Saturday, 18 January 2014

Car Seat Poncho Tutorial - much safer than a winter coat! (Guest Post from Jen)

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I've heard it a million times before.

Don't put your kids in their car seats while they're wearing their winter coats. 

But honestly, it's so hard not to.

I've done it far too many times.

I would pull the car seat straps as tightly as I could possibly get them against their puffy winter coats, hoping that it was enough--but always feeling uncomfortable about it. Always hoping that it was okay. Knowing that it probably wasn't.

But we live in Canada, and some days are so incredibly cold that I couldn't imagine any other option. My intentions were always good--I wanted my kids to be warm on those frigid days. But when it came to their safety, I had heard enough times that if we ever got in a car accident the impact would send them flying out of their seats, no matter how tightly they were strapped in.

So I decided to make a change, and I got my sister (the master sewer) to help me out.

Let me introduce the car seat poncho.

And although yes, it's not as easy as just throwing on their coats and strapping them in (only because when they go to daycare or anywhere else where they'll be outside for any period of time I'll be bringing their snowsuits or coats along with me now)--it's completely worth it to me. A few extra things to pack into the car and carry in the morning means that my kids are safe.

So before we head out the door on those cold days, I put the kids in a very light fleece hoodie then throw their (3 layers thick) ponchos over top before putting them in the car. I also put their hats, mitts and neck warmers on and I leave four warm baby blankets permanently in the car (2 for each of them) so I can tuck them in all cozy once they're all strapped in. I also start the van ahead of time to warm it up when possible.  

The car seat straps now sit snug, directly against their bodies, while their ponchos fall over top (and the back of the poncho flips over the back of the seat so that it doesn't get in the way of the straps).

My problem now though? I have kids falling asleep more regularly in the car since they're so nice and cozy! I'll take it though.

And some little boys are so darn cozy that they don't even wake up when you take them out of their car seats and put them into those mini shopping carts at Michaels. I can't even tell you how many people at the store asked me if Oliver and Carter were twins that day!

So...the person responsible for making these wonderfully warm ponchos? Mya and Carter's Aunt Jen.

For those of you who don't know her, let me introduce the master behind our car seat ponchos...and the reason why our kids are now a million times safer this winter--my sister, Jen:

I'll let her explain how she made them, in case you'd like to make one of your own.


I looked around on the web and found a few great tutorials for car seat ponchos, but none of them were really what I was looking for. I wanted something that was three layers thick and that was sewn, as opposed to tied around the edges. I didn't want something that was too complicated, as I'm not an amazing sewer. I found this tutorial which I used to help me make my hood. The rest I kind of made up on my own. My instructions will give you a guideline that you can follow to make your own poncho. It's not too hard (though the hood does seem a bit tricky, but I wanted my ponchos to be reversible). It takes me about 3 hours to make one.

So, let's get started. For this project you will need:

1 1/4 yard of fleece for the outside layer
1 1/4 yard of fleece for the inside layer
1 yard of fabric for the inner layer (this is optional, but recommended. Just makes sure that you pick a fabric that's wide )

thread that matches your fleece (two colours if you have two different coloured fabrics)
a sewing machine
straight pins (and lots of them!)
a Sharpie

I made two different sizes of ponchos for the kids, the ones that I made for Carter and Oliver are 30" x 47" while Mya's is a bit wider (she has a longer arm span) at 35" x 47". If you want to make your poncho bigger you will be able to make it a bit longer (I made one for a friend whose daughter is taller than Mya so I added 4 inches onto hers, but I wouldn't have had enough fabric to make one any bigger than that).

To get started you're going to want to measure your kid to make sure that the poncho will fit them. Take a measurement from their neck down to where you want the poncho to end. You will need to multiply this number by two to account for the front and the back of the poncho. Take another measurement from the tips of their right fingers to the tips of their left fingers. Add two inches to whatever number you end up with. Oliver's arm span is 30 inches. I wanted to make the length of the poncho about 24 inches on either side, so a total of about 48 inches long. So, the fabric I cut was 32 inches by 50 inches. I like to add a little extra to my measurements just to make sure that the ponchos are big enough, I wasn't too worried about my measurements being exact.

