Most photographers know that these things are pretty pricey. Most of the bags go for $90 unfilled. You have to purchase the filling separately, which usually costs around $50. So you're looking at $140 minimum, plus shipping. The total cost of this project was $62.
After looking over a few tutorials online, I came to the conclusion that this would be pretty simple to make. I've included a lot of photos and details because while I was looking at other tutorials, I found that many just summarized how they made it, but didn't offer specifics or step-by-step photos. I think that many details and photos are important, especially for a novice sewer. So, without further ado....
The DIY Newborn Posing Beanbag
42'' diameter x 12'' high
4 yards of flannel-backed vinyl fabric (I was originally going to use tablecloth vinyl due to it's low price, however I decided to use a heavier vinyl instead. The tablecloth vinyl was too thin and would tear very easily which is definitely something you do not want.)
Heavy duty thread (I used Coats Extra Strong brand, made for upholstery)
Sewing needle made for heavy duty fabrics (I used Singer brand, size 110/18)
yarn or string
bean bag filling (Around 4 bags, but some prefer their beanbags filled more or less. I found it was less expensive at the Walmart store than online. Sam's Club also has it at a good price.)
-Do not use pins to hold the vinyl pieces together. Since vinyl doesn't have a weave, per say, using pins will leave holes in your fabric.
-Use flannel-backed vinyl. Since vinyl has sort of a grip to it (it's not "slippery" like cotton or say, satin), the sewing machine presser foot and feed dogs will not move the fabric along easily. Having the flannel side against the presser foot and feed dogs will allow the fabric to move through the machine easily.
First we need to cut out our pieces. We will cut 2 circles with a diameter of 43'' each (this is factoring in 1/2'' seam allowances). We will also have one long rectangular piece that is 137" long and 13'' high (1/2'' seam allowance factored in), which will be made up of smaller rectangles sewn together.
To make the circles, I tied a piece of yarn to a pen to act as a giant compass. Of course, if you have something that is 43'' in diameter lying around, feel free to use that. I did not, so giant compass it is.
I tied each end of a 21.5'' long piece of yarn to a pen (21.5'' radius = 43'' diameter).
For this step it may help if you have one person assisting you. Hold one end of the pen on the fabric:
Hold the other end towards the edge.
Make sure you do not angle your pen. Inadvertently angling your pen either inward or outward will make your circle smaller or larger than you want, so to ensure an accurate circle, make sure that you hold your pens straight (like in the above photo), not slanted like this:
Make sure that you can draw a full circle without your pen coming off the edge of the fabric.
Cut out your circle. Use that circle to trace another circle onto the fabric. Cut out your second traced circle.
Next cut out as many rectangles that you need in order to make a final piece that is 137" long. Use a ruler or a quilter's ruler, or something else with a long straight edge. They should be 13'' high (accounting for 1/2'' seam allowance). (Don't mind the different colored vinyl. I got what was on sale. Some photogs recommend tan or white because dark colors can show through when using light blankets, but many put a bunch of blankets underneath anyhow.)
Sew them right sides together to make your 137'' rectangle.
Stitch your velcro to the right side of one end of a rectangle. I held off stitching on the other piece of velcro until the beanbag was almost finished so that I could get the placing correct.
Sew your rectangular piece to your circle, right sides together. Don't pin your fabric together, this will create tiny pinholes where your pins were. Just start at one end and ease your fabric along as you sew. There will be a bit of extra fabric at the end once you've sewn it all the way on, which will allow you to put the velcro exactly where you need it. Sew the other piece of velcro on the other end of the rectangular piece to make your closure. When finished, it will look like this:
Then, flip your beanbag right-sides-out, through the opening. It will look like this:
For the bags from Walmart, I snipped off a corner of the bag and dumped it in. I found that if I snipped off a bit of the other corner it allowed for airflow in the bag and the beans came out quicker.
4 yards of flannel-backed vinyl fabric - $6/yd on sale at Hancock Fabrics = $24
Heavy duty thread - $2.50
Sewing needle made for heavy duty fabrics - $2
beanbag filling - $3.50 at garage sale + $24 Walmart bags = $27.50
GRAND TOTAL: $62 including tax
Not bad compared to $140 plus!
I am so happy with the way this turned out. It's big enough to pose multiples, and firm enough to (hopefully) leave blankets smooth and wrinkle-free. Of course, I have yet to actually pose a newborn on it, but I'm confident that I will be thrilled with the results.
**One thing to remember is that this doesn't have to look perfect. The sewing can be sloppy and it will still turn out. It will be covered by a blanket, after all. This project is very forgiving, so have fun!
***October 6, 2013 - EDITED TO ADD: I used the bag for my first newborn session! I'm glad I made it bigger because it was for a twins session. It is a larger sized bag, and I'm able to throw it in the bed of our pickup, however if you travel for sessions and have minimal space in your vehicle, you may want to make the dimensions smaller.
****October 10, 2015 - EDITED TO ADD:
This tutorial can be tailored to any size bag you want.
~Diameter is the width of the bag
~Radius is half the diameter
~Circumference is the distance around the circle. To find the circumference of your circle, multiply 3.14 (pi) times the diameter.
~The rectangular piece is the circumference plus about 6" for hem and velcro closure
FOR EXAMPLE: For a 30" travel bag:
~Diameter (width) is 30"
~Radius (string) is 15"
~Circumference is about 94". Add 6" for hem and closure = 100" rectangular piece.
I hope this was explained well. My brain is mush right now :)