Gathered Car Seat Canopy Tutorial

When Weston was born two and a half years ago, car seat canopys were just coming into existence. It’s funny how almost every infant car seat I see now at Walmart or the gym has a canopy. I remember when nursing covers were the same way too, a brand new idea that became a staple for any new nursing mom.

I know what you’re thinking… I have two sons, who are well past the age of infant car seat. But, I have two sisters that are both due to have babies in March, and I’m taking my chances that at least one of them will have a girl. Between the two of them, their last four babies have all been boys, so it’s not too bad of a gamble, right?!
I’ve had this idea for a car seat canopy in my mind for months, and when Material Girls tweeted that they just got Sandi Henderson’s Secret Garden line in, there was no decision to be made :). It was done.
First off, there are about a million car seat canopy tutorials in blogland, and they’re great. I’m not one to try and re-invent the wheel, but there’s a few tricks to adding the gathers, which I guessed I’d get questions about, so I thought a tutorial would be the best way to go, showing the step by step process.
Let’s get started…


1 1/2 yd main fabric (100% quilting cotton recommended)
1 1/2 yd coordinating fabric (100% quilting cotton recommended)

4″ sew in velcro (3/4″-1″ wide)

5 yd rick rack – 1 3/8″ wide was used in this tutorial (optional)

Pieces to Cut:

From main fabric:
     see step 1 to begin instructions for cutting gathered panels

     straps: 2 pieces 2 1/2″x8″

From coordinating fabric:
     reverse of canopy: 36″x42″
     center strip on top of canopy: 7″x36″

     straps: 2 pieces 2 1/2″x8″
     from both hook and loop sides: 2 pieces 1 3/4″ long

1. First, we’ll make our pattern that we’ll use to cut our pieces for the gathered panels. Remember that each car seat is shaped a bit differently, so it’s best to have your car seat on hand to measure before you cut your top panel pieces, and please make adjustments as needed. The first few steps are the trickiest if you’re new to pattern design, so hang in there and you’ll be golden! If you read through the steps before getting started, that should help as well to visualize what we’re doing.

The finished size of our canopy will be 35 1/2″x41 1/2″. Most car seats will need the panel where the top of the car seat is to be shorter than the panel that covers the bottom portion of the car seat. I took a 42″ blanket and determined that I needed 4 extra inches from the handle to the bottom than from the handle to the top of the car seat. Using newspaper, make a rectangle that is 36″x20 1/2″, which will be the pattern for the bottom gathered panel. The pattern for the top gathered panel will need to be 36″x16 1/2″, but you can just use the larger pattern and cut it down to 16 1/2″ after you’ve used it for the 20 1/2″ piece.

Here’s a couple examples of an adjustment to the pattern: If you measure your car seat and decide you want the bottom panel only 2″ longer that the top panel, you’ll need your bottom panel pattern to be 36″x19 1/2″ and your top panel pattern to be 36″x17 1/2″. If you want a 3″ difference, subtract 1 1/2″ from 18 1/2″ and add 1 1/2″ to 18 1/2″. Basically, whatever difference you need between the top and bottom panels, divide that number by 2, and then subtract that number from 18 1/2″, and then add it to 18 1/2″ to get your new measurements. Feel free to ask questions if that’s still confusing :).

2. Cut slits approximately 2″ apart across the widest side of the pattern, leaving 1″ uncut along the opposite side. Sorry, Rudolf :(…

3. Place the 36″x20 1/2″ pattern on your main fabric. If you’re fabric is directional, you’ll want the side with open slits toward the top of your print. Pin the middle strip to the center of fabric at the top and bottom, and then gently curve the bottom (where you did not cut), and pin the bottom corners. To get the most gathers for the width of the fabric, pin the tops of the outermost strips to the edge of the fabric, making sure the strips are as straight as possible. You’ll notice that the bottom curve of the pattern will buckle a bit, but that’s fine. Spread the remaining strips, pinning so they have fairly equal spaced between each one.
If your fabric is non-directional, you can even turn the pattern piece 90 degrees and spread the slits out even farther apart, which will give room for fuller gathers.
Note: Wonder why all this fuss to make our gathered panels? Remember that we only want gathers where the main fabric meets the center contrast strip, but not at the top or bottom ends of the canopy. If we were to simply add width to the piece, we’d have the extra width at the top and bottom of the canopy as well. With this technique, the bottom and side measurements will remain the same, but we’ll have added fullness to the top “outward” curve, which will give us room to gather that edge. Now that you know the method, you can use the same steps to add gathers or fullness to any pattern piece – it works great on shirts and skirts, and is the same method I used to create the flounce on the bodice and hem in this dress!

4. Cut along pattern edges, forming a gentle curve around the top and bottom of the strips.
5. To cut the top gathered panel, you have a couple of options. You can take your pattern and cut it down to 16 1/2″, removing 4″ off the top of each strip, and repeat steps 3-4. Or you can use your bottom panel fabric piece, fold it in half, and use it as a pattern to cut the top gathered panel. If you cut the top panel the same as the bottom panel, you can just trim 4″ off of the outward curve afterwards and it is a big time saver. Remember that this time the outward curve should be at the bottom of the print if it’s directional (opposite as with the bottom gathered panel).
6. Phew! You’re through the worst of it! It’ll be smooth sailing from here… Sew two lines of basting or gathering stitches along the outward curve of the bottom panel, at 3/8″ and 5/8″.

