Sunday, February 16, 2014

DIY Tablecloth Onbuhimo Tutorial

This tutorial will show how to make a Onbuhimo (Onbu) Baby Carrier with padded-to-wrap straps from a70" round table cloth (or other apprpriate materials)!

The Onbuhimo (Onbu) is a Japanese style baby carrier. It is similar in form and function to a Mei Tai babycarrier, but instead of tying at the waist, the Onbu has rings or loops of fabric to thread the shoulder straps through. While my understanding is that Onbuhimo translates as "carried on the back", an Onbu can also be used for front carries and is especially easy to nurse in. Onbu are most appropriate for older babies (sitting unassisted) and toddlers. Because the straps thread through rings rather than wrap around the baby, they tend to be a cooler option for warmer weather!

Enough blabbing, let's get on to the DIY Table cloth Onbu tutorial!

Here's what you'll need:
  • sewing machine and basic sewing skills
  • tablecloth that is at least 70" in diameter and is made of strong, woven, 100% cotton. You can also use a 60"X84" or larger table cloth and will have extra scrap leftover. For this project, I used a 100% cotton tablecloths from Target. Mahogany brand table cloths are another popular choice for babywearing projects, and thrift stores can be a gold mine for high quality table cloths!  
  • 1/2-3/8 yard of a strong fabric such as canvas, twill, or duck. This will be the inner layer of the base of the carrier and is the foundation you will anchor your straps to. 
  • Padding for straps-2 rectangles of fleece or batting for shoulder strap padding, 9" wide by 12"-14" long.
  • 2 Small Sling Rings. The ONLY rings I recommend are those from, as they are weight tested and produced for the purpose of baby carrying. DO NOT use rings from a craft store.
  • Thread to match your table cloth. Use a high quality, all purpose thread such as Gutermann Sew-All or Coats & Clark Dual Duty All-Purpose Thread[affiliate links]
  • Basic sewing tools: sharp scissors, pins, something to measure with
  • An iron and surface to iron on
  • Paper, cardboard, newspaper, etc. to make your pattern for the body panels. 
  • Time. I consider myself moderately experienced at sewing and it took me a total of about 4 hours to complete this project.

Before you get started, wash, dry, and iron your table cloth and inner panel fabric. Thread your sewing machine. Decide what size panels you want and design your pattern. The pattern should be one half of the desired panel size/design. The longest panel a 70" round table cloth will allow for is about 22" long (including the waist), which is a toddler to preschooler sized panel.

Approximate measurements for an infant-sized Onbu would be 14-15" wide and 18" high 
(about 3" of the height is taken up by the waist strap).

Approximate measurements for a toddler-sized Onbu would be 17-18" wide and 22" high.

Alternately, you can trace the panel of a MT 
or copy the dimensions of a carrier that you know fits well. :)

Allow about an inch total in both directions (height and width) for seam allowance.

For this project, I went for simplicity and worked with the rounded edge of the table cloth as the top of my body panel.

I have more information for designing patterns for body panels in my TCMT (Table Cloth Mei Tai) tutorial if you're feeling lost!

This diagram shows how I cut the table cloth:

Take a deep breath, you're ready to start cutting up your table cloth!

Start by cutting the table cloth in half down the center.
From the center point, cut shoulder straps from each half of the cloth.
These will be the full length (Mine was 65" after shrinking in the wash) and you can cut them 8"-14" wide, depending on the length you need for your body panels.

Next, cut the body panels (or the pieces you will cut the panels from if you're using a pattern) from the middle of what's left of each half of the tablecloth.

Next, cut the waist straps. 
Cut two 8" wide by 12"-16" long strips, the full length of the table cloth.
These will be folded in half both ways to attach the rings and will need to be "sunk in" 4".
Ring placement will vary based on your size and the size of your carrier.
To determine ring placement, follow this helpful suggestion from Leslie Kung, Onbu Goddess:

"Take a soft tape measure and measure from the middle of one love handle to the middle of the other, right on your sides! That is where you want the ENDS of your fabric loops, or the centers of your SMALL sling rings!".

The rest is scrap! 
If you're crafty and/or ambitious, you could use the leftover scrap to make a hood or add a pocket!

Time to cut out the body panels!

If you're using a pattern, fold one of your panel pieces in half.
Line up the long, straight edge of your pattern with the folded edge of the fabric, and contoured/shorter/outer side with the open side.
Pin the pattern to the fabric and cut around it.

Repeat with the other rectangle.

These are the front and back panel of the body of your Onbu!

Cut the inner "base" panel

Use your pattern (or your body panel if not using a pattern)
 to cut a panel from your heavy weight base fabric 
I used 100% linen; twill canvas or duck are also suitable. 
DO NOT use stretchy or light weight fabric.

At this point, you should have the following pieces cut:

2 Shoulder Straps
2 Body Panels
1 Internal layer base panel
2 Waist strap/ring attachments

Prep for sewing:

I start by pressing all hems/seams on the straps.

For the shoulder straps, turn the long edges in 3/8" and press,
then turn 3/8" and press again so the raw edge is buried.

For the waist strap/ring attachments, fold in half length wise and press,
then turn the edges under about 1/2" and press.

Ready to start sewing?

Start by stitching shut the waist straps/ring attachments with a basic straight stitch.

Set the waist straps aside to make the padded-to-wrap shoulder straps!

First, hem each long side of each shoulder strap.

(If you prefer wrap-style straps with no padding, skip ahead to
 "Attach the Straps to Base Body Panel")

Fold your padding in thirds and lay it in the center of the strap, about 5" from the end with a raw edge.

