Last winter was difficult. It was my first with a baby, my first in a new house…my first living on my own as a grown up. It was all good stuff, but it was hard to know what to do sometimes.
One of the questions I had, that I think a lot of new parents have, is what to put on my sweet little baby when it’s cold. We wear short, sporty jackets or long coats to stave off the cold. Naturally, we may want to bundle up these fragile, tiny humans in much the same way we bundle ourselves up. According to car seat safety regulations though, no puffy coats or articles of clothing that will add bulk to the child – basically, if you’d need to loosen the car seat harness to fit the extra clothing in, it’s too much. That extra slack in the harness can lead to it being less effective in case of an accident, and of course that’s the last thing we want.
So what do you do? Layer them up? Put on a jacket to walk from the house to the car, take it off when you get to the car, the put it on again when you get where you’re going? Use a blanket that keeps slipping off? It’s confusing. This summer, with my little girl already one year old, I was introduced to the concept of a car seat cape. You dress the child in something light, like a long sleeved sweatshirt, then layer this warm fleece cape over the top. Put her in the car with the back of the cape flipped up, and buckle the harness underneath. Baby gets a wearable blanket to keep her cozy in the car with no extra bulk under the straps, and the poor thing doesn’t need to be half undressed to get in the car.
If you’re into baby wearing and your little one spend time in a carrier, these can easily be put on over the carrier for an extra layer of warmth without too much bundling inside the carrier. And hang on, baby wearing mamas, you can size this up you too, and wear it over you and baby for extra cuddle front carries! Read through the tutorial, then see notes at the end.
Sewing skills: You only need basic sewing skills for this project. Fleece is a somewhat forgiving fabric, and there’s really nothing that difficult here.
Time: I’m not sure how long this took because I was interrupted by Little Miss 30,000 times. I wouldn’t guess more than maybe 2 hours total though.
Cost: It depends on how big you’re making your cape and what price you can find on fleece. Watch for Joann Fabrics coupons, and compare priced between online fabric retailers. I got my fleece on sale for $4.99 from the Hancock Fabrics website. For a 12-24 month size, this cost me $10 in fabric, and I had the thread and snaps.
Car seat cape tutorial
- Fleece in two colors/patterns (1 yard of each for 12-24 or infant size, 1.5 of each for childrens size, 2 of each for adult size)
- Thread in coordinating color
- Scissors, pins, measuring tape
- Sharpies or fabric marking pencil or markers
- Closure (buttons, snaps, hooks)
Before you begin: Figure out how much fabric you need. Measure from the middle of your child’s chest to the wrist, then add at least 1″ for seams, and a couple of extra inches if you’d like it a little longer. I’ve found that infant through maybe 2T size can be gotten out of a yard of each fabric. Kids sizes need 1.5 yards of each, and adult sizes 2 yards of each. For this tutorial, I did 17″, which leaves the completed cape falling a bit past my daughter’s hands, which is nice because it’ll last until next winter too. I’d consider this my 12-24 month pattern.
Get the concept: The base of this cape is a circle. A full circle. Keep this in mind as you lay things out and measure, it may help you.
For this tutorial, I’m working with a 17″ circle for a 12-24 month size, so we have 1 yard of each fabric.
Step 1: Choose one fleece color to start with. It is already folded in half; fold it in half the other way. Choose a side and measure 17″ – mark with your Sharpie or fabric pencil, and pin loosely at about 15″ just to hold your fabric in place. Do the same at the other folded side, and then go around with your measuring tape end staying in the same place, marking and sewing so you get a perfect circle.
Step 2: Cut around the perfect circle you marked, through all 4 layers. You now have a circle cut out, folded into quarters. At this size, you’ll have plenty of space for the hood. Go into that extra fabric and unfold it so it’s 2 layers rather than 4. Cut out your hood based on an existing hood (make sure to add at least 1″ all around for seam allowances) or based on my measurements in the photo (8″ across the base, 8.5″ across the widest point, 11″ tall). Go ahead and cut that out. Remember, only 2 pieces, not 4!
