Tuesday, September 25, 2012

DIY Yoga Accessories Tutorial Series: Free Yoga Bolster Tutorial

In honor of how awesome Restorative Yoga is I have decided not only to stock up on some accessories for myself DIY style (see: free) but I also want to share my pattern and techniques with you so you can too!

I have attempted to create a bolster in the shape of the pillow being used in the video link above. There are several different kinds of bolsters used in yoga to aid in relaxation and positioning. I opted for this wider, flatter version over the typical round cylinder type first (though please stay tuned, I'll have a tutorial coming for one of those soon too!) because I feel it will be most comfortable for doing poses which involve reclining with my legs up the wall.

So, uh, I might not have mentioned before that I am secretly a mermaid. And that is my cat Gigi helping me model the bolster in action.

Here is a list of what you'll need for your own bolster pillow:

At least one yard of fabric (a few inches to spare is never a bad idea)
Scrap paper (I used tracing paper, newspaper or paper grocery bags work well too)
Pen, pencil and chalk
Measuring tape
Seam Ripper
Stuffing (like a LOT of stuffing. More on stuffing options will be discussed further down).
A 24" zipper (optional but helpful if you want to be able to wash your pillow case)
A zipper foot for your sewing machine (sometimes called an "invisible zipper foot" or a "ski foot")
Some cats to hold down your fabric while you work

Step one: Draw and cut out a template for the end pieces using scrap paper. Mine is 7.5 x 13.5 inches, which allows for seam allowances of 1/2 inch.You'll be using this one template to cut out two pieces from your fabric, one for each end.

Step two: Measure out the body of the bolster. Mine is 25 x 43 inches, again with 1/2 inch seam allowances included. In the photo below you can see my chalk lines for the body of the bolster as well as my blurry dog trying to play with my pin cushion. Cut your two end pieces and your one body piece.

Step three: Now match the short ends of the body piece (meaning the sides that are 25 inches) right sides together, pin and baste*. If you're omitting the zipper then instead of basting, stitch this seam permanently an skip the following step. If you are using a zipper here then you'll be removing this stitching later. When finished, press your seam allowances open (okay, so I didn't actually feel like pulling out my iron for this, but this particular fabric finger-presses well enough to do the job).

Step four: Now pin your zipper face down to the wrong side of the fabric so that the teeth of the zipper are right on top of the middle of the basted seam.

As pictured, the zipper has been pinned face-down on the wrong side of the fabric in the middle of the seam.

Now, using a zipper foot (in my case a "ski" foot for invisible zippers), stitch your zipper in place from the wrong side of the fabric.

About a centimeter before the very end of the zipper teeth (NOT the end of the zipper TAPE), tap your needle into the "down" position, lift the presser foot and turn so that you'll be sewing at a right angle to the zipper - yes, ACROSS the zipper teeth. If your zipper has plastic teeth (and most store-brought zippers do) then your machine can do this. I know it seems a bit scary but the trick is to go slow, just tapping the foot pedal lightly to set one one stitch at a time. Now, set a few stitches in reverse and then back over the zipper a second time. You have created a strong stopping point for the tab of the zipper for when you go to unzip your pillow case. If you take it slow you will not break your sewing machine needle.

Now, finish stitching down the other side of the zipper.

Step five: Turn your fabric right side out and, using a seam ripper, rip out the basting.

Once you do this you should be able to unzip your zipper and it should still look nice from the outside.

Step six: Now you can pin your end pieces onto the main body of the bolster, wrong sides together. I centered the zipper at the center of each end piece for ease of pinning - this means the zipper is going to go right down the middle of one of the sides of the finished bolster. If you want it to go down the "corner" instead, so that it's less likely to touch you during your yoga practice, you can do that if you wish. As you pin, be aware that there will be some "ease" to accommodate as you sew. Pictured below is an example of how I pin to incorporate ease from a longer piece of fabric into a shorter seam. There are other better ways of doing this, but this technique suited my fabric well which is a fairly loosely woven upholstery fabric without much stretch and with an unstable grain. If you don't know what I'm talking about then don't worry - just pin and sew!

Pin and stitch the second end to the body of the bolster first making sure to open the zipper out a little bit as pictured below. This is so you don't find it impossible to open once you're finished.

Final step: Open the zipper all the way, turn your bolster right side out and stuff!

A note about stuffing: A project like this quickly becomes expensive when you have to go out to buy a large quantity of stuffing. My favorite frugal solution for this is to get free sheep's wool from farmers who shear their sheep that do not produce high-quality fleece. In other words, talk to farmers who keep sheep for meat or for weed abatement. As a dairy goat farmer, it is important to me that I use products from happy animals. Some people feel that using animal products for yoga is inappropriate but for me personally, knowing that the sheep the fleece came from were free range is enough. All sheep are shorn once a year regarless of what they are used for.

I happened to have two trash-bags full of low-quality fleece that I was given for free when I first took up spinning fiber. I had so much leftover even after I used it to practice on and have used it for everything from insulating potted plants to stuffing dog and cat toys. It's useful stuff to have around.

Now, I don't recommend just getting some raw fleece and stuffing it into your nice new pillow. I skirted all of these fleeces myself (to skirt means to trim off dung and debris from the outer edges of a fleece) and then washed them several times. It was a laborious process but one I really enjoy. If you're into fiber processing then this is the best way to get free stuffing. If you are allergic to wool or lanolin then you can still use fleece from other creatures like goats or alpaca, but of course that is usually more costly. Also, please note that because this came from an animal, even though it has been thoroughly washed several times, it still smells like sheep. I find the scent extremely comforting and so I don't mind using it in my yoga accessories but I mainly practice at home. If you plan on using your bolster in a class setting, it's important to note that some people ARE allergic to sheep's wool and/or lanolin and simply being in the presence of sheep's wool can cause allergic reactions in some.

Fear not, though! I have a solution for this too! If I'd had some extra fabric I'd have incorporated this step into the tutorial but I don't. Most of the time when you add a zipper to a cushion cover it's because your project is just that - a cover. Some cheap muslin or a cut-up sheet could be sewn in the same fashion, then stuffed and permanently sewed shut. Then, that "pillow form" can be inserted inside your cover and can be conveniently removed when you wash the cover. If/when I need to wash my cover I'll simply store the wool stuffing in a big trash bag until the bolster is clean and dry though this is less convenient. Two layers, especially two tightly woven layers of fabric, would likely be enough to prevent most allergens from escaping your pillow, especially when very clean fleece is used. But do use common sense in your personal yoga practice, and if you have concerns about bringing your bolster to class, consult your yoga teacher first.

*To baste a seam is to stitch it temporarily with a longer stitch which is easier to remove later than a normal, permanent seam would be.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Normal Girl,
    Thank you for the DIY Yoga Bolster. While doing my research, some ppl recommended using a rolled up towel for a bolster. What do you think about stuffing with an old towel instead of stuffing like fleece...