Now, before I cut I just wanted to make sure that the poncho was really going to fit, so I made myself a sample out of newspaper and put it on my kid. I rounded the edges (please pretend that the top edge is not rounded... blame it on lack of sleep!) of the newspaper to give the poncho a "softer" look (oh, so important in this fashion statement!) The newspaper only gave me a sense of length, not the width.

After I was certain that this was the right size, I took my two pieces of fleece and laid them on the table with their right sides facing. I laid the other piece of fabric underneath both pieces of fleece, laid the newspaper on top and began to cut. I cut my pieces out so that they were 32" by 50" for Oliver and Carters' ponchos. I think that I cut each of the pieces individually for Mya's poncho and then placed them all together once they were cut. You can do it however it works best for you.

I decided to add that extra piece of fabric to hopefully help cut the wind a bit. It's not really thick, but I figured that it adds a bit of additional warmth without the extra bulk of a third layer of fleece. If you don't want to add that extra piece of fabric, don't!

After I finished cutting the three pieces of fabric, I took my lovely newspaper template and rounded the four edges of my poncho.

After that I started sewing. I sewed all the way around my fabric using a 1/2 inch seam. I left a 8(ish) inch opening in the middle of my poncho at the bottom so that I could then turn my poncho inside out.

Once I finished sewing, I did just that - I turned that sucker inside out!

I then pin the edges of the poncho down so that I can top stitch around the edge of the poncho. As you're pinning the edges, make sure to pin the opening closed. Fold both layers inwards and pin. When you top stitch you'll close the opening.

I left a 1/4" seam when top stitching my poncho.

Next up, you've got to make a cut in your poncho for the hood. I hate cutting fabric because I know that you can't undo it!!  So, fold your poncho in half, and find the middle of it. I just measured and divided by 2. I then made a little mark with a Sharpie, and took my scissors and cut. (Can we please pretend that this is still Oliver's poncho, and not Mya's!? The rest of my pictures are from Mya's poncho, I don't think that I took great pictures of Oliver's hood.)

I cut a straight line that was 10 inches long for Oliver's poncho. The head hole is a bit small if you're trying to get a hat over it, so you can cut an 11 inch line if you'd like! 

Now it's time to make your hood. Grab one of you kiddo's sweatshirts that you love. I took one of Mya's sweatshirts from Old Navy and traced it onto newspaper. I added a 1/2 inch to each side so that I could account for the seams when sewing. Please make sure you find a sweatshirt with a hood that doesn't curve. I don't love Oliver's hood since the hood curves forward a bit. I changed Carter's and Mya's hoods by using a hood that is less curved at the top and back.

Next, take your pattern and cut two hoods in your inner and outer fabrics (in this case, 2 black, 2 purple/red).

Then you sew the hoods separately before sewing them together. Make sure when you sew them that you don't sew the bottom or the front of it closed. The part that is sewed in the picture below is from the top of the hood, down the back.

After you've sewn both hoods, take them and line up the seams from the top of the hoods, right sides facing. Pin and sew along the part that will eventually be where your child's face comes out of the hood.

Now turn your hood inside out, and tuck it into it's self and pin, then top stitch (again with a 1/4" seam) along the opening of the hood.

You can see in the photo that the bottom of the hood still has a raw edge. The next part is the tricky part. It's the part that I dislike the most. You can do this, it's just a bit finicky! 

You're going to find your Sharpie mark that identifies the middle point of your poncho and line that up with the back seam of your hood. You can see in the picture below that I have already put a ton of pins in my poncho, but I changed my system by the time I made my sixth poncho!

Put the bottom edge of the hood in between the two layers of fabric, folding the fabrics inward as you go. I carefully pinned along the top of the poncho and then got ready to sew. 

After you've pinned, you can top stitch again (with the 1/4" seam) around the hood. I find that I often have to go back after I'm finished and double check that the inner hood caught. Most times I've gone back and reversed the ponchos so the inside is facing out and sewed the hood again, catching bits of the poncho that I missed the first time around.

Now you're finished. That's it. you've made a beautiful, reversible poncho that you can throw on your kid when they're in their car seat! Congratulations!! Go brag to all your friends, and convince them to make one too :)

I'm thinking about putting an applique on Oliver's poncho to help us keep his poncho and Carter's easily identifiable. He has asked for a puppy so I'm working on that idea, just haven't gotten around to it yet. If it works out, and people are interested, I'll perhaps write a post about how to do that (once I figure it out!!)

Happy sewing!



