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Worth their weight

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Little girl with Quilt

Gramma’s old quilt was the original weighted blanket. Designed more for warmth, the weight of the blanket was just an added bonus.

Weight blankets—do they offer hype or the promise of a good night’s sleep?

Traditional weighted blankets are filled with tiny plastic or glass beads and range from lightweight to as much as 15 kg. They’re meant to provide a sense of comfort like swaddling or a hug. It’s recommended to use a blanket about 10% of your body weight.

Reported benefits include improved sleep quality, decreased insomnia, relief from symptoms of anxiety and depression, and reduction of stress. Scientific evidence on the claims is limited but there is research on Deep Touch Pressure Stimulation (DTP). 

DTP includes firm hugs, cuddling, squeezing, compression, or swaddling using hands, massage tools, or products meant to wrap around the body like a blanket or jacket. It’s a tactile sensation that provides a sense of calm throughout the whole body via a chain reaction in the nervous system. It has been used as therapy for autism, hyperactivity, chronic stress, and mood disorders.

Anecdotal evidence for weighted blankets abounds. 

“I love my blanket,” says Judy Boucher, a registered nurse from Bedford, N.S. She makes a scooping motion with her hands to demonstrate being tucked in. “It’s like a cocoon that’s so comfortable.”

Nicole Greeno, a first responder living in Saint John, N.B., says she bought her blanket during the pandemic when border restrictions kept her from visiting her family in Nova Scotia. “I drag it back and forth from the couch to bed with me. It helps with my anxiety of being alone.”

I think back to my own childhood, waking in the upstairs bedroom of my maternal grandparent’s home. The only source of heat on the second floor was the warm air drifting up through the floor vent from the old wood stove in the kitchen. In the morning, I’d scramble from bed down to the heat of the fire. But not before I took time to savour the coziness of the heavy quilt snuggled around me as warm as a hug straight from my grandmother.

The weighted blankets referred to today first appeared in the late 1990s. But what about the heaviness of Grandma’s quilts?

“The simple answer is that antique quilts feel heavier because of the materials they were made from,” says Kelly Hill, wardrobe supervisor at Kings Landing, a living history museum in Prince William, N.B. “In the 19th and early 20th centuries, they only had access to natural materials like cotton and wool. Cotton batting is fairly dense compared to synthetics, so even if the weight is the same, it feels heavier because there’s less loftiness and air. Occasionally, quilters would cover old wool blankets, or even other quilts, instead of using plain batting. These are some of the heaviest quilts.”

Was this done for comfort? “I am not sure if the people of the 19th century specifically used heavy blankets for comfort unrelated to warmth,” Hill answers. Keeping in mind it was a time before modern heating and insulation. “But I imagine many would have, appreciated the feeling as we do today.”

Today many quilters use synthetic batting in quilts, which is light. But there are still options for heavier materials. “If you wanted to make a quilt with extra weight, I would use a bamboo batting or a bamboo/cotton fibre,” says Suzanne Lane of Quilting B & More in Charlottetown, P.E.I, adding that because the fibre in bamboo is denser, it tends to be heavier. 

Other options for weighted blankets are also available. Some knit from heavy materials, including those made from wood pulp or eucalyptus fibres, look like chunky throws. There are even robes with weighted inserts in the collar to ease tension around the neck and shoulders.

Christine LeGrow, owner of Spindrift in St. John’s, N.L., and co-author of Saltwater Gifts, offers helpful hints to anyone wishing to knit or crochet a hefty blanket. “Purchase sufficient yarn with a matching colour number and dye lot number to complete the project. It is best to purchase a couple extra skeins just in case,” she says. “I would suggest the knitter search online for vintage pattern books and leaflets from the 1960s to early 1980s as these throws, bedspreads, and afghans were popular then. Some patterns require bulky-weight yarn or yarn wound double and are a little heavier.”

Whether new or old, hype or fact, weighted blankets are popular. And with options for making your own, perhaps they’re worth a try. What’s to lose? Not sleep!

Using a more dense cotton or wool instead of synthetic batting can add extra weight to your quilt. 

Sew your own weighted blanket

Required items:

Fabric, thread, scissors, straight pins, fabric pencil (or chalk), metre stick, sewing machine, plastic beads, paper wrapping cardboard tube, kitchen scale.


• With right sides together, sew along the side seams only. Turn right side out and top stitch the two seams.

• Using a metre stick and fabric pencil or chalk, mark a grid on the blanket which will become pockets to hold the beads, allowing even distribution. Mark columns and rows creating squares about 12 cm across the surface or whatever size is evenly divisible on your blanket.

• Turn the hems of the unsewn edges in and pin the two pieces of fabric together at the column markings to keep material from shifting. Sew along the vertical lines and across the centre horizontal line only. Sew the other rows afterwards, as you place the beads. 

• Divide the total weight of pellets you want to use by the number of pockets you have. Use a kitchen scale to divide the pellets.
The weight of the blanket should be about 10% of the user’s
body weight.

• Insert an empty wrapping paper tube into the first column and push it down to the centre seam. Pour in the correct amount of pellets and repeat until each column has been filled.

• Sew the next marked line to close the row of pockets.
Be sure to push any wayward beads out of the way of
your needle.

• Continue to fill and sew the rows on both sides of the centre seam, one at a time, until all pockets have beads.

• Sew the top and bottom rows with a ¼ inch seam, making sure the fabric is folded inward. 

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