Brice and I were planning a pretty big trip for the end 2016, one that was going to involve a good amount of backpacking and hiking. We already owned camping gear but it was more suitable for car camping - ie bulkier, heavier tent and sleeping bags, not the kind that you can carry on your back for 15 miles for a whole week.
So, amongst many other camping equipment, we started looking up options for sleeping bags. One thing that we were looking for was a solution where we wouldn't necessarily each be in our own bag. Brice is a human radiator, whereas I get cold pretty easily, so sleeping in the same bag was always a good way for me to benefit from his body warmth. There aren't a huge amount of options for double bags, and after a bit of research I started looking at quilts.
Quilts can be lighter than sleeping bags because they involve less fabric. The reasoning is that the area of the sleeping bag that you sleep on doesn't actually provide any warmth since the insulation is being compressed between your body and the sleeping pad. So with a quilt (which is ultimately like a blanket, but with a portion of the bottom sewn up to create a "foot box"), you save on weight and bulk by getting rid of the "useless" portion of the bag. This is of course very subjective, and a matter of personal preference, but in our case, the more I was looking at options, the more I thougth a quilt was the way to go.
There are a few companies out there who make such camping quilts, and most of them offer a "double" option. Unfortunately, they are most of the time made-to-order, with a 5-7 week shipping estimate. And of course we were only a month away from our trip so those were no longer an option...
As I was doing all this research, I came across the Ray Way website. Ray and his wife Jenny are basically the inventor of the camping quilt, and were the first ones to offer that product online. They also sell sewing kits for those wanting to make their own - therefore allowing for more customization of dimension, colour, etc...
When I first saw the website, I thought the idea was really cool, but dismissed it quickly, thinking it would be easier and faster to buy a ready-made quilt...But as time went by and Brice and I couldn't decide on an option that was available and that we liked, I started to reconsider.
With all our time spent outdoors this year, I really hadn't been doing much sewing. Wouldn't it be cool to finish the year with a big project, and something that we would take on the trip with us? Another appealing aspect was the price. Ray Way kits are about half the price of a ready-made quilt. Of course the time you spend making the quilt also has a cost of sort, but from a purely financial stand point, it was definitely the cheapest of all options out there... So finally, I decided to take the plunge. I was going to make our sleeping quilt.
With about 3 weeks to go before the trip, I ordered the kit with express shipping. B. and I set up a mailbox in the US (we're only a 45min drive from the border) to ensure that it would arrive in time and not get stuck in Canadian customs as packages sometimes do. Brice was away for work for one week the following week, and I didn't get a chance to go pick up the package, so we were only able to get it home a week later - i.e 10 days before we were leaving for our trip. But I wasn't too worried, with a few evenings and a full week-end, I was confident I could get it done no problem.
I won't lie, when I first pulled out the 12-page instructions and started reading through, I had a moment of "oh god, what have I gotten myself into?"...But after reading through a couple of times, it didn't seem too daunting. The steps are pretty straight forward and the instructions are lengthy only because they try to be as detailed and clear as possible, to make the process easier.
So on the first night I started by cutting up all the pieces of fabric for the outer shell. The two-person quilt comes with the options of a zipper across the middle (width-wise) so that it can be split in half, stowed into 2 separate bags and carried by people. The top and bottom parts are also split into 2 pieces, due to the dimensions of the fabric, so altogether there are 8 pieces to cut.
On night #2, I cut the pieces of insulation. The kit offered several options for insulation, and we went with "Alpine"( two layers rather than one), since we live in the Pacific Northwest and that even in the summer, we rarely get really hot nights.
Once all the pieces were cut, it was time to assemble. The instructions suggest using cloth pins to keep all the layers together instead of sewing pins, and it was a great suggestion! For the zipper, I actually hand-basted it in place first, to make sure it wouldn't move or slip while sewing it. The zipper construction was a bit confusing to me at first, because it was quite different from what I'm used to in garment making, but i followed along and it all made sense in the end.
As I said above, all the instructions where very clear. There were a couple of indications that I got a bit confused about, but I emailed Ray and received a reply with clarifications within 24 hours, which was very appreciated.
