New Improved Magic Bean Bag
- Step By Step Instructions -

Left: My original medium bean
         bag - 8 lbs.
Right: slightly larger Magic Bean
         Bag - 6 lbs. 3 oz.
Why is this called the Magic Bean Bag? Read on and you'll find out when you get to the end.

     When I decided to make another basic bean bag based on Scott Fairburn's double bag design, I wanted to improve upon my previous medium sized bean bag, namely, to make it lighter in some way. I also wanted to use a better fabric that was waterproof, and to include zippers so I could empty it easily for travel. This time I decided to document the process, since Scott's instructions leave much to be desired for clarity and detail. For this new bean bag I'm using some rugged and waterproof 600 denier Cordura fabric in the popular Realtree Max-4 HD pattern, which I luckily found on the web site. At last check they did not have the Max-4 any longer, but they carry their "True Timber Flooded Timber" pattern, which is a fair substitute for Max-4. Of course, they have other camo patterns and solid colors too. The bean bag doesn't have to be camo, but I've used this fabric for other projects, and I like that it will match my other gear.

Materials needed
Flooded Timber pattern Realtree Max-4 HD pattern    
Lets's get started:
     Unlike my earlier bean bags, I've chosen to put a zipper in this one, mostly because I already have a suitable zipper on hand. It took a bit of thought to figure out how to install a zipper with this design because the obvious method for installing a zipper on this bean bag was, in fact, nigh onto impossible because of the back-to-back design. I also came up with a hopefully easier means of filling both sides of this "double bean bag" design using only one zippered opening. The only materials needed are your choice of fabric, and a zipper.

STEP A ONE: Cut two pieces of fabric, each 8.5 inches by 28 inches (each one makes a bag). Using 8"x26" will work quite well too. You can alter the bag size by using different dimensions from mine. Note that the camo pattern on my fabric is printed on one side only, so the other side is blank. Thus it has an obvious front and back side. The zipper I'm using is a 7-inch metal zipper. A zipper longer than 7 inches is unnecessary. It can be a vinyl zipper, but I thought maybe metal would be stronger.
Bean filler slot &
rectangular stitch box
Zipper cut-out pattern

Refer to
this layout

STEP A TWO: Mark the stitching lines, zipper location, and a slot opening for filling beans in the second bag as shown in the photos at right. All these marks are done on ONE piece of the fabric. Measure the 28-inch length and mark a center line where the fabric piece will fold in half later. The zipper slot line is drawn centered on the left side of the fold. It is 5 inches long with a 3/8 to 1/2-inch long "stop" line centered on each end. This zipper slot will be cut later, but NOT now. Next, on the right side of the fold, find the center point of that half and mark a 6" x 3" rectangle in the center. This rectangular box is the stitching line for joining the two bean bags back-to-back. Inside this rectangle draw a curved line as shown in the photo. This line will be slit later so the beans can fill the second bag from the first bag via the zipper. Also on this half, draw a stitching line 1/2-inch in from the three edges only (but not along the fold line). These three edges will be stitched together to form each bag, while the fold will make the 4th edge, requiring no stitches there. (refer to the layout measurements diagram for detailed measurements)

STEP A THREE: On the second piece of fabric, mark a center line for the fold, just like on the first piece. Also mark the stitching lines on one half of this second piece, 1/2-inch in from three sides just as on the first piece. No other marking is needed on this second piece of fabric.

------------------------------------     Now it's time to do a little sewing.    -----------------------------------

First, install the zipper... But why zipper first?
     The normal procedure is to stitch these bags together "wrong side out", leaving a gap through which you then turn it right side out. You would then pour the beans into these gaps and stitch them shut on each bag. But if you'd rather have a zipper close the gap, sewing a zipper into this opening would require accessing the back side of the fabric, which is now INSIDE the bag. Oops, won't work.
Sewing hem in zipper slot    Hemmed zipper slot edges Zipper flap hemmed edges
     But there is a solution..... put the zipper on the side of one bag before sewing the bag shut on itself. With the zipper pre-installed, you can sew the bag all the way shut with no open gap, then turn it right side out through the zipper opening. This places the zipper away from the seam around the bag where it could potentially scratch your lens, or your vehicle.
Here's how to do it -

STEP B ONE: Locate the 5-inch long mark you made for the zipper slot. Snip along the full length of this line and across the "stop marks" at each end to create a slit. Then fold under each side of the slit and sew a hem to make a neat edge that won't unravel, as in this photo. The finished hem on the zipper slot should look like this photo.

Unzip zipper about 1 inch Zipper grip aligns like this
STEP B TWO: Before sewing in the zipper, we'll first make a flap to cover the zipper. Cut out a small piece of fabric 2-1/4 inches by 8-1/2 inches, and fold over about 3/16 inch along all four edges. Sew this hem to make a neat edge all the way around like the upside down sample in the photo. This will become the cover flap.

