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Let’s Make a Mei Tai (or Onbu)!! Part II: Putting It All Together

Welcome to Part II of my mei tai/onbu tutorial!!  Now that you’ve gotten all your pieces assembled from Part I (which you should read first if you haven’t already)…time to sew!!   I’m going to describe the order in which I put things together.  Remember, there are some different ways to go about doing this; this is what I’ve found works for me.  For those of you who are experienced sewers, some of my detail may seem…well…obvious!  But I’m writing this with a novice in mind 🙂  Many of the pictures in this tutorial come from my recent onbu project – but making a mei tai involves most of the same steps (and I’ll fill you in where it differs).  So let’s sew!

All geared up and ready to sew!! Making a mei tai is great practice at sewing straight lines 😉

DISCLAIMER:  I am not an expert seamstress so I can’t offer tips on the beautiful finishing techniques you’ll see the pros do.  But if you are, you’ll probably figure that part out on your own.  I can show you how I assemble a carrier safely.  As I noted in my DIY guide, my knowledge of carrier construction comes from the other great tutorials I’ve studied (primarily on The Babywearer) and from studying the construction of those I own.  My knowledge of the finer aspects of sewing is a work in progress 😉  This tutorial is intended for personal use only.  And most importantly, YOU are ultimately responsible for the safe construction of and use of your carrier!

Prep Work:  I know; I thought we were all done with prep work too!  But there’s one step that you may need to add in depending on the materials you’ve chosen to use.  Serging the edges of each piece (or zig-zag stitching if you are like me and don’t have a serger) will protect your seams from fraying with washing and use.  This is particularly important if you are using a wrap or wrap like material like a tablecloth or linen as these ravel more easily.

Other Materials:  There are a few other things you may need to put everything together:

  • Thread:  You’ll want to use a good quality thread to protect against breakage (plus it’s just easier to sew with).  I use Gutermann.
  • Fleece or other padding:  I’ve been using polar fleece for the padding on both my straps and waist (normally whatever happens to be in the remnants bin at JoAnn’s!).  If you prefer a more firm/structured waist you might use some sort or something like yoga mat material (note that if you use something like this you won’t be able to sew through it but will make a sort of casing around it instead).  I like soft and floppy so I use a few layers of fleece.

Hood:

  • I tend to make my hood first if I’m going to make one so that it feels like I accomplished something.  There are a number of ways to attach the hood – you can sandwich it between the body layers, attach it with buttons or snaps, or sew it on to a body panel like I did here.  You can also do other styles of hood (hoodie, adjustable, etc).  I’m going for the simple flat hood because it’s easiest and I happen to like it best both looks wise and function wise.
  • You can use a number of things for the ties that you use to pull up the hood and fasten it to your shoulder straps when in use.  I made “bias tape” ties – take a narrow piece of your fabric (your tie will end up about 1/4 the width of this strip) and fold it in half lengthwise; press.  Unfold and fold the edges back to meet in the middle; press.  Now refold in half.   You should have a piece folded over with the raw edges folded in to the middle.  Pin along the edge and sew it  up about 1/8″ from the edge; I normally sew around the whole thing to make it look even.  The ends I just tuck in so the raw edges are hidden before I sew over it.  You can also use ribbon or cording or webbing even for the ties.
On the left is the strip I cut to make my ties; on the right is the tie after I’ve folded it and ironed it.
  • Some people like to sew little loops on their shoulder straps or snaps to attach the hood ties to.  I generally just tuck my hood ties under my shoulder straps and that works for me.
  • If you want to do anything decorative on your hood, now is the time!  Lots of people like to add an appliqué or something on their hood; it’s an easy place to experiment since if you mess up now, it’s a pretty easy thing to make a new hood.
  • Once you’ve got your straps and your hood pieces, time to sew them up.  Lay your hood pieces right sides together.  Take your ties and put them in between these layers (if you’ve made a decorative hood, make sure you are attaching your ties to the bottom of the hood).   Pin around the edges.  Make sure that you place your ties evenly from each side and that you leave room for the seam allowance on the side (in other words, don’t pin them too close to the side edges of the hood).  Once you’ve got everything pinned together, you should have just a little bit of the hood ties sticking out (so that when you turn the whole thing inside out, the ties end up on the outside).
My hood pinned up and ready to sew. Note that the part that’s at the top of the picture is actually the “bottom” of the hood – as in the part where the ties come out. If you are sewing all the way around your hood, make sure you tuck the ties (that are sticking out of the bottom of the picture here) up in so they don’t get caught in your seam! I’m leaving that edge open though for turning as it will get closed when I attach my hood. Notice that the ties have just a bit sticking out so that they are firmly anchored.
  • Sew around the edges, make sure you leave an opening to turn your hood right side out.  If you are going to attach it like I’ve attached mine, you can actually leave the top of the hood (the end opposite the ties) open completely as we are going to sew it under).  I backstitch over the ties to make sure they are well anchored.
  • Now turn your hood right side out and press.  I use a chopstick to turn the corners out.  I like to topstitch everything on my MT because I think it lays nicer that way (and will stay nicer once washed).  So topstitch around the edges of the hood; I backstitch again over the ties.
  • To attach the hood to a body panel…figure out where you want to place your hood – don’t forget to account for your seam allowances (so don’t go too close to the top) and make sure you are attaching it to the right side of your front panel (the hood hangs down from the outside of the MT).  If you have stripes or plaid or a pattern, you may want to line that up.  I didn’t have enough fabric with my onbu here to do that – oh well!
  • Pin the top edge of the hood (the part opposite the ties) to your body panel.  You will do this upside down – that is the hood will be up (ties at the top) with the back side of the hood facing the right side of the body panel.  Sew the hood to the body panel; I think I just used the edge of my presser foot as a guide on where to put my stitches.
The hood pinned to the front body panel. Note that the hood is “up” with the ties pointing up. I didn’t have enough fabric left to line up my plaid but I did use one of the lines as a guideline to sew the hood on straight.
  • Now we are going to fold the hood down (so the ties are hanging down towards the bottom of the body panel).  Press it and pin.  You will now sew across the top of the hood just low enough that you catch the raw top edge of the hood under the seam (so that it is hidden).   I backstitched a few times over the edge of the hood for extra stability.  I also added another row of stitching pretty close to the top edge so that it would lay flat there – and look nicer.  Notice in this picture that my stitching is not always super straight – so don’t worry if yours is a bit off too 😉
The finished hood. Notice there are two rows of stitching across the top – the bottom row comes just under where I initially sewed the hood on so it hides the original top edge of the hood (which was raw).
  • Tada!  Hood is attached!

