Adventures in crafting a 2 person down quilt.
For the last two years Sherpa and I have been using a winter weight down sleeping bag opened in a quilt fashion as our nightly backpacking insulation. This allowed us to cut the weight of our kit as we were only carrying one sleeping bag for the two of us. It works reasonably well for three seasons and allowed us to “try” using a quilt to see if it worked for us. You might ask, well then why did you continue using it for 2 whole years? The simple answer; no one makes 2 person quilts rated to 30 degrees, weighing around 2lbs ( 907grams) for a price that we felt was worth upgrading. We already owned the sleeping bag & it worked so why bother to part with a large chunk of cash (upwards of $700 US).
Going in to our third year we were on the quest to drop a few more pounds from our packs, and we always hike together. This brought me back to the whole quilt thing; Was it time to upgrade? Could we buy something more suitable and ultralight weight? I did a lot of research in the cottage industries looking for the perfect purchased solution – I even found 2 quilts that would work for us. However, neither of them was in the price range I had budgeted. So what is backpacker to do?? Well that’s easy MAKE YOUR OWN!
This put me in to research over-drive! I read and re-read the blogs, websites and instructions on how to build a down quilt (all but one was for 1 person). Learned about the best materials, found 800-900 fill power down suppliers, and figured out ultimately what would be the best option for us making the most out of our Cash. What I settled on was a 2 person, foot boxed, down quilt rated to roughly 30 degrees. My target weight 2lbs. Could I do it? YES and below are the details of how!
Fabric: I researched a lot of fabrics; wanting the lightest weight, breathable, DWR coated down-proof fabric I could get my hands on. Ultimately I decided on a combination of Momentum 50 and Momentum 90T nylon from thru-hiker.com. While not cheap, they seemed to offer the best weight & function for the cost. Throw in some Nanoseeum netting for baffles and some polyester thread and we were off and running!
Down: This was the most expensive item in our materials and if I wanted the quilt to be comfortable to 30 degrees I was going to need a lot of it. The way down is rated is in “Fill Power” or how many cubic inches an ounce of down occupies or “fills” The higher the number the more space an ounce will occupy; so 1oz of 700 fill = 700in3, 1oz 800 = 800 in3 and so on. This also means you need less down to attain the same insulation properties with a higher fill power; i.e. your finished product will weigh less using a higher fill power down. However, the cost of down is directly tied to fill power so you pay for less weight! Ultimately I decided to splurge and get 900 fill power. My rationale is that we are out monthly, we take great care of our gear and this quilt would be used for years making the cost worth it to us!
After reading some instructions online about make a single person down quilt I felt that I had the basics. I knew I wanted an attached foot box, not a drawstring closed foot box, since this was for two of us and Sherpa has big feet!. I knew I wanted the over-all quilt to tuck in around Sherpa’s neck and wrap around both of us while sleeping on our backs. I also wanted to construct the quilt using the “baffled” method.
Essentially a top (orange) and bottom (black) piece of fabric are connected to each other with down proof netting, creating long tubes or “baffles” where the down is placed. So I set out to make a prototype that fit all of these needs. Sherpa is 6’1” and I am 5’5” So I approximated that we would want a minimum of 73” of total length. After playing with an old duvet cover we found that 80” wide would work.
With these two measurements as a guide, I set out to make the prototype. Adding 6” to all of my measurements I, cut out the rough shape, started pinning, figured out exactly what would work for us and sketched it out below. I also talked to my sewing expert and added a generous 2” to each measurement for seam clearance.
Final dimensions with seam allowance:
2.5” High (baffle walls)
Baffles placed roughly every 7” (not including the foot box)
Foot box: 12”x 29” with its own Baffle (the total outside measurement of the foot box should equal the width of the quilt, 82” SO 12”+29”+12”+29” = 82”)
I also designed in a triangular cut on each side of the over-all rectangular shape of the top and bottom pieces of fabric. I did this for 2 reasons:
- To use less fabric over-all and save on weight
- To ease the sewing of the foot box and allow for more space around our legs so that we could move freely without kicking the quilt or becoming tangled.