  1. Super cool idea! Thanks for sharing such detailed instructions. :)

  2. Thanks for was just what I was looking for for my daughter this year! I just made it, and I only changed one thing in the process. I found it was easier for me to sew the opening of the neck part of the poncho on both the inner and outer layer first and then tuck and pin the hood into there and then sew the hood on. I can't wait for my daughter to be able to wear this. Thanks again! :)

    1. So glad that you made one! You'll love it.

  3. I made one of these, and it came out AWESOMELY. I get compliments everywhere we go! It was really easy to make too. We live in WI so it was a big deal here to not have to undress and redress her. Thanks for the detailed instructions and especially for the pics.

    1. That's great that it turned out so well for you--so glad! We just love ours too. :)

  4. I have now made two of them! Mine are a little crazily sewed but they work perfect! Thank you for the tutorial!!

    1. So glad that you were able to make them too! Aren't they the best??!

  5. I'm working on two of these right now... but am having a problem sewing the three pieces together. My fleece keeps bunching up and I end up with tons on one side.. it's like it's stretching out. Any helpful hints? I'd really love to get these made for my kids. Thanks!

    1. So glad you're giving them a try too! I'll call my sister right now and ask her to reply here for you as she is the sewer and would probably know best. I haven't got a clue! :) Good luck!

    2. ok, I just talked to my sister--she said pin and pin and pin it! Tons of pins to keep it in place and go VERY SLOWLY when sewing and hold the fabric tightly (but without pulling it back from the sewing machine). If you have a 'walking foot'for your machine you can use that (it's what you'd use for quilting). If you don't have that though--she said too that more recently she hasn't even been putting a piece of fabric in the middle since it is a bit of a pain she's found--so if it's driving you crazy, just only put two pieces together and it'll still be super warm. Our kids always wear a fleece hoodie under their ponchos too, just for added warmth. Let me know if you're still having trouble and we'll figure it out together!

  6. Hi Erica! Love love this! I am in the process of making one of these and would like to make it with I guess I would call it coller and add a 1/4 length zipper at the front. Any recommendations?


  7. thanks for posting this! ive been bundling up my 2 yr old daycare girl who of course is still in a big car seat. mom has been sending her in a coat but I really want to stop using that. this looks like a great tutorial! and it should fit her for a couple years. today I just wrapped her in a blanket and took her for the quick trip to pick up preschool kiddo at lunchgtime - id feel much better w this.

  8. Thank you for the tutorial! I have already made one for each of my 2 kids one and 2 family friends theirs. I already have requests from 2 other people for me to make them one as well. Super easy to make! I can do it all in an afternoon, the only part I don't like is attaching the hood. It takes twice as long to do the hood as the rest of the sewing, but it is worth it! I will also point out that I am. It a very good sewer, but this is easy enough to do. My oldest has been in hers 2 winters now and we are headed for our third

    1. So glad it was so helpful!! My sister said the hood is definitely a pain too, so she'll sometimes just forget about adding a hood completely (you'll just have to make sure the kiddos have a warm hat on!). Thanks for the note! :)

  9. Thanks for posting this, I've been looking for something that would work for my toddler in an Eastern Ontario winter. What kind of fabric did you use for the extra piece?

    1. Yes some winters can be soooo cold! You can use any kind of fabric you want for that part--the warmer the better of course. But my sister always just uses whatever fabric she has stashed around her house (usually a warm cotton), so pick whatever you prefer! Good luck and thanks for the note :)

  10. Greetings from the Canadian Prairies. I just completed a double reversible poncho using your great instructions. I am a seasoned sewer yet found attaching the hood to be very labor intensive. I was wondering if I sewed the two sides separately, including the hoods, then sewing them right sides together as the very last step. Have you or anyone else here tried that method? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  11. Do you have a pattern for that gorgeous rainbow ripple blanket??

    1. That pattern is called "Fan and feather".

  12. Hi jennifer, unfortunately I don't. :( It was a gift from a friend--such a beautiful blanket though I know!! Thanks for reading! Erica

  13. Hi jennifer, unfortunately I don't. :( It was a gift from a friend--such a beautiful blanket though I know!! Thanks for reading! Erica

  14. Hi jennifer, unfortunately I don't. :( It was a gift from a friend--such a beautiful blanket though I know!! Thanks for reading! Erica


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