Bean bags are a wonderfully simple invention. A small bag filled with beans can actually be used in a lot of different ways and they don’t take long to make.
This makes bean bags a great project for a beginner sewist. In addition to being pretty quick to construct, you get to practice rotary cutting, sewing both straight and zig-zag stitches, and pivoting corners.
Not sure you want to take time to sew bean bags? Scroll down and read the section What to Do With Bean Bags located after the directions on how to make them. This will help you make up your mind!
How to Sew Bean Bags
After following the directions in this lesson, you’ll know how to make hand-sized bean bags. The actual size of the bean bags will vary based on the size you cut the squares. The finished bean bag will be an inch smaller than the cut squares. So, squares that are cut 5 x 5 inches will produce a bean bag that is 4 x 4 inches.
Tip: Read all of this post before you begin. This way you’ll know all the steps for preparation and construction.
Gather the Supplies
- Fabric – the type and amount of fabric will depend on 2 factors: how you’ll be using the bean bags and the number of bean bags you make
- Type of Fabric
- Use duck fabric or canvas (or something similar) for bean bags that will be used in tossing games.
- Use medium-weight fabrics like denim, corduroy or a thicker cotton for juggling or less rough activities.
- Light-weight fabrics can be used, too, if you really like the fabric pattern and really want to use it for bean bags. If you go this route, I recommend using a second layer of fabric to line the bean bags. An old sheet or muslin works well to provide an additional layer of strength.
- How Much Fabric
- You will need 2 squares for each bean bag you make. Determine how many bean bags you want/need and the size each one will be. Then do the math to figure out how much fabric you’ll need.
- Type of Fabric
- Bean bag filler – dried beans or rice
- Thread – Consider using two colors of thread – one for the top spool and one for the bobbin. This adds a little embellishment to the zig-zag stitch on the outside of the bag.
- Rotary cutter, mat, and ruler
Note: For the bean bags featured in this post, I used gingham, a light-weight fabric, and lined it with muslin for the smaller bean bags. The Cornhole bean bags were made using Sunbrella fabric I had left over from an outdoor cushion project. Pinto beans were the filler for both sets of beanbags.
Get Your Sewing Machine Ready
Put the all-purpose presser foot on your sewing machine or an adjustable guide presser foot. Wind thread on the bobbin. Insert the bobbin and thread the machine. Set the machine to do a straight stitch (a width of 0 and a length of 2-3 for a medium length stitch).
Prepare the Fabric
- Prewashing is optional. Because my finished bean bags never get washed and dried in water and heat, I don’t prewash the fabric.
- If the fabric is wrinkly, press to remove the big wrinkles.
- Decide what size bean bags to make. You’ll need 2 squares for each bean bag.
- cut 5″ squares for smaller bean bags (finished bean bag will be 4 x 4 inches)
- cut 7″ squares for Cornhole bean bags (finished bean bag will be 6 x 6 inches)
Read all of the steps before you begin so you know what you’ll be doing.
Zig-Zag Stitch Tip
Determine the width of the zig-zag on a scrap piece of fabric before sewing on the bean bag fabric. Use the same seam allowance and sew the straight stitch first as described in the construction steps below. This way you’ll know exactly what size area the zig-zag will need to fit.
Check out Zig-Zag Troubleshooting if your zig-zag stitch doesn’t look quite right.
If you’re sewing multiple bean bags, complete each step on all of them before moving on to the next step.
Bean Bag Construction
- With right sides together, line up the edges of two fabric squares and pin in place. If you are using a light-weight fabric and need to line the bean bags, put the right sides of the outer fabric together. Then put one lining square on each wrong side of the outer fabric. (So the layers will be lining, outer fabric, outer fabric, lining.)
- Use a 1/2-inch seam allowance and sew a straight stitch around the edges leaving a small opening on one side. Leave the needle in the fabric when you pivot around the corners. Don’t backstitch when you start and stop. You need the stitches to give a little when you turn the bean bag right side out.
