how to sew a mei-tai baby carrier

October 6, 2010

On the jude's first birthday I debuted my brand-new mei-tai– except I didn't run out and get it at a store or buy it on amazon– I made it myself. Some may call me crafty, I'd just call myself cheap. There are some pretty significant savings in making one yourself and we've been field testing my pattern all over town with no trouble. Project mei-tai is officially a GO!

A word of warning:  This is an advanced sewing project. Sewing is as easy as following directions but be aware that this one is kind of intense. Be patient, take your time, amen.

What you'll need:
•  2 yards of canvas, duck, denim, or twill fabric
This thick sturdy fabric will be for the straps and the mei-tai's base. It's important to choose something in one of these fabric families because of their durability and resistance to tearing. For mine I used a twill.
•  1/2 yard of "pretty" fabric
This will be your display side, so go for something nice to look at that matches/contrasts your sturdy fabric.
•  1 spool of matching thread
I opted to buy the more expensive Gutterman thread. Pricier, but also extremely strong.
•  1 small package of 1/2 inch batting
Used for padding in the straps and headrest. Whatever you can find will work.

You'll also need:
an iron
a sewing machine (I do not suggest sewing this by hand)
a yard stick
sewing pins
a pencil / chalk
4 rubberbands or hair ties

Alright, are we ready? Let's get down to business.

the straps
Typically you will want your straps to be about 60" long. However, we can make this even simpler:  did you buy 2 yards of your heavy/twill fabric? Good. That is the length that I used, no extra cutting required.

Note: If you are larger you may wish to make your mei-tai straps longer, especially the waist straps. I am a fairly 'average-sized' as is my husband and I feel as though we have plenty of strap to spare. That's up to you, you know yourself better than I do. You can measure out the lengths with string and see how they'll work for you.

We will be creating:
2 long shoulder straps, 60" each
2 short waist straps, 30" each

The width of the straps directly relates to how comfortable they will be. I chose to use a 3" strap and I've been very happy with it. However if you'd like a more comfortable strap go ahead and make yours 4" or even 5" wide. A wider strap will help distribute the weight evenly across your upper body which is great for long term wear.

the strap steps:
1. Wash and iron the fabric. It is tedious but VERY IMPORTANT that the fabric be flat while you're working with it. Iron, iron, iron until your arm is going to fall off.

2. Cut the fabric into three long strips. If you're doing 3" straps you will be making three 7" x 60" strips. The strap is 7' wide because we are going to fold it in half, plus some wiggle room for you to sew on. (If you're going with the wider straps double the width + a half an inch for sewing.)

**AWESOME TIP: Canvas and twill tear in a perfectly straight line. Instead of trying to cut a 60" straight line, mark off a 7" section and tear all the way down. Super fast and straight! (Test in a corner first.)**

mei-tai baby carrier

3. Choose one of your three strips and cut that one in half. Those two shorter sections will be for the mei-tai's waist straps. (See illustration.)

4. Take one of your straps and fold it perfectly in half, the long way.

5. Pin the two sides together, holding it in place.

6. Choose one end and carefully cut the end at an angle. This gives the end of the strap a more professional look and makes it easier to tie.

**I hate to interrupt, but in the year+ since this tutorial has been up someone has thought of an even easier way to do the straps/padding. If you'd like to check out this alternative option you should pause here and scroll to the bottom of the comments. Basically she folded the strap in half and then used the iron to fold the 1/2 inch edges inside. Then she could just lay the padding in without all the stuffing and wiggling torture and sew the damn thing closed in one fell swoop. It's real genius. If you use that shortcut it takes the place of strap steps 7-16.)**

how to sew a mei-tai

7. Starting at your freshly cut angle, sew along the open edge of the folded strap.

sew a mei-tai

8. Sew the entire length of the strap. You have now created a very long pointy tube.

9. Trim off the excess fabric along the edge with your scissors.

10. Repeat steps 4-9 for each strap. You will have two long tubes for the shoulders, two shorter tubes for the waist.

11. Turn the tubes right-side out, as if you were turning a sock. However, since the straps are very long you will need the help of your handy-dandy yard stick to help turn the longer ones. It is very annoying to do, which is why you should all be utilizing that amazing short cut I mentioned.

12. Next it is time to insert the padding into the straps. For the shoulder straps you will need two 2" x 14" sections of batting. The waist strap padding is optional, but if you choose to add it you'll need two 2" x 10" pieces of batting. (If you're doing wider straps you will need wider batting, please use your brain.)

13. We will be inserting the batting into the strap with the yard stick. This is the trickiest part of this entire thing, and yes, it is very annoying. I'm sure there is another way to do it but this worked for me. (As I've mentioned three times now there IS a new and better way. Take it. Love it. Do it.)

The padding needs to be placed inside the tube 6" from the open end. Those 6" are where the strap attaches to the body of the mei-tai, so we don't want to put any padding there. Here, this will help explain:

make your own baby carrier

14. Once you have crammed the padding annoyingly into place PIN IT. Give it a feel. Does it feel cushy enough for you? You may want to double layer the batting for more puff.

15. Now that your padding is securely pinned we'll sew it in place so it will never move again. Starting at the open end of the strap, sew one line down the length of the strap, around the fancy angle, and back up the other side. This will help keep the strap "flat" and make it no longer a tube.

mei-tai instructions

16.  Pad and sew the around edges of all four of your straps.

HUZZAH! The mei-tai straps are complete!
You have four long flat canvas things with oddly-placed padding! 

–Go take a break. You're more than halfway there!–

the body
The body section is typically 18" wide by 24" tall. But! You can customize this, that's one of the benefits of making your own. For instance I know that I am somewhat narrower so I made the body of my carrier only 16" wide and 22" tall to give a better personal fit. Think about it for a few minutes. Make a mock-up out of paper-towels or old mail. Find the size that you think will suit you and your little one. Or just go with the standard and stop hemming and hawing about it already.

the body steps:
1. Cut a 19" x 25" rectangle out of your "fancy" cotton fabric.

