How to Make a Sensory Therapy Roll

on July 18 | in Sew Good (Charity Sewing), Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 11 Comments

Pannay of Southern Fried Northern Chic is based in Mississippi and teaches at Sew Memphis, her local quilt shop. Pannay has a daughter on the autism spectrum; while looking for ways to sew to support her daughter’s therapy she created The Weighted Blanket Project, an organization with a mission to create weighted blankets to help calm kids and encourage quality sleep. In addition to weighted blankets Pannay’s group makes Sensory Therapy Rolls. Designed with input from physical therapists, the rolls help calm children and can be used at school, home or elsewhere (like during doctor and dentist visits, etc.). Sensory Therapy Rolls are a super-quick and easy way you can sew for your community. Your local school teachers would probably love a small set of these rolls!

Visit Pannay at Southern Fried Northern Chic and on Facebook. Be sure to comment if you know of additional ways you can sew to support kids’ comfort, growth and development!


I have a now eight year old daughter on the autism spectrum, and as a sewist I have been interested in what I can make to help her since her diagnosis four years ago. It started two years ago when her therapist recommended a weighted blanket to help with her sleep issues. I started researching them online and found the ones for sale are pretty cost prohibitive, so I started researching how to make them. I ended up buying a bulk box of poly pellets; it was more than I needed for her blanket, just in case. The blankets themselves are really easy to sew. After I showed the therapist the one I made for my daughter, I was asked if I could use my abilities to help others in our area who also found the price of the blankets prohibitive but really needed them. I started making them for others. I didn’t ask for anything but the other parents donated a bit here and there, and soon I was able to take that money and buy another box of poly pellets. I got so busy making weighted blankets that I needed help, and approached some of my friends from my Quilting in the Grove quilt guild to start sewing with me. This was May of 2013. Since then, we have started a group called The Weighted Blanket Project. In the past year we have made and donated almost 100 blankets and several therapy items, using 1,500 pounds of poly pellets. We collect donations to cover the cost of the pellets, and recently teamed up with the local ARC chapter.

We get together every three months to sew. The past year has been so busy for us, I enlisted the help of retired office manager Dorothy Bundy to help with organization. She has been a godsend! Our current goal is to make sure every self-contained special education classroom in our county has a blanket and other items for use. The Weighted Blanket Project was recently featured in an article for The Commercial Appeal that was picked up by the AP and run nationally. Thanks to the article, we have been in contact with other people across the country who want to make and donate blankets and therapy items in their area. We would love to see groups pop up around the country, because we know the need for these items is so great. You can contact The Weighted Blanket Project at [email protected]

Make a Sensory Therapy Roll

We are sew excited you have decided to make a Sensory Therapy Roll! A few things first: I use poly pellets because they can be washed if anything icky gets on the roll. You can make a roll with rice or beans, but if it gets wet or dirty it usually has to be tossed. You can find them affordably in bulk online and sometimes in your local craft store, especially if you use a coupon!

These rolls were designed with help from an occupational therapist at my child’s school. We had been making lap pads, but for the smaller kids they were too bulky and not enough weight for classroom use. The rolls work great with smaller laps, but after testing them out for a while, we found that even older children like the roll better because of the shape. They sew up super quick and make great gifts for teachers, therapist and others who work with children on the spectrum! I also keep one in my car for use when we visit the dentist or doctor’s office!

Sensory Therapy Rolls provide deep pressure input, which helps calm children. The puffy paint areas also add extra touch points, which some children like to rub. These also help kids calm down, concentrate on tasks and increase attention span. My daughter’s teacher uses them because they create body awareness, which can stop or deescalate tantrums.

Here we go!

First, cut a strip of fabric 6 inches by width of fabric.

Press the tops down about 1 inch, towards wrong sides.

Next fold in half, right sides together, and press.

Shorten your stitch length a little, then sew up the sides.

Next, you need to measure out 2 to 3 pounds of poly pellets. I use a digital mail scale.

Carefully fill the tube with poly pellets. When full, pin across the tube just across the top of the pellets. This keeps them from getting near your needle.

Next, sew across the top, first as close to the top as possible, next a little bit down.

Take the pins out! That’s all there is to it! If you want to be extra fancy, you can grab some puffy paint and add some lines, swirls or dots on one side. This adds touch points for them to rub.

Note: If you want to make these rolls extra-durable, you can use French Seams.

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11 Responses to How to Make a Sensory Therapy Roll

  1. Michelle N says:

    Thank you! I’m going to work on it tomorrow. :)

  2. krystina says:

    Thank you for the pattern, and for the good work you are doing! Can I ask, how do these work? Do you put them on the child’s lap?

  3. Pannay says:

    Michelle, yes, they are about 20 to 22 inches long!

  4. Pannay says:

    Yes, poly pellets are available everywhere, we buy ours in bulk on ebay. Here is one listing in Australia for them!

    http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/5kg-Australian-Made-plastic-poly-pellets-for-weighted-blankets-Toys-Craft-Aust-/271545732214?pt=AU_Doll_Making_Repair&hash=item3f39630c76

  5. What a wonderful idea! I wish I had seen this a few years back when working in childcare. I would have had a few children that would have benefited from it!
    Oh by the way I’m an Aussie too!
    Nicole
    http://www.houseofnicnax.blogspot.com

  6. Katy says:

    are these beads available in Australia. Im sure that I could look for them, but just wondering if anyone knows

  7. Cathy says:

    Thanks to you and your guild for doing this important work. I’ve made one for my adult son and just covered old 5 pound ankle weights used for exercising. It has the extra weight he needs and I used denim like above for the cover to make it sturdy.

  8. Susan Gardem says:

    I am a new member (from Brisbane, Australia) and only this minute browsing your website only to find a project to make straight away dear to my heart. I have a beautiful grandson who is 2 1/2 and diagnosed with Autism and we are doing everything we can to help him progress and have just read how to make the Sensory Therapy Rolls which I’ll be doing today. Just want to say thank you.
    PS I am a quilter of 25 years and love fabric as we all do
    Kind regards… Sue

  9. Dorothy Bundy says:

    I am honored to be a member of the Weighted Blanket Project. Pannay has taught us so much and will continue to do so.
    At every turn, God has provided what the project needs to make another weighted blanket for another child. I can’t say enough about the ladies who donate their time, skills, resources and equipment to make these weighted items for the children. Being totally dependent on donations, things get skimpy from time to time. Just when we are running out of polly pellets a donation comes in. A request for a blanket, no polly pellets, a donation and an order to http://www.ebay.com/usr/fxfeguy09 for polly pellets. This gentleman has provided the best service we could ever ask for!
    Feedback from parents and teachers has been positive, up-lifting and heart-warming. Being able to participate has been a blessing for me. I look forward to what lies ahead.
    Regards,
    Dorothy Bundy

  10. Samina says:

    That’s a neat project. The Linus Project does something similar, which is where I first heard such a project.

  11. Michelle N says:

    How long do the rolls turn out? You say cut them 6 inches x width of the fabric – so around 20-22 inches?

    I’m looking forward to making this for a dear friend’s child! I hope it helps.

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