Lastly I calculated the down; I wanted 2.5” of loft based on the following temperature chart:
I knew from reading that I would follow this formula to determine how much down I would need: Length x Width x Height = Approximate Volume (cubic Inches). Divide the Approximate Volume by the fill power of down (i.e. 550, 650, 775, 800, 830) to determine how many ounces of down you will need.
PLUS down for the foot box:
Everywhere I read it says to increase your down by 10% to account for loss during construction. I didn’t do this I will go over why in the construction phase.
Total Down rounded up =19oz
Total Material list:
5 yds Momentum 50™ (3.5oz)
5 yds Momentum 90T™ (5.25oz)
3 yds Nanoseeum™ Netting (2.1 oz)
21oz 900 fill power down (sold in 3oz)
100% Polyester thread
6 rolls scotch tape
So now I had the dimensions, the materials and I was ready to put it all together. One problem – I don’t sew, haven’t’ worked with a sewing machine since I was 16 and had a friend’s mom help me make a dress for the 4-H Fair queen contest. What’s a backpacker to do??
I turned to my talented friends, I learned long ago that a myriad of skills abound in my social circle and bartering is alive and well with friends! Enter Laura, my quilt making, sewing extraordinaire! I talk (well chat truly) her ear off about a backpacking quilt. I pepper her with information, links, and materials. I send her my sketches, I promise to help with her basement renovation. Low and behold she is game to help me make my design a reality AND is willing to do this in 3 weeks. Laura makes the final tweaks on the design above, suggests seam techniques and seam allowances and we are ready to start work!
Some General Tips & Tricks:
- Because you will fill the fabric with down, you don’t want to puncture the fabric by using pins. So use tape instead. You will go through A LOT OF TAPE – be prepared!! We also used binder clips at points and that helped.
- Clear a large area to measure your fabric. Tile or hardwood type floors mean you can tape the fabric down and it won’t move.
- Cans of food make great fabric weights.
- To prevent the fabric from fraying use a “French seam” or seam the edges and then roll the seam in on itself and make a second seam.
- The fabric is SLIPPERY! Practice on smaller pieces with your sewing machine until you get the hang of tension and stitching.
- Make sure to remove all tape as you sew or you will end up with tape inside your quilt!!
Step 1: Measure and Cut
In our case the Momentum™ fabric wasn’t wide enough to accommodate 82” so we cut each 5 yard piece into, two 2.5 yard pieces and sewed them together to make one large piece of fabric roughly 111”x 90”. Then we laid out the fabric and measured out the final quilt dimensions
Putting our engineer husbands to work!
Measuring is easier with multiple people
We found that the Momentum 90T (black) fabric was easier to work with so we started with that. Once the liner was cut, we folded it in half and used it as the template for the Momentum 50 (orange) top fabric. We also folded the orange top fabric in half to make mirror cuts.
Copious taping makes this step easier
Next we cut the Nanoseeum Netting into 83”x 4” strips. We folded the netting several times and used a “pizza wheel” like fabric cutting tool. We decided on 4” because we wanted to sew through two layers of Nanoseeum™ netting where it attaches to the top and bottom layers of fabric (orange and black) so 2.5” of loft + .1.5” of seam allowance.
This made cutting the netting very fast!
Step 2: Measure and Tape Baffle Wall Netting:
Next we laid out the black fabric back on the floor and measured out where each baffle wall would be attached.
Once we finished marking the black fabric we had to do the same for the orange. We realized that you could see through the orange fabric enough, so we laid it over the black and used it as a template
See the tape showing through? This saved us a lot of time
Next we taped the Netting to the Orange layer.
It doesn’t matter which piece of fabric you start with, we chose orange because it was easier to see the netting on it
Folding the netting so we could sew through two layers, this seam accounts for ¾ of an inch.
Step 3: Create the Baffles:
We decided we wanted the baffle walls to hold a “C” shape, this required us to carefully think about how we attached the netting to the Momentum Fabric.
Starting at the top end (opposite of foot box) we started sewing the baffle walls to the orange fabric
We continued to work our way down the orange fabric sewing baffles.