Fold each side of the strap over the padding.
Each side of the strap should come about to the middle of the padding.
Ensure that they overlap by about 3/8 of and inch and pin.
The hem for the top folded over strap should be about in the center.

Secure the padding in place by stitching down the length of it, first through the center,
then one line of stitching on each side of the center
about half-way between the center and the edge of the strap.

At the very end of the padding, stitch a line across the width of the strap to conceal the padding.
I prefer to use a decorative or zig-zag stitch, but that's personal preference.

This is what the completed padded portion of your straps should look like!

Attach straps to base body panel.

The straps need to be "sunk in" at least 4 inches on the internal base panel. 
Keep the back of the straps facing up, away from the panel piece.

Pin the shoulder straps at the angle that makes sense for the shape of your body panel.

(If you are doing un-padded wrap-style straps, gather or pleat them to an appropriate width.)

Since I worked with the rounded edge of the table cloth for the top of my panels, 
my shoulder straps are attached just about straight up and down, 
but shoulder straps can be angled to about 45 degrees depending on your pattern.

Thread one ring through each of the waist straps to the center of the strap.
Pin them with the raw edges toward the center of the carrier,
again sinking in at least 4". 

The waist straps should be attached straight across the bottom, 
about 1/2 inch up from the bottom of the panel.

Before sewing the straps on, you can roll them up and secure with a
tie or rubberband to help keep them out of the way while you sew!

Attach the straps to the base panel using X-Box stitching. 
You can go over the X-Box 2-3 times to reinforce it. 
I have also been doing a row of bartack on either side of the x-box,
which is probably overkill, but I like the added security. 

These points where the straps attach to the base are the weight-bearing points for the whole carrier. 
They need to be sewn securely in order to safely bear the weight of your baby. 

To sew an x box, start by sewing a square that reaches to each hemmed edge of the strap. When you get back to the starting point of the square, pivot and sew diagonally across inside the square to the opposite corner, then pivot and sew straight across (reinforcing one side of the box) to the next corner, then pivot and again sew diagonally to the opposite corner, forming an X inside of the square. Reinforce all sides of the square and both lines of the X by sewing over them 3-4 times.

Repeat for all straps.

(If you would like to add a padded waist and legs-out padding to your Onbu,
please click HERE to proceed!)

Pin the Body Panel pieces together.

Lay down your inner panel piece with the attached straps on a flat surface, 
with the strap attachments facing up. 

Lay the panel that will be the "back" of your Onbu on top of the inner panel, right side facing UP.
Lay the "front" panel of your Onbu on top of that, right side facing DOWN.

Line everything up and

Sew the Panels Together.

Sew around the edges of the body panels, but DO NOT sew across the straps/strap openings!
Sew across the bottom, starting/stopping within 1/2 inch of the straps. 
Sew up each side, again, starting/stopping within 1/2 inch of the straps.
Sew across the top, you guessed it, starting/stopping within 1/2 inch of the straps.


Once you have sewn the 3 panels together along the top, bottom, and sides, 
you are ready to turn your MT right side out.

Did you guess that you're going to do that by 
gently/carefully pulling the right side out through a strap opening? ;)

I prefer to use one of the shoulder strap openings since they are a little wider.
Gently and carefully work the right side of the carrier out through the opening, 
then pull each strap through its opening.

Turn and Pin the strap openings.

Turn under the raw edges of the openings on either side of each strap and pin them together.
Ensure that the front and back match up so that you sew through all layers when you topstitch.


Topstitch around the entire edge of the carrier to finish it off! 
Take care when sewing across the strap openings 
to ensure that you're getting through all of the layers 
(shouldn't be a problem if everything is lined up properly.)
If you'd like, you can add another row of top-stitching about 3/8" in from the first row.


Trim any remaining loose threads, and you're done!

You made an Onbu!
Grab your baby and give it a test run!

As this is a handmade, item, check often for wear and tear and discontinue use if you have any concern that the integrity of the carrier is compromised. Use your best judgement to determine the weight limit for your carrier. If you used appropriate materials and proper construction, it should safely hold 25-30 lbs. I feel secure carrying both my 25-ish pound baby and my 30-ish pound preschooler in mine, and imagine I will feel comfortable with it up to 35 pounds or more if I'm diligent in checking for wear and tear.

I'm still new to making sewing tutorials, so if you have questions or feedback, PLEASE comment with them!

If you make your own Onbu based on this tutorial, I'd love to see it! 
Please share a photo of it in the comments or on the Fine and Fair Facebook page!


  1. Hi, just wondering if the tablecloth needs to be 70 in before shrinking or after. I have one that is approximately 63 in. Found at a thrift shop. Not sure what the original measurements were.

    1. 70 inches before shrinking! You should be just fine. Hooray for thrift finds! ;)

    2. 70 inches before shrinking! You should be just fine. Hooray for thrift finds! ;)

  2. ... let's say i have a 60x120 tablecloth. assuming i am creative with pattern placement, i should be able to use 1 half of the tablecloth for a ring sling and the other half for this, correct? (from what i can tell, all pieces are less than 30" on a side).

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Your blogs and every other content are thus interesting and helpful it makes me return back again.

  5. Before turning it right side out, could you help me. I'm trying to visualize but I'm having trouble. So I need to secure straps to my inner canvas, then lay pattern out on the front, and pattern out on the back. ??? Pin sew the 3 edges, flip it inside out??? Sew closed???

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