Shoulder Straps:  There are lots of different ways you can do your straps – wrap straps, padded straps, padded to wrap straps…and plenty of variations of each.

  • The simplest way to do a shoulder strap is to take the piece we cut out and pin it right sides together (remember we cut it twice the width of our finished strap plus seam allowances).  I also usually cut a taper in the end but you don’t have to do that.  Then sew up the entire length of the strap as well as the tapered end; I use a 5/8″ seam allowance.  The other end you will leave open so you can turn the strap; it gets buried in the body anyway.
I’ve tapered the end of my shoulder straps and I’m pinning them up to sew. Cutting your straps double the width you want them plus seam allowances saves you from having to sew up both sides.

 

  • Turn your strap right side out.  I found my yard stick is a good helper for this task.  Press your strap flat with the seam on one side.
  • To pad your straps, cut a piece of fleece to the width of your strap and long enough to go comfortably over your shoulder and under your armpit.  You don’t want the padding too long or it will make it harder to get the straps to lay right when you tie.  Most people like more than one layer of padding; I typically do 3 layers so I cut my fleece piece 3 times the width I need it to be.  If I’m aiming for a 4.5″ inch strap, I’ll cut a piece of fleece that is 13 inches wide by about 15 inches long; don’t forget that the more fleece layers you add, the deeper your strap becomes and the narrower it becomes (since some of the fabric gets taken up in the depth vs. the width).  I trifold my fleece and put a couple of tack stitches in it to hold it folded.
  • Insert your fleece into the strap (again the yard stick is helpful for this!).  You’ll want the fleece to start about 5-6 inches from the raw edge of the strap (since you’ll want several inches of the strap buried in the body and you’ll need to allow for the seam allowance on the body; I also like a bit of a gap between the body and the start of the padding in my shoulder strap).  I usually do both straps at the same time and lay them on top of each other to make sure they are the same.
  • Once you have your straps nice and even and the fleece is laying flat, you are ready to secure it.  Starting at the raw edge of one strap (the part that will go in the body), I start stitching down one side of the strap.  I use the edge of the needle plate as my guide for this part; depending on the width of your straps and the set up of your machine, this may or may not work well for you.
  • I top stitch my straps.  As with the hood, I think it makes them look nicer and it will keep them from crumpling when you wash.  So, when I get to the end of the padded portion of the strap, I curve my stitching over until I’m using the edge of my presser foot as my guide and continue all the way around the strap.  Once I near the padding on the other side, I start to curve in again so that I’m back to using the needle plate edge as my guide.  I usually eyeball this curve but you could get fancy and break out a ruler so it’s perfectly even on both sides.
  • Tada!  You have straps
Topstitching the straps….lots of straight lines!  Also note how dark the picture is…I will probably go blind sewing in a too dark room after the kids are asleep.
  • Variation 1 – Wrap Style Straps:  Usually for wrap style straps, you’d make your straps wide – say half the width of the wrap or around 14 inches – and if they are in fact from a wrap, they’d just be one layer of wrap.  Then they will attach at the body, usually pleated or folded in some fashion.
  • Variation 2 – “Hybrid Straps”:  Hybrid straps start out as padded straps and then fan out to wrap style straps – there are a number of ways to do this.  For my onbu, I did a version of hybrid straps.  Basically I cut my straps as though they were going to be wrap straps (although because my tablecloth was relatively thin, I decided to make them a double layer).  I put a thin padded layer (two layers of fleece) in the middle third of the top part of the strap.  I sewed that down (just a box around it to secure the padding).  Then I folded the non-padded portion over to meet at the top of the strap and sewed it down, but only right near the top of the padding.  So when the whole thing was finished, the padded portion sat on my shoulders with the extra width folded on top of that and then the straps fanned out to wide and unpadded once past my shoulders.  The pictures of this probably make more sense!
One version of padded to wrap straps: On the left, you can see where I’ve sewn in a rectangle of fleece in the middle of the strap. On the right, you can see how I’ve folded it over at the top to stitch.

