I’m a pretty light packer in terms of clothing, and over the years I’ve discovered that this allows me to pack comfort items that other people leave at home. One of those items is a blanket for the plane ride. I hate the yucky ones airlines give you, especially once I learned that most airlines wash them infrequently, often just rebagging them between trips. For a month. Ew.

And recently, I’ve been making an inordinate number of baby blankets (this is what comes of having a bunch of 30-year-old friends!). One day, while making one of these simple, comfy baby blankets, I thought: “if this were a bit longer, it would be an awesome plane-blanket.” A few days later, I was done.

Before I give you the step-by-step tutorial, here are some notes:

1. This does not require a sewing machine. In fact, if you have ever sewed anything, ever, this is doable.

2. It costs less than $20 and can be washed and reused a zillion times.

3. It folds up to about the size of a hardback book, but it’s obviously much softer and flatter.

4. The next time you experience a cold plane/train/hotel room/airport/Little League game, you will thank yourself for making this.

5. I made the entire thing in under 4 hours, by hand, with no mechanical assistance. If you can use a sewing machine, you could be done in 2 hours.

So here we go…


1.5 yards of the cotton of your choice

1.75 yards of flannel in a complimentary color

white thread

colorful thread

needle and scissors and pins

(optional: thimble — I use a “Thimble Pad” which you will see in one of the photos. Greatest invention ever)

First step is to wash your fabrics, particularly your flannel, which will shrink a ridiculous amount. In fact, I’d wash and dry it twice. This will make it softer anyway. Then iron both fabrics.

Lay the two fabrics out with the “right” side of the cotton facing the flannel.

Smooth them out thoroughly and trim away the extra flannel (there will be a little bit on each end). Trim away any really raveled bits.

Pin the two pieces together, about a half-inch from the edge.

Leave a 4-inch gap unpinned and unsewn. You’ll turn your fabric-sandwich right-side out through this gap later.

Now baste the two pieces together using medium-sized stitches and the white thread. Go from the edge of the 4-inch gap, around the blanket, to the other edge of the 4-inch gap. Stay about half an inch from the edge. Don’t worry about it being “perfect” or absolutely straight. Part of the charm of this blanket is that it’s “rustic” and homemade.

Now, turn the sandwich right-side out through the gap you left in your sewing. You should now have the right side of the cotton fabric facing you. Poke out the corners carefully until they look “squared.” I find that the closed tips of my scissors does this job nicely.

Fold the edge inside the gap to match the rest of the blanket. You’ll sew it closed with the decorative colorful stitches.

Using your colored thread, sew small stitches all the way around the edge, about a quarter inch or less from the edge. Since the flannel and the regular cotton will want to “ride up” against each other, make sure you are sewing a quarter inch from the actual seam as you go (you’ll see what I mean if you do this).

Yep, that’s the Thimble Pad. It’s basically a sticky piece of moleskin that lasts forever and resticks easily. I use about one package every three years.

These stitches don’t have to be perfect, either. In fact, it’s almost nicer if they aren’t. I like to try to make them even, but I’m not fussy about it. Going around the corners is tougher, as there’s a lot of fabric bunched up in there. A thimble is really nice at that point.

When you’re done, you’ll have a warm, cuddly, beautiful blanket that will actually be a treat to use. Others will be jealous. The more you wash it, the softer it will get. Because you sewed the seams twice, basically, it’s nearly indestructible. Nicer cotton makes it thinner and lighter, but I like cheap-o cottons from somewhere like JoAnn’s, because then if my seatmate vomits on it, I won’t mind tossing it out as much!

Here’s one I made for an actual baby. The only difference is that I made it square, instead of rectangular. It requires about 1/4 of a yard less of each fabric. This one has green-striped flannel.

If you have a male friend who wants this (or if you are male), then there are lovely manly flannels at fabric stores too, of the sort that are made into shirts. I think a plaid flannel and solid cotton would be masculine and nice, if one worries about that sort of thing.

Here’s the final product next to a hardback book, for the size comparison:

Slightly larger, but much flatter. And much more snuggly.

I’m sure it will be employed several times on my upcoming trip.

Update: Here are two more blankets I made for friends around Christmas (I also made three baby blankets for charity, another travel blanket for a friend on his way to Italy, and one for each of my three kids, as well as a baby blanket for a friend who is expecting. Whew!). The friends who received these two blankets are not of the sort to be into flowers, but they are both female, just showing that these can be made with all sorts of prints/colors to suit anyone who wants a blanket. Both were made with printed flannel and solid cotton. I have improved my technique, with a bit more attention to straight edges, and I trim the corners before I turn them inside-out so there’s less fabric inside the corners of each blanket. I also wash the flannel three times, just to get it as pre-shrunken as I can (though it still shrinks after that).

The colors were hard to capture in the harsh indoor light with a flash-less camera, but they’re close. The first blanket is wine red, with brown zig-zag flannel and lavender stitching. The second is bright green with grey checked flannel and chocolate stitching. I tried to pick colors to suit each person, but they promptly switched blankets as soon as they received them! That said, they both love them, so it all turned out well.