7. Gather the outward curve to approximately 36″, and pin to one side of center contrast strip, right sides together, and adjusting gathers.

8. Using a 1/2″ seam allowance, stitch along pinned edge. Use a seam ripper to remove 5/8″ basting stitch that is visible on right side of fabric.

9. Press seam allowance toward center contrast strip and topstitch 1/4″ from seam.
10. Repeat steps 7-9 with top panel piece. This will now be our canopy top piece.
This is a good time to check the general fit with your car seat and adjust anything if necessary.
11. Fold canopy top piece in half and half again, matching the 4 corners. Using a large plate, trace a curve onto the corners and cut.
12. Repeat step 11 with canopy bottom piece (coordinating fabric).
13. Next we’ll add our rick rack detail (if you’re not using rick rack, skip to step 15). Align the inner curve of the rick rack along one raw edge of your canopy bottom piece as pictured, and sew (use a basting stitch) onto all 4 sides of fabric using a 1/8″ seam allowance, and leaving a 2″ tail at the beginning. You can adjust the 1/8″ seam allowance and placement of the rick rack depending on how much you’d like to show on your finished canopy, but 1/8″ worked well for me.

14. Allow end of rick rack to overlap beginning tail, and trim excess.

15. Right sides together, pin canopy top piece to canopy bottom piece, matching raw edges and curved corners. You may trim the excess rick rack first if desired, but I like to leave it as is to add a little bulk and weight to the sides of the canopy.

16. Using a 1/4″ seam allowance, stitch around all four sides of pinned pieces, leaving a 6″ opening on one side.

17. Turn canopy right side out through opening. Press sides flat and topstitich as desired around entire canopy, close to edge, enclosing opening.
18. Right sides together, pin one main fabric strap piece to coordinating fabric strap piece. Stitch around all four sides using a 1/4″ seam allowance, leaving a small opening. Trim corners.
19. Turn strap right side out through opening and press flat. Topstitch around entire strap, close to edge, enclosing opening. Topstitch again around strap if desired.
20. Repeat with remaining strap pieces.
21. Place velcro pieces close to ends of each strap (make sure to sew vecro pieces to opposite sides of strap as pictured so it will make a loop when attached), and stitch around edges. Stitch an “x” from corner to corner to add stability.
22. Measure width of canopy to find exact center point of contrast strip (will be 17 3/4″ in from each side if you used the seam allowances mentioned). Measure approximately 3″ from center point to each side and pin straps in place (double check with your car seat handle that 6″ apart is best).
23. Stitch each strap in place as pictured, forming a rectangle approximately 1 3/4″ wide and 1 1/2″ long on each strap. Stitch an “x” from corner to corner to add stability.
Great job, you are done! Try your canopy on your car seat and enjoy keeping your baby safe and sound from… well it’s probably a long list, so I’ll leave it at just enjoy :).
Remember to keep your baby ventilated when using the canopy, and always keep a close eye. Just sayin…

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  1. I guess I’m crazy but the newspaper part confused me! Is the full strip 2″ or tapers to 1″ where you don’t cut??? Haha :)

  2. Simply Sew Sassy – the whole strip is 2″ (although mine obviously were eye-balled and not all 2″ exactly), and the 1″ is the amount at the end of the strip that is not cut. Hope that helps!

  3. I need your help! :/ I got a little ahead of myself and I miss read the “Pieces to Cut” part and I cut the reverse canopy piece as well to match the front piece so I don’t have a full 36″x42″ of the reverse canopy. What to do??! what to do?!?…

  4. Jaqui – Don’t worry! You can just do the underside the same as the top, and you’ll just end up with gathers on both sides instead of just one. Maybe you’ll even like it better that way, hehe!

  5. Sooo cute!! I have a few baby gifts to make & I can’t wait to try this! Do you happen to know how many months this is good for? Meaning before the baby grows out of this type of car seat carrier? Thanks for a great tut!

  6. Hi! 1 more question, you say to measure the car seats – these are gifts, so I won’t know the measurements. Are the ones you give pretty standard if I were to just use those?
    Thanks again! So cute!

  7. Meredith – most babies can fit in their infant carseats until they’re at least 1 year, unless they’ve reached the weight maximum before then. And yes, my measurements should be fairly standard, so you should be pretty safe to use them!

  8. I just made this yesterday for my new Grand-Daughter due any day. Instructions were very good and easy to follow. It turned out so cute, the gathers makes it different then all the others you see. I think I will make more to give as baby gifts. Thanks so much!

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    I have read all that, so now me also commenting here.

  11. Hello to all, the contents existing at this web site are actually remarkable for people knowledge, well, keep up
    the good work fellows.

  12. Hi,
    I heard that the fabric needs to be washed and dried before sewing. Is this true being I heard they shrink and would that change the measurements of what’s needed?

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    I like what I see so now i am following you. Look forward to going over your web page for a second

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  15. This was great and easy to follow! How about one of those things that goes in a shopping cart so baby doesn’t touch the germ-y cart handle or bars??

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