 

Waist Strap:  As with the shoulders, there are numerous ways to do this.  I’m going to share the method I generally use with my mei tais and then tell you how I attached the rings for the onbu.

  • Simple one piece waist band:  The very easiest waist in my opinion is to use a continuous piece of fabric (I just make mine the same length as my shoulder straps).  This waist will be attached to the body AFTER you turn and top-stitch the body (see below).  It can be worn apron or non-apron (although I’d only wear non-apron if you use padding).
    • Complete the body as described below, leaving the bottom edge un-finished so that you can turn it; this raw edge is going to be hidden in the waist strap.
    • Pin your waist, right sides together.  In the center of the pinned edge, mark the width of your body.  You will NOT sew this part.  If you’d like a taper at the end of the waist straps, cut that before you pin.
    • Sew up the strap, leaving the opening in the middle that is slightly wider than the body of your carrier.  Turn and press.
    • Take the body of your mei tai and stick it into the hole you left in the waist strap.  Your body needs to be buried in their several inches (I normally make mine go all the way to the bottom).  Don’t forget to account for this in cutting the height of your body!
    • Pin the raw edges of the hole under and press.
    • At this point, I usually top stitch around the entire waist strap including across the hole we just pinned.  This will close the hole.  Again I use the edge of my presser foot as my guide, except across the top of the waist that’s on the body where you need to close the hole.
    • Now you will want to run a few more lines of stitching across the waist band to further secure the body to the waist.  I typically add two more across the middle.  Alternatively, you could x-box the waist on either side of the body.
    • If you want padding in your waist band…sandwich the body in layers of fleece before inserting in the waist band.  You’ll want to cut the fleece slightly shorter than your finished waist band will be tall and you’ll want to account for the depth of the padding in thinking about how tall to cut your waist band.  The extra stitching you do to secure the waist band will also secure the fleece in place.
Example of a one piece waist band; this one is unpadded. For this one I actually added small x-boxes on either side to anchor the body in the waist band.

 

  • Two piece waist:  A two piece waist will be attached to the body BEFORE you turn and top-stitch the body.  You can do a two piece waist as straight straps or as angled ones (which sort of have the same effect as putting seat darts in terms of making kiddo sit deeper in the carrier).  If you want a padded waist, I’d stick with the method above.  If you do angled straps, you’ll be wearing apron; I’d also suggest wearing any non-padded waist apron-style.
    • Decide how long you want your straps to be on either side.  Cut those pieces (so if you want a 25 inch strap on each side that is 4 inches wide, cut a piece that is 25 inches by 8+seam allowance for each side).  Fold each piece over, right sides together and pin; if you want a taper on the end of the waist strap, cut that as you pin.  Sew all the way around leaving the end that will be in the body open to turn.
    • Turn and press with the seam on one side.   Top stitch all the way around except for the open end.
    • Attach your straps as described below.
  • Onbu waist:  An onbu, of course, doesn’t have a waist band but rather rings on either side of the body.  You can use either of the above waist methods to attach the rings.  You will be using small size slingrings.  You will also want to make the waist band wider than normal as it works better to have a bit more material holding the ring.
    • With the continuos waist method, proceed as above except that you will only cut the waist band long enough to cover the width of the body and to go through the ring and back to the body to secure.  You want the rings to be fairly close to the body.  Once you attach the waist, take the extra length, put on the ring, and bring the end back to the body.  Secure with a triple-stitched x-box.
    • With the two piece waist method (this is what I used for my onbu and what I described cutting out in part I), you will have two short straps for each side.  Slide the ring to the center of the strap and secure both ends to the body of your onbu with bartacks or x-boxes.  This will be done before you turn and top-stitch the body.