STEP B THREE: Now, unzip the zipper about one inch as shown in this photo and center it under the zipper slot so that the zipper ends extend about one inch beyond each end of the slot cut-out. With the piece flipped over you can see how the partially opened zipper pull tab is now at one end of the slot. The slot is intentionally shorter than the zipper in order to help insure beans won't fall out if the zipper isn't quite pulled all the way shut. Now pin the zipper in place as shown in both the photos.


Cloth end tabs are
stitched close together

Zipper pull tab can slide into
the end "pocket" to prevent
bean spills and scratches

Tail end of zipper is also sewn
across to seal zipper slot
     Although this particular zipper top is designed to spread apart, in this application the zipper top will never be spread apart. The cloth end tabs should be sewn into place to prevent that. This photo shows how the open end cloth tabs are sewn close together (bottom view) and sewn across (top view), while this photo shows the opposite end sewn across to prevent bean leakage at that end as well.

STEP B FOUR: Double stitch each side of the zipper into place along the edges of the zipper slot. On the end where the teeth are spread apart, pull the tabs close together before stitching in place. Stitch across the other end of the zipper as well.
  Velcro is added to the flap and below
the zipper, then the flap is sewn on
The finished zipper flap protects
against possible scratches

STEP B FIVE: Now for the flap over the zipper to guarantee no scratches. Sew some hook and loop Velcro strips below the zipper and onto the 2-1/4 inch by 8-1/2 inch zipper flap you made earlier. Then sew the flap to the upper edge of the zipper slot, being careful not to sew into any of the metal pieces of the zipper (you wouldn't want to damage your needle). The velcro and completed flap are shown in these photos at far right.

Joining the two bean bags -

   Two pieces aligned face to face
      That seems like a lot of explaining just to put in a zipper, but please be patient with me. I am endeavouring to be thorough. Okay, it's time to join these two bean bags (or maybe I should say join the two pieces of fabric that will become the bean bags).

STEP C ONE: Place the two pieces of fabric together, one on top of the other, FACE TO FACE, or front to front (if you prefer that terminology) and align the edges. As you can see in the photo, the piece with the markings is on top so the rectangle you drew is visible. This rectangle is where you will be sewing next, stitching around the line forming the box. But don't sew just yet. Go on to the next step.

STEP C TWO: Cut some strips of fabric 3/8 to 1/2-inch wide. You will need a total of 36 inches (3 ft.) to go around the rectangle on both sides of the fabric. See the photo for a better idea how this will be used. (You can cut these strips from scraps if you wish. It can even be a different fabric as it will be on the inside and not seen.) These strips will reinforce the fabric along the stitches, so use fabric at least as sturdy as the bean bag fabric. Now, set these strips aside until we're ready for them.

How the reinforcing strips
will be used later.
Pin the fabric together
inside the rectangle.
Stick a pin through at each
corner mark of the rectangle
Mark a dot on the back where
the pin comes through
Connect the four dots to correctly align the rectangle on the back

STEP C THREE: With the two bean bag pieces face to face, align the edges, then pin the two pieces of fabric together inside the box. This will keep them from shifting while sewing and handling.

STEP C FOUR: Transfer the rectangle lines to the back piece of fabric so you can see where the reinforcing strips go on the back side. --- Here's How: Stick a pin through both pieces in one corner of the box. Flip over the piece and mark a dot next to the pin where it pokes through to mark the corner position on the back piece. Do this with each corner. Then all you need to do is play "connect the dots" with the corner marks, and you'll have the rectangle on the back piece correctly positioned.


Tape strips around
rectangle and stitch
Remove tape and stitch
twice more around strips
Stitch around curved slot,
then cut through slot
STEP C FIVE: Get the reinforcing strips you cut, and place them around the rectangle, centering them on the lines. Using painter's tape (or masking tape will do), tack down the outside corners so the strips will remain in place. Do this to the rectangle on each side. Then carefully (so you don't knock the strips or tape off) stitch around where the rectangle lines would be under the strips. This does not have to be exact. Just follow the center line of the strips. Then remove all the pins, and remove the tape. Now you can stitch around again about 1/8-inch outside the first stitch, and once more about 1/8-inch inside the first stitch. That will give you three rounds of stitching for thorough reinforcement.

STEP C SIX: Now stitch all the way around the curved line (the bean filler slot) in the middle of the rectangle as in this photo. Then snip through the fabric along the curved line to open a slot. This is a pass-through allowing you to pour beans into the second bean bag. The slot is curved because it allows opening wider than a straight cut.

  Flap is positioned and
sewn on three sides
Flap helps prevent migration of beans from one bag to the other
STEP C SEVEN: The last thing to do here is to cut a piece of fabric 6" x 3". I cut mine from a green scrap of Cordura left from another project. This piece is positioned over the curved slot, offset about 1/2-inch from one long side of the rectangle to give more overhang over the curved slot. The flap is then sewn around two short edges and one long edge (do NOT sew all four edges). This will act as a cover flap for the slot, helping to keep migration of beans between bags to a minimum, while still allowing you to fill beans through the slot. Since this flap is on the inside, and not visible, there is no need for hemming the edges..... unless your fabric is prone to fraying on the edges. The Cordura fabric I am using does not fray easily, so I didn't hem the edge.

