Cooling Scarf Free Sewing Project

Linda Vielhaber
Cooling Scarf Free Sewing Project

Summertime Scarf

Imagine chilling out on a sweltering summer day with a moist cloth on the back of your neck. You can feel cool and look great wearing an attractive neck scarf filled with hidden water-soaked polymer crystals. The scarf is an easy, fast project made from readily available materials. Whip up several for guests at your next barbeque, or join a charity project and sew some for U.S. troops.

  Nontoxic polyacrylamide granules, often called crystals, are concealed in the casing of a cotton neck scarf. When the scarf is soaked in water, the granules absorb the water, expand and turn into a crystalline gel. The cotton fabric absorbs the water from the gel, and then the water evaporates for a cooling effect. Scarves stay cool and moist for hours due to the polyacylamide's water-retaining properties.

The Elements

Make a scarf with lightweight, single-face tie ends or heartier, double-face ties. Single-face ties require hemming, but minimal turning. Double-face ties are narrower and require more turning but no hemming, and then conceal the fabric wrong side and the back of any embellishments. Cut the tie ends into points or curves, or create a unique shape.

  Choose tightly woven 100% cotton fabric for its water-absorbing and cooling properties. Avoid loosely woven fabrics--the gel could seep through the loose weave. Scarves are worn wet, so select colorfast fabrics that won't bleed onto clothing or skin. Look for prints in popular motifs, such as red, white and blue for summer holidays, or sport themes for wearing to outdoor events.

  Polyacrylamide is a super-absorbent, nontoxic polymer that was developed in the '60s to retain water in arid soil. Polyacrylamide holds up to 400 times its weight in water--one pound of polymer can hold up to 48 gallons of rainwater! Different forms of polymer are widely used in many industries and in numerous products, such as disposable diapers, hot and cold compresses, toothpaste, cosmetics and flower arrangements. The crystals are nontoxic, but they can create a fine dust. Wear a dust mask, gloves and safety glasses and remove contact lenses when handling the crystals. Wash hands after use. Choose medium-size crystals for best results. Granule size and water quality impact how well the crystals absorb water. Water with a high mineral content can impede water absorption. (See "Sources" to find out where to buy polyacrylamide crystals.)

Sew for the Troops

Many charities accept donations of cooling scarves to send to U.S. troops stationed overseas. The scarves protect soldiers from the extreme heat and desert conditions of the Middle East. Visit the following organizations' websites for exact specifications and shipping information.

Stitch a Sample

Experiment to determine the optimal amount of crystals per scarf by making a sample casing.

Cut a 4"x15" fabric strip. Fold the fabric in half lengthwise and stitch 1/2" from one short end and from the long cut edges. Pour a scant teaspoon of the crystals into the open end. Fold the open end 1/2" toward the wrong side; pin.

Submerge the casing upright in a tall container of water for 15 to 30 minutes. The casing should be plump after soaking, but not oozing. Using too many crystals or soaking too long may force the crystal gel through the fabric, making the fabric feel slimy. Adjust the crystal amount as needed to fill, but not over-fill, the casing.

Cooling Scarf Instructions


  • 1/8 yard of 44/45"-wide 100% cotton fabric, prewashed
  • Approximately 7/8 teaspoon of medium-size polyacrylamide crystals for an average scarf, or 1 1/8 teaspoons for a large scarf (See "Sources.")
  • Matching all-purpose thread
  • Removable fabric marker
  • Rulers: straight and French curve
  • Bodkin or tube-turner
  • Point turner (optional for double-face instructions)


Cut a 4"x44" fabric strip for each scarf. Fold the strip in half widthwise, matching the short ends. Snip both long edges 7" (8") from the fold. The area between the snips will be the casing.

To create narrow-point tie ends (for single-face ties only), fold the stirp in half lengthwise and marke each end 1/4" from the fold. Mark the long raw edges 12" from each end. Using the ruler, draw aline connecting the marks. Cut on the lines through both layers.