Body:  Again there are some variations here depending on what materials you are using and how many layers you will have.  Refer back to Part I of this tutorial if you need help figuring out how many layers to use.

  • Internal “anchor” layer method:  Use this method if you are making a mei tai/onbu that has an internal bottom weight layer (such as canvas) and one or two decorative outer layers (which can be most anything really).   For this method, the straps are reinforced to the inner layer only so any bartacks or x-boxes are hidden.
    • Decide on your shoulder strap placement.  I typically use a mei tai I love to guide my placement.  The angle you set the straps matters as does the distance they are apart.  If you don’t have a mei tai you love to go by, you may want to baste the straps in place and then have someone hold your kid in the mei tai so you can see if the straps seem to be in a good place (in other words, DO NOT put your child in a mei tai with the straps only basted on!).
    • Don’t forget to account for your seam allowances when setting your straps.  Once this is all sewn together, you’ll be turning it.  If you sew too closely to the edge, you won’t be able to turn the raw edges under.  Straps should also be several inches into the body; mine are usually 5-6 inches in.
    • Use bartacks or triple-stitched x-boxes to attach the straps.  There’s been discussion over the best method; most seem to think that x-boxes work best for fabrics like canvas and bartacks for wraps.
    • If you are doing a continuous piece waist, you are ready to put the body together; if you are doing a two piece waist, attach the waist straps in the same way as you did the shoulder straps.
    • Example of angled waist straps attached with bartacks.
    • Now layer and pin the body.
      • If you are doing a two piece body, simply pin the two pieces right sides together (the right side of your internal layer is the one that doesn’t have the straps on top of it – you want that part hidden).  In a two layer body, your reinforcement stitching will be visible on the reverse of the carrier.  Sew around the carrier, skipping over where the straps are sticking out so that you are able to turn it.
      • If you are doing a three piece body, layer like this:  the two outer layers right sides together (if you have a preference for one to be the “front” put that one on top); now put your inner layer on top with the side with the straps on it facing up.  There’s a great picture tutorial of this here.  Sew around the carrier, skipping over where the straps are sticking out so that you are able to turn it.
      • If you are doing a continuous waist, you don’t have to sew up the bottom edge of the carrier at this point, but it’s ok if you forget and do!
    • Now turn your body right side out.  The straps will pull through the holes you left and come out in the right spot.  Make sure everything gets turned out all the way and press.
    • Pin the raw edges under where you left holes for the straps to turn; don’t forget you have raw edges on either side of the strap.  Top stitch around the entire carrier (I usually back stitch over my straps just for one extra layer of protection).
    • If you are doing a continuous waist, attach it now.  If you did a two piece waist, you are finished!
    • Tada!!
Example of a padded shoulder strap. Note the gap between where the padding starts and the body. Also note that my stitching isn’t perfect 😉

 

  • Options if you aren’t using an anchor layer:  
    • It’s also totally fine to do your x-boxes through all two or three layers of your mei tai making them visible on both sides.  For this, you’d baste your straps in place, assemble and stitch your body as above, turn and topstitch, and then add the reinforcing x-boxes for your straps.
    • If you are doing an all wrap body and want to hide the reinforcing, you can use bartacks to secure the straps to the body.  This method is described here.
I used three layers of tablecloth for this onbu (since it was a bit thinner than I felt was sturdy for two layers). The shoulder straps are barracked to all three layers.

That brings us to the end of our tutorial!

If anything is unclear about my directions, please let me know so I can fix it!  I’d also welcome your links for great mei tai/onbu making tutorials to link for others.  I highly recommend checking out multiple tutorials and putting together elements that you think will work best for you.

If you need help wearing your mei tai, you might want to read my mei tai 101 post.  Also, don’t forget to conduct regular safety checks on all of your baby carriers; simply pull really hard on all the straps while holding the body.  As with any sewn product, mei tais will wear out eventually, especially if they are washed frequently.  But if you’ve used proper materials, you’ve got years of use ahead of you!

Now enjoy your lovely creation!!

Eleanor enjoying a snuggle in our mama-made mei tai!
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