Believe it or not, you're almost done -
     Now all that is left to do is actually sew the edges of the two bean bags. This is where the magic happens.

  Fold the fabric piece with the zipper into a bundle and pin with safety pins Another view of the bundle
pinned with safety pins
Be sure you can reach through
the bean filler slot and access
the safety pins for later removal
STEP D ONE: Take the fabric piece with the zipper and fold it onto itself into a small bundle. Pin the bundle together with safety pins. Photo #1 and photo #2 both show views of how this looks when done. This is necessary to keep this half of the project out of your way while you sew the first bean bag.

Be sure this bundle does not get caught in the seams when sewing the edges of the first bean bag. Furthermore, I HIGHLY recommend using medium to large safety pins for this. DO NOT use sewing pins. WHY? Because you will need to reach into the sewn bag and pull out this bundle, and sewing pins will STICK YOU and HURT. Safety pins are much safer, and they will hold the bundle much better than sewing pins.

     Before the next step, take time to reach through the bean filler slot and insure you can access the safety pins for later removal. If you pin the bundle too tightly, you might have trouble reaching in later to undo the safety pins and pull the bundle out.

STEP D TWO: Now fold the remaining fabric piece over onto itself, covering up the bundle as in this photo. Then align each edge and pin all around the edges so they will not shift. Now you are ready to sew around the three edges, stitching directly over the outline you drew in STEP A THREE. DO NOT sew along the folded edge. It is completely unnecessary. Once you've stitched once around all three edges, remove the pins and stitch around two more times between the first stitch and the outer edge. These extra lines of stitching are for safety, in case a stitch comes loose. You won't have to worry about beans leaking out or about having to repair the stitching. The photos below will step through these instructions.

Fold the fabric piece over the bundle and align all the edges Pin the fabric together
around the three edges.
This shows the opposite
side after pinning
Here the three rows of stitching
are done, ready to reveal the
magic bag inside

Are you ready for some magic?
  Pull fabric and remove safety
pins through the bean filler slot
With your pins removed, fish
out the rest of the fabric
Voila, the first completed
bean bag magically appears

STEP E ONE: Reach into the bean filler slot and fish around for the safety pins. You can probably pull some fabric out to gain access to the pins. PATIENTLY pull and tug and wiggle until you can get the safety pins out. Now it will be easier to pull all the insides out through the bean filler hole. Again, be patient, tugging here and tugging there, and soon all of it will work out through the slot....... and VOILA, you now magically have one completed bean bag, and the zipper side you had bundled up is out for you to begin sewing it into the second bean bag.

See, I told you it was magic.

STEP E TWO: UNZIP THE ZIPPER NOW. Repeat, UNZIP THE ZIPPER NOW. After you have UNZIPPED THE ZIPPER (it should be open now and NOT SHUT ), you just need to basically repeat Steps D One and D Two. Fold up the completed bean bag into a small bundle and pin it with safety pins so it won't get caught in the stitching when you sew around the second bag. Next, fold over the fabric piece with the zipper so you see the back of the zipper, and so the bundled bag is covered up. Align the edges and pin around the edges as before. Now, be sure the ZIPPER IS OPEN. It has to be open so you can later pull out the other magic bean bag. It could prove difficult to unzip the zipper from the wrong side when you can't get to the pull tab.

  Fold the first bean bag into
a bundle and safety pin
Fold zipper side
over bundle
Pin three sides
for stitching
Stitch all three sides
and remove pins
STEP E THREE: With the edges now aligned and pinned, you are ready to sew around the three sides as before. After stitching around once, remove the pins and then stitch twice more around for safety. When you finish stitching, simply reach into the zipper opening (you DID have the zipper open, didn't you?) and begin pullling out the first bean bag that is bundled up with safety pins. With the safety pins removed and the full insides pulled out.....

  Pull up the pinned bag
and remove safety pins
Patiently pull the remainder
of the bag through the
zipper opening
Abbra Cadabbra... two
completed bean bags
attached together
Fill both bags via
one zippered opening
Abbra Cadabbra..... you now have two fully seamed bean bags attached together.

     Unlike my other bean bags, this one is much more easily filled. Using a single zippered opening to fill both bags eliminates hand stitching altogether. It also allows me to fill and empty the bag very easily, in the event I need to travel with lighter weight.

  8 lbs. of dried beans looked
like about the correct volume
Substitue filler of 1/2"
cubes of dense foam
Getting the Magic Bean Bag ready to use -

4 lbs. of pinto beans filled     
one side only this far, correlating     
to both sides requiring over      
9 lbs. of beans     
     How much does this double bean bag hold? I started out with two 4-pound bags of dried pinto beans, and poured one full bag (