This takes a while
Eventually your top quilt piece will look like this:
Quilting super hero
Step 4: Complete The Baffles:
This next step is difficult to visualize and has the added complexity of making a “C” shaped baffle. When attaching the black fabric to the orange by sewing the “open” end of the netting to the black, we had to start our sewing at the foot box end of the black. We oriented the two pieces in this manner; orange fed foot box first towards the sewing machine & we rolled up the black and put it under the sewing machine arm with the foot box towards the needle.
The two pieces being connected via the netting
See how the seaming will work
Next we sewed each baffle wall to the taped measurements on the black fabric. As each baffle is completed the quilt material will pass out under the orange fabric.
This is a cross section view of the baffle, essentially what you would see if you were inside the baffle itself.
Where the down lives
Once all of your Baffles are constructed the material will look like this:
Step 5 Creating the Foot Box:
The next step is to cut out and create the foot box. We used the fold and cut method, utilizing the pizza wheel fabric cutter.
Then we attached netting one inch in from the outer edge of the foot box. Making sure to leave one corner open
We then sewed the netting to the black fabric in the same manner as the main quilt body. At this point we decided to stuff the foot box and sew the netting closed. While you can leave an opening in the foot box, attach to the main quilt body and then stuff it. We thought it would be easier to stuff and attach it prior to stuffing the main body. This worked very well.
Cross section of the foot box, the other edges will be attached to the main quilt body
Step 6: Attaching the Foot Box:
Next we attached the food box to the bottom of the quilt. This requires two seams, matching the orange to orange and black to black. To create a professional seam on the outside of the quilt (orange) we sewed the foot box on inside out. First we had to find the middle of the quilt bottom so that we attached the foot box accurately. We repeated this process for the black fabric.
Making sure the finished foot box is aligned
Sewing the orange “wrong side out”
Step 7: Close ONE Side of the Quilt Baffles:
Once the foot box was attached the overall quilt body is now U shaped at its end (because it is fully attached to the foot box). At this point we closed one full side & the top of the quilt. Leaving only one side opened so that down can be added to the baffles. Unfortunately I did not take any pictures of this process. It is fairly straight forward though, you want to make sure down can be transferred in to the quilt baffles without being able to escape.
Step 8: Stuff Down in to the Baffles:
It is finally time to work with down! This can be an intimidating process especially since the down is such a large investment. However if you use this method you shouldn’t have any wasted down. We used a shop-vac and the cylindrical attachment. We placed netting over the end of the shop-vac hose, sanitized the attachment and then used the vac to “suck” up down. We originally created an Excel sheet to have a “start” weight for the bag of down & then calculate an “End” weight based on how many grams of down per baffle. However we had sensor drift with our kitchen scale so instead weighed the attachment and then re-weighed after each fill with down. This worked equally well.
The end of the hose has netting so the down cannot be sucked in to the vacuum chamber
Sucking up down is easier with 4 hands!
Weighing the down filled attachment to make sure each baffle gets the appropriate amount of down
Next we transferred the down via the attachment into the baffles. We made a “clothes line” and hung the quilt open baffle side up.
We used clips to temporarily hold individual baffles closed and moved the bag along the line as needed
Once the wider end of the attachment was in the baffle we used two methods of pushing the down out: the first was via a wooden spoon to get the compressed down in to the baffle
The second was to gently blow through the attachment to push the remaining down in to the baffle
We stopped filling baffles when we got to the top of the foot box, or where the quilt veers away from itself. At this point we closed the filled baffles with a rolled seam.
Notice the clips holding the black and orange material together
Next we turned the quilt black side out and sewed the two closed sides together. This creates a solid orange seam when turned right side out. We did this first because it is a natural break point and secondly because it allows for easier filling of the remaining baffles.
Making sure the foot box keeps it’s rectangular shape and no frayed edges have a way free
What it looks like from the front
What the quilt looks like underneath
We then proceeded to fill the remaining baffles of the quilt with the same process. Once they were all filled we roll seamed the last open edge of the quilt.
We found sewing with four hands was incredibly helpful since the seams had to be held with fingers or tape and the material was so slippery!
A detailed shot coming around the corner of the top edge, lots of frayed edges and some stray down
After finishing up the seams we were excited to weigh our quilt and see how close to our 2lbs mark we got. Final weight = 1lbs 15.7 oz!!!!!