I wasn't able to sew for the last three nights of that week, having made plans to catch up with friends on every one of those nights ( Of course, our social calendar which is mostly empty all the time, somehow filled up on the week before our trip, when I decide I'm going to jump into a never-made before sewing project with a hard deadline). So on Saturday afternoon (after spending the morning out on a run with a girlfriend) I resumed the sewing for the rest of the day until dinner (when we had more friends coming over!). I pretty much didn't leave the house on Sunday and spent probably another 6-7 hours working on the quilt that day.
The instructions say that it can be made in 8-10 hours in one of their workshop. That of course implies that you don't make any mistakes, which of course I did. When putting the two pieces of the top together, I dind't pay attention to which side my zipper was on, and of course I sewed the seam with the allowance on the other side than the one the zipper was one. The instructions call for a pretty clean seam finish so it wouldn't have been a huge deal, but it still bothered me. Instead of undoing the seam, I undid the zipper and placed it on the reverse side. That took a couple of hours...The next mistake I made was to not layer the pieces for the draft stopper properly in the quilt "sandwich" of the bottom part, before sewing all the layers together. As a result, when I turned the sandwich outside in, the flaps, which should have ended up on the outside, where still stuck on the inside...so I had to undo the seam along the sides where the flaps where, reposition the flaps between the right layers, and redo the seam. That took another good couple of hours.
Other than that, the construction came together pretty smoothly, and my machine had no problem handling the many layers of fabric and insulation. I was also quite pleased to notice that the fabric of the outer layer wasn't as slippery as I originally feared, so with sewing at a slow pace and making sure all the layers where lined up properly throughout the sewing process, I didn't have any issues with slipping fabric or uneven edges, etc...
|The "flap" on the side is made of one layer, so I used my narrow-hem foot to finish the edge and it worked great!|
Once all the layers were sewn and top-stitched together, then came quilting time. Brice wasn't a fan of the black yarn, in contrast with the color of the fabric, so we went through my yarn stash and actually found some poly yarn in a similar hue as the fabric, that we liked better. The quilting process wasn't complicated, but just tedious. As a side note I had bought last year for halloween a quilting needle, to complete the finishes touches on my Sally dress, but I hadn't used that needle since and only remembered that night that I had it. I was glad I didn't have to run to Michael's at the last minute to pick one up!.
Brice contributed to finishing the quilt by knotting all the pieces of yarn, while I was picking them through the quilt.
After the quilting came the final step of sewing up the foot box. I wasn't sure how big we should make the box, and I was concerned about the quilt becoming too narrow if I sewed the box up too high, so in the end i only sewed up the bottom edge and barely came up the sides. I figured I could always go back and sew it up more after we had tested it, but I didn't want to end up stuck with a too-narrow quilt on our month-long trip...
And with that, on the night before we had to leave for our tip, the quilt was done!!
I had also ordered the supplies for 2 stow bags to carry the quilt in while hiking, but I didn't have time to make them, so instead we used the bags from our old sleeping bags, which worked perfectly. I will have to squeeze the making of the stow bags somewhere in my tight sewing schedule though...
Now back from our trip, we have used the quilt on almost every single night for a month, and it was a success! It was warm enough and wide enough (the two things I was worried about), and it was super light to carry and easy to shove into our backpacks. With a tendency to get cold easily, I usually sleep with clothes on when camping, so I wasn't at all bothered by the fact that there was no fabric between my body and my sleeping pad.
The only thing that Brice commented on was the draft stopper at the top, which he didn't love as it would get into his face. I'm not sure if I'll do anything about it (as in cut it off or maybe fold it in), we might take it out for a few more trips and see if that's really a bother or if it's minor.
So that's it, my foray into gear-making. I actually really loved making this. It was a great way to get some sewing time after a year of not spending very much time inside at all. It was fun to make something that I never thought of even making until then. And it added something special to our trip, knowing that every night we slept in a quilt that we had both contributing to making.
The Ray Way website actually offers kits for a variety of outdoor gear, including backpacks and shelters. I don't think I will be making another piece of gear for a while, but it's definitely a great way to make customizable gear and an affordable price and with quality supplies.
As a side note, if you're interested in reading all about our trip, hop on over to our travel blog Catching The Fog
|On a rainy evening, enjoying the comfort of our tent, tucked into our cozy quilt, with an e-book and a sudoku puzzle...that's the life!|