Step 3: Measure the bottom of your hood. For this tutorial, we’ll go with 8″ across, for a total of 16″ (because that 8″ is each half). 16″ will be the circumference of our neck hole, and we need to calculate the radius. I can’t do math. I Google “formula for radius of a circle” and use the tool that pops up. Magic Google tells me the radius will be 2.55″. Measure just like in step 1, but at about 2.5″. If in doubt, go ever so slightly less rather than more, because the fleece cut in a circle will stretch a tad. Now cut – look at the photo above to see what it should look like cut out.
Step 4: Your cape body is still pinned, right? It’s a perfect circle, right? We need to open up the front. Very carefully take your scissors and snip straight down one of the folded pieces. You’re only cutting one layer.
Step 5: Repeat steps 1-5 on your other color fleece.
Step 6: Take your 4 hood pieces and match up your two lining and two outer pieces, then pin and stitch down the curved side that will be the top and down the back (you’re doing the lining, then the outer so you’ll finish with two hood pieces). Then unpin, and around the curved part, snip right up to the stitching (but don’t cut your stitching itself) every inch or two as seen in the picture above, just to release some tension in the fabric.
Step 7: Choose a color to start. Unpin and unfold the cape body once, so it’s still cut in half. Pin your hood to your neckline right sides together (so the seam, what will be the inside of the hood, is facing up). Start with the hood seam and the center back point of the cape body. Pin outwards, making sure your front pieces line up. Play with it a little if you need to, the curved neckline will stretch slightly more than the hood, so may appear to be longer even if it isn’t really. Do the same with your second color and stitch both.
Step 8: Now you have two pieces, your outer and your lining, hoods attached on each. Place them right sides together, and again starting at the center of your hood, start pinning. Use the seams on the hoods and guides to line them up, then continue down the front and around the sides. It may be helpful to lay it out in all it’s circular glory (see below) so you can smooth it out and pin everything in place nice and flat. If your fabric retained it’s center fold crease, line those up. Fleece has a little give, so feel free to tug it into place a little. If you cut both pieces pretty close, it will fit together nicely, you may just need to tease the fabric into place.
This is important. Somewhere (I like to do along one of the straight front parts) you need to leave 5-6 inches open when you sew. Either mark it by not pinning it, or just remember not to stitch all the way. Now stitch aaaaall the way around (except for that gap). After you’re done, unpin and snip the corners off by the front like in the photo below – don’t cut your stitching!
Step 9: All your pins are out, so reach into that hole you left open, grab and pull to turn your cape inside out. Turn it all the way, then reach in and stick your finger in the front corners so they get nice and pointy. You’re nearly there. Flatten out your cape now, and pin around the edges, all the way around. When you get to the opening, just make sure the cut edges are folded in and pin over it. Top stitch around the entire thing (which will seal the gap), remove your pins, add a closure and you’re good to go. You can use a button and buttonhole/loop, a cute clasp, snaps. I used KAM snaps which are plastic, and make the whole thing fully reversible because there is no right/wrong side.
That’s it! You did it!
Sizing up: To size it up, take the measurement as described above and calculate from there. For larger hoods, pattern off an existing hood on something like a sweatshirt.
Fleece is usually 58-60″ wide, so the largest beginning measurement you can usually do is maybe 27-28″ which is for a taller/larger person. At that measurement, you should still be able to get the cape and the hood out of 2 yards.
Look at the image with the houndstooth pattern. I drew colored lines to help you see where everything is, and yes they’re messy (I edited this one handed while holding Little Miss with the other. Oh well.) This is 2 yards of fabric, so 72″. I made my circle (blue line) based on the measurement 28″. 28 x 2 = 56, so I have 16″ of extra. From the fold at the right to the green line is doubled, so 4 layers. After I cut my cape body, I flipped up the top piece and I had a nice solid area underneath where I was able to cut my hood (red outline) with plenty of extra space. This isn’t hard, it just takes some measuring!
Thanks for reading! This is my first tutorial that is this complex. Does everything make sense? Is there anything unclear that you think should be revised?
Did you try to make your own car seat cape? How did it come?
Updated 12/16/18 – edited the tutorial for clarity, and I’ve finally remembered to add an action shot! Baby Z is 14 months, wearing a long sleeve onesies and single-layer fleece vest under there (yes, he’s wearing two hoods). He’s buckled in under the cape and I’ve spread it behind him over his car seat. His little hands can come out in the front so he can play.