To create curved- or angled-end ties, fold the strip half lengthwise and mark the long raw edge 2" from the end. Using the French curve (for curved-end ties) or the ruler (for angled-end ties), draw a line from the cut edge at the fold to the 2" mark. Cut on the line hrough both layers. Repeat for the remaining scarf end.

Single-Face Tie

Fold the strip in half lengthwise with right sides together and matching the snips. Using a medium-length stitch and 1/2" seam allowances, stitch between the marks to form the casing; clip the seam allowances at the marks to, but not through, the stitching. Press open the seam.

Stitch a 1/4" double hem on the scarf ends, or roll-hem the ends on a serger or sewing machine. Turn the scarf right side out, center the casing seam and press.

Create the casing by stitching across the scarf at one end of the casing seam. Using a teaspoon, carefully pour the crystals into the casing open end. To protect your machine and contain spills, work over a bowl, away from your sewing machine.

Close the casing by stitching across the scarft at the opposite end of the casing seam, pushing the crystals to the far casing end out of the needle area.

Double-Layer Tie Ends

Cut a 4"x44" fabric strip for each scarf. Embellish tie ends, if desired. These tie ends will be a bit stiffer than the single-layer ties.

Fold the strip in half lengthwise, right sides together, matching the casing marks. Using a medium straight stitch, sew a 1/2" seam along the raw edges, leaving a 3" opening outside of the casing area for turning and filling. Trim the corners; turn and press.

With the 3" opening at one end, stitch across the scarf 14 1/2" from the opposite scarf end.

Holding the opening end of the scarf upright, use a teaspoon to pour the crystals into the casing. Stitch across the scarf 14 1/2" from the upper end to close the casing, pushing the crystals to the far end of the casing, away from the needle. Whipstitch or machine edgestitch the opening closed.

TIP:  Embellish scarves with embroidery designs, beading or trim for extra customization.


Soak the casing or the entire scarf in cold or ice water for 15 to 30 minutes, or until the crystals turn to gel; avoid over-soaking. Distribute the gel along the casing with your fingers. Lay the scarf on a hand towel to absorb any dripping water, then tie the scarf loosely around your neck. To keep the casing cool while wearing, roll it to redistribute the gel or dip it in cold water for a few minutes.

Refrigerate extra cooling scarves for breezeless humid days. When one scarf reaches body temperature, swap it for a cool one.

Store wet scarves in an open plastic bag, hang them to dry, or store them in the refrigerator. After several days of drying, the crystals will return to solid form.

Hand-wash crystal-filled scarves using a few drops of liquid detergent. Rinse well and hang to dry. Don't machine wash or dry. Press the tie ends if desired. Press the casing only after the gel has completely crystallized. Shake the crystals to one end of the casing to press the opposite end. Then flip and repeat. Don't iron the crystals or expose them to iron temperatures.

Scarves for Sale

Cooling scarves are a fast-selling product, especially at outdoor fairs. Follow these tips to easily stitch scarves to sell.

  • To speed up assembly for mass production, use the single-face construction method and serge-finish all edges prior to stitching the casing.
  • Use fabrics in popular colors and motifs to make a variety of scarves for customers to choose from.
  • Package the scarves in individual plastic bags with directions for wearing and washing.
  • Fill a cooler with ice water and prepare a few scarves for passers-by to try.

Sources for Polyacrylamide Crystals

Polyacrylamide crystals are available under many brand names. Look for them in the garden section of home-improvement centers, discound department stores, nurseries, or in the candle, fragrance or flower areas at craft stores. Check packaging for granule size and to verify there are no additives. Expect approximatesly 115 teaspoons per pound of medium-size granules.

Visit these websites to purchase polyacrylamide crystals online:

The Artistic Shop: 262-691-1353;

Water Crystals: 719-599-7141;

Watersorb/Polymers Inc.,: 501-623-9995;

Post a comment
To comment on this article you must be logged in. Not a member?


How cool......
On my way to saving electricity and not using the a/c as much this summer......
© F+W All rights reserved.