easier cleaning, and weighting with poly-pellets.

    • Poly Pellets for weight

      Online research suggests that poly pellets tend to work best if you don't mind the increased bulk in using plastic. This wasn't an issue for me and durability matters much more to me than how bulky it is anyways. You can get poly pellets at craft stores. If you care about price, don't. You can get it drastically cheaper on ebay. I ordered 30 pounds of plastic in two 15 pound increments for $2/lb shipped.

      Some people suggest using beans, be aware that any food product can get moldy, and has major issues being washed (as dried food products rehydrate when put in water). Either poly pellets or aquarium rocks that you are sure won't hold water if its washed tend to be your best bet for a filling material - poly pellets would be my suggestion, as the increased bulk is actually something that is nice to me, and is not nearly as large as people make it out to be.

    • Fabric

      You want durable and comfortable. If you don't get distracted like me, a duvet cover for it is a good idea, and allows you to only worry about durable for what you are building the pellets into. If you don't want to, or expect to, manage that, then plan on that. I used sheets for my fabric. The convenience of sheets is very high.

  4. Measure fabric

    While nominally I had 60" wide fabric, one queen sheet, and two full sheets, truthfully, the 60" fabric was actually 69" wide. This was far more over its nonimal size than I expected, and its relevant to know that now.

  5. Wash fabric

    If you prewash fabric then it'll shrink before you make the blanket rather than shrink unevenly after.

  6. Cut and hem fabric

    These are large peices of fabric. In order to cut them straight I used the method described here. I found that using a small pair of pilars worked drastically better than tweezers - it was easier to pull straight, and thus I was able to pull out longer strands. Ripping the fabric also works.

  7. Sew two peices of fabric on 3 edges, leaving one open for filling.

    Be careful while doing this that your fabric lines up. In my case, it one of the sides wasn't actually straight - I left that side open so I could patch it at the end.

  8. Flip the fabric inside out into a giant pillow-case like thing
  9. Measure and mark every 4 inches down the sewn bottom
  10. Sew columns

    For each column, first measure out and mark a few point on the column to help you keep it straight, then sew using the sewing machine. Because I was filling mine from the side, I had 20 of these.

  11. Calculate wight per pocket.

    4"x4" pockets are recommended. Each one of these should have equal weight. Calculate the number of pockets your blanket will have (mine will have 340 pockets), and divide the weight you want by the number of pockets. I'm ending up making about a 25 lb blanket because it is so large, and will put 34 grams of plastic in each pocket.

  12. Measure plastic and put it in each row.

    Measure equal weights of plastic and put it in the bottom of each row. Even though you can do it without a funnel, use the funnel, it both increases the speed to mess ratio, and is a useful marker of how far along the row you've gotten.

  13. Pin the pockets shut

    Measure 4 inches for the height of the pocket, push all the plastic down (with the butter knife), and pin it shut.

  14. Sew along making those pockets

    This is a very slow process. This is also where a butter knife comes in handy. In order to not have the plastic pellets get caught and stop the sewing machine, you need to kepe them out of the way. The best way I found was to go pocket by pocket and use the flat side of a butter knife to push them down into the very bottom for each pocket. When you inevitably get a pellet in the foot of the sewing machine, pick it out with something small - likely the tweezers or piliers you used earlier.

    For the first two or three rows its easier to pass the weighted section through the sewing machine. By the time you're half done its far easier for the weighted section to be supported next to the sewing machine.

  15. Repeat steps 12 through 14 for each row.

    If you want to fill the last row you can. Do be aware though, that its far more likely than the other rows to cause a broken needle if you didn't give sufficient room for the seam. I started filling the last row, then broke the needle, and gave up on it.

(btw, for just linking to the instructions and not scrolling down, if you're saving a link or such, click here)


  1. Do you find the noise of the poly pellets against each other to be distracting or otherwise problematic when trying to sleep?

  2. They're about the level of noise of slightly crisp sheets. I don't find them distracting. I personally actually like the feel of them beyond the weight, but that's not very much there either.