The Little Mermaid’s Tail

So – this is a bit late: I completed this project almost a month ago now – but life has been deeply hectic.

My niece is a little princess, who loves fairies and mermaids and my little pony.  I was racking my brains over what to make her for her birthday this year, when I came across the crochet mermaid blanket thing.  I’m not brilliant at crochet – only managing half of a coral crochet project a few months back, but sewing I could manage, so a mermaid tail sleeping bag plan began to form.

The basic plan involved a triangular tail, with flukes.  The width at the top of the tail was ??? cm tapering to ???cm at the feet.  With each fluke ?? cm from the midline of the tail to the tip of the fluke. (Image & details to come – I left my notebook at TeddyBear’s house).  I’ve also misplaced some of the photographs from the planning and cutting phase due to changing phones in the middle of the project.

I had bought the fabric several weeks before I began the project, as I had been procrastinating due to uncertainty as to how I wanted to do it – so as I began cutting out the pieces, I realised that I was seriously short of fabric, and had to do an emergency trip to Spotlight to get more fabric and wadding.

Lesson #1: design your pattern BEFORE buying fabric!

As I wanted the sleeping bag to be warm and comfy, I constructed an outer shell which was quilted and attached to the flukes. I then created a lining layer that wasn’t quilted from a soft blanket from the warehouse.

The outer shell involved two sides of tail-plus-fluke, each made up of three layers: an outer layer of satin, a middle layer of dacron and an inner layer of cotton (mostly cut from an old sheet – they’re great for toiles and lining!  Thanks TeddyBear for that tip!).


This is a single side in its final form – there were two of these created, this one (the back) and a front, which was basically identical (except without the seam down the midline of the flukes).

This was surprisingly difficult to sew together as the different textures of the three fabrics moved through the machine very differently.  I found that sewing with the satin on the top worked the best – maybe the cotton caught on the feeder better or something.  But I also had to pin the three layers together very thoroughly before I started.  I also found that the edges ended up very scrappy, so I decided to neaten them all by overlocking before any further steps were taken.

Lesson #2:Using sewing machine needles specifically for satin really makes a difference to how easy things are to sew!

Because of the fabric error, I ended up having to make the flukes separately to the tail, and the flukes of the back in two parts, which left ugly seams across the joints. I would have preferred to have avoided this, but the cost of the fabric required was prohibitive, given that I had already cut out and started constructing the tail when I worked out my mistake!

I then progressed onto sewing the front and back flukes together ready for adding the rays. The lines of the rays were basically drafted onto a piece of newspaper, then pinned onto the flukes. The seams for each ray were stitched ~half a foot width either side of the row of pins. These created guides that I could use to bone the rays using large cable ties.  I used two thicknesses of cable ties per guide, as I found that a single thickness was ok, but not particularly strong.

Lesson #3: laying the cable ties out along the guides (on the outer surface), and cutting them to the correct length BEFORE pushing them into the guides would mean that you only had to do the job once!

Once the cable ties had been cut to size and threaded into the guides, I did a single row of stitching around the proximal ends of the guides, to keep the boning in place.  This also served to create a defined foot pocket for the niece to put her feet in, so that she could flop the tail around more effectively.

I then began the quilting of the tail. I used a paper template to ensure that each scallop that I created was approximately the same.  I made this from a long strip of paper, folded into 8 equal parts, with a single scale drawn on the front part and cut out through the whole thickness (paper doll style).  The strip was then unfolded to give a template that could be used to sew across the whole width of the tail. Initially I tried chalking or marking the scallops from the template onto the fabric and sewing along the drawn line, but the chalk didn’t stay on the fabric well, the chalk powder wheel pulled and damaged the satin and the disappearing ink disappeared.  So I went with pinning the template across the tail and stitching around it.

Lesson #4: quilting works best when you have a flat, easily manipulated surface to work with – trying to do shaped quilting around a stiffened set of flukes is complicated at best!  Next time, I would do the quilting BEFORE I did the fluke boning.

The rows of scales were placed approximately 20cm apart on both the front and back sets, although when I came to stitch up the side seams, I discovered that the ‘more or less’ approach has resulted in rows of quilting that didn’t quite match up between front and back.  This was frustrating, but I was running out of time, and couldn’t bring myself to go back and unpick the offending rows of quilting.  In addition, there was the problem with the outer fabric being satin, which doesn’t respond at all well to repeated sewing.  So, I matched them up as best I could and sewed up the sides to make a full bag. There were some tricky bits as a result of having sewed the flukes before I sewed up the sides; I think that next time, I’d sew the front and back of the whole bag including flukes at the same time, then do the boning.  It’d be more annoying in terms of burrowing to find the spaces for the boning to go in, but would make for a neater outcome in the end I think.

The final part of the bag was the lining.  I considered making this removable, but decided that in the end it would be pretty easy to wash the whole thing, and would be less complicated for my sister to deal with if it was all one unit. Sewing this up was pretty easy – it was the same shape as the tail sans flukes, and with a small foot pocket that fit into the pocket at the base of the flukes so that the niece’s feet would fit into the ends and allow her to flop the tail around.

The first step was to put the outer part of the tail inside the lining (right sides facing), so that I could sew the first seam attaching the lining to the outer.

Lesson 5: When sewing lining to the outer, you need to leave a gap so that you can turn it all in the right way.

As the lining was longer than the outer, I could fold it out over the top opening to create a space for a cord to run through so that she could pull the top tight if she wanted to.  This involved extensive pinning and two rows of stitching, one a foot’s-width from the top edge and one a foot’s-width from the edge of the fold.  I then used the loose ends from the quilting to tack the lining into the outer part of the sleeping bag, so that it didn’t get loose and tangled around her legs as she slept.  I was lucky to find a beautiful sparkly piece of cord at Spotlight with the same colours as in the tail, plus a toggle.

Apparently it was a successful process, as the Niece spent my entire visit in the sleeping bag: I wish I could show you her face (she was pretty happy), but you know – privacy and protection of kids etc.


So there’s the Little Mermaid – with a happier ending than the original story.


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