2. Cut a matching 19" x 25" rectangle out of your heavy weight fabric.

3. Put the two pieces together like a mirror to be sure they match. While together, fold them in half, the long way, vertically, "hot dog," or however we want to term it if you get my drift.

4. Cut a gentle arc into one corner. This will give the top of your mei-tai a nice curved shape. You can make it really curved, or not very curved. I made mine not very curved because I'm wild like that.

mei-tai baby carrier

5. Take your pretty fabric and set it aside for a few minutes, we're going to work with the heavy fabric first.

6. Time to attach the straps to the mei-tai's body! Lay out your heavy body piece and all four straps.  We're going to position them onto the body. The angle that you attach them at is not that important, but it is very important that they match each other. Otherwise your baby will sit wonky to one side! So please don't just haphazardly slap them on there.

Measure six inches from the open end of the strap. This mark is where you want the strap to hit the edge of the body. The first six inches sit inside the body of the carrier. Here's a visual:

sewing a mei-tai instructions

7. Position the top strap on the right side first.  I used about a 45° angle. Pin the strap in place.

8. Next, position the bottom strap on the right side. I used a less severe angle, somewhere between being horizontal and 45°. Pin the strap in place.

9. Fold the carrier in half vertically (long way, hot dog, you know the drill).

10. Use your first straps as guides for the straps on the left side. By folding the carrier in half you can match them up to be at the exact same angle so you don't have to worry about lopsided babies. Pin in place.

11. Sew a secure X box at the base of each strap. This is the main load-bearing point for the weight of the mei-tai, so don't skimp on stitching, stitch like crazy. You want it to be very strong.

how to make a mei-tai

Alright, let's pause here for a second before we begin the next phase.
This section is where things can get a little confusing. First I'll explain what we're going to do and then we'll walk through each step one by one.

Lay out the body section that you just completed (the heavy section with the straps attached). Place it with the strap-side DOWN, so that the straps are laying against the table with the flat side of the fabric is looking up at you.

Now, take your pretty fabric and place it pretty-side DOWN on top of the heavy panel. When you look down you'll see the hideous back side of your pretty fabric, which is face-to-face with the plain side of the heavy fabric. You want your two "pretty" sides to be making out face to face, which is really how it should be. The strap side is on the bottom. Got it? It's a confusing but important love sandwich.

Now we're going to sew the two body panels together, but NOT on the strap sections. The illustrations will help show you what I mean. Our end goal is to attach the two panels together and then flip the entire thing inside out. BUT, you can't sew over the straps because then when you flip the straps would be trapped on the inside! Are you picking up what I'm throwing down? Just trust me.

Okay, let's walk through it step-by-step:

12. Lay out the heavy body section with the straps attached, facing the strap-side to the ground. You will be seeing the plain side, with your four X's looking up at you.

13. Fold up the straps into little balls and secure them with rubberbands. This will help keep the straps from flopping around and getting in your way while you work. You can also pin them.

mei tai

14. Lay your pretty fabric FACE DOWN on top of the heavy body panel. Match it up and pin in place.

15. Now before we continue, take your batting and lay it on top of the body. Using a pen or marker, trace the shape of your curved headrest, all the way to the edge. You can pad only the top of the mei-tai (what I did), or you can pad the entire thing. You really don't need to, but if you're feeling frisky, go for it. Totally customizable, baby.

16. Cut the batting in the shape you traced and pin it into position on top of the other layers.

mai-tei baby carrier

17. Sew up the side, being careful to start and stop 1/4" from the straps. Do not sew over the strap!! This stitching will also be securing the batting in place. (See illustration above)

18. Sew around the top curve, starting 1/4" from one strap and stopping 1/4" from the next.

19. Sew down the other side, again being careful not to go near the straps. Leave the bottom open.

20. Trim down any extra batting / edges from around the area you sewed. Do not cut any from the area around the straps or at the bottom. Cutting away this extra fabric will help the mei-tai turn inside out cleanly.

make your own baby carrier

21. Turn the mei-tai inside out through the bottom. Now you will have your two pretty sides on the outside with your straps and batting on the inside! Pull the straps through the holes you left open.

Look, it nearly looks like a completed mei-tai!
...but it's not.  Keep plugging away, you're almost there.

sew a mei-tai

22. Let's put on the finishing touches! At the bottom of the body (which is still open) take the pretty fabric into your hands. Fold it under a 1/2". Use the iron to press the fold in place.

23. Flip the carrier over and do the same with the heavy fabric. Now you have two folded-under edges along the bottom of the mei-tai. They should match each other, making the bottom look "finished."

24. There's still that pesky edge on the side of the bottom strap. Fold that under 1/2" also, so that they match as well and make a neat corner. The iron is really handy here, no joke.

25. Once you have your open bottom-parts carefully in place, pin them. The fancy fabric and the heavy fabric should match on each side and be folded under to create a finished edge.

mei tai

26. Sew along this edge, sealing the mei-tai closed and sealing the bottom strap holes. It will press the two folded edges together all tidy-like.

27. Move on to the top strap holes. Carefully fold under the open fabric a 1/2", matching on each side. Pin in place.

28. Sew the strap holes closed along the folded edge.

mei-tai pictures

Well hot damn.
You've DONE IT! You've sewed your own mei-tai!

Trim away any loose threads and get to carrying!

wearing mei-tai baby carrier

See also: Instructions on how to use your mei-tai, including a quick tying tutorial.
Help breastfeeding in a mei-tai! (Something I personally was never able to master)
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