- Set your sewing machine to a zig-zag stitch. Important: Check your presser foot and make sure it has an opening for the needle to move left and right. Use the right side of the presser foot as the guide and sew a zig-zag stitch. Start and stop in the same places you did for the straight stitch. This second line of stitches will provide additional strength and drastically reduce the possibility of the bean bag splitting at the seam.
- Clip the corners slightly. Be careful and don’t cut any stitches.
- Turn the fabric right side out and gently push out the corners with the closed end of a pair of scissors or a specialty tool if you have one.
- Fill the bag with beans or rice. Leave enough room for them to move around. I used 1/2 a cup of pinto beans for each 5-inch bean bag. Hint: Use a funnel or a measuring cup with a spout to pour the beans into the bag.
- Turn the edges of the opening under 1/2-inch. Pull the existing threads to close any gaps where you’ve already stitched. Clip or tuck in the thread ends. Pin to hold in place.
- Using the right side of the presser foot as a guide, zig-zag the opening closed. Backstitch when you start and finish to ensure the stitches don’t unravel.
That’s It. You’re Done!
What to Do With Bean Bags
Bean bags are a critical part of the game Cornhole. Bean bags used for Cornhole should be made of a sturdy fabric like duck or canvas. Duck fabric is actually canvas. It has a higher thread count so it tends to have a smoother texture making it more likely to slide along the Cornhole board.
To make bean bags for Cornhole, you’ll want to cut the squares 7 x 7 inches. This will give you a finished bean bag size of 6 x 6 inches. Follow all of the other directions in this post to make the bean bags. The straight and zig-zag stitches on the inside will strengthen the seam making it less likely a bean bag will split open in the middle of the game.
To add one more layer of security on the outside of the bean bag, use a straight stitch between the zig-zag closure and the edge of the bag. This topstitch will close the slight gap that is visible where the opening was. Backstitch at the beginning and end of the seam.
Have you ever wanted to try juggling or know someone who can juggle? Bean bags are great objects to learn how to juggle and hone the skill.
Bean bags can also be used for a variety of other fun activities such as a bean bag toss, hot potato, and indoor shuffleboard.
Comfort and Concentration
Bean bags are great fidget toys. By moving a bean bag from one hand to the other, squeezing and rolling it around in one hand, or smoothing fingers over the outside fabric, they can provide a way for a child (or adult) to focus, have a brain break, or just find a state of calm.
When making bean bags for the purpose of being a fidget toy, create multiple ones and make each one out of a different fabric. If the fabric on the bean bag has a texture, that can add another level of sensory comfort. Minky, velvet, fleece, and corduroy are fabrics that have various textures. Also, use different fillers (dried corn kernels, rice, and different dried beans) to offer a variety of sensory experiences.
When I was an elementary classroom teacher, one of the tools I used to keep my students actively paying attention was tossing a bean bag. Whenever I picked the bean bag up off my desk, students snapped to attention by sitting up straight in their seats and tracking my movements.
When I wanted someone to answer a question, I would make eye contact with them and toss the bean bag gently with an underhand throw. When the bean bag was in a student’s possession, they could answer the question, ask for clarification, or toss it to another student for some help.
This form of engagement also helped students strengthen hand-eye coordination.
Cleaning and Storage
Frequent use and everyday dirt and grime from hands will eventually transfer to the bean bag.
I’ve never bothered to clean my bean bags because it doesn’t take too long to make new ones. For me, it’s less of a hassle to cut open the dirty bean bag and empty out the beans or rice. If the filler is still in good condition (not smelly or moldy looking), I’ll reuse it in the new bean bag cover I make.
To keep bean bags from getting moldy/smelly, you want to minimize circumstances that would all them to get wet or moist. So, don’t let them sit outside in the elements. Instead, store them inside. Also, keep them out of reach of pets and small children. (This is for safety, too.) Bean bag filler can be a choking hazard.
Share What You Made
One of the greatest joys of being a teacher is seeing the results that happen when learning is applied. I would love to see what you made! Send me a picture of your bean bags and how they are being used to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have questions about making bean bags or sewing in general, don’t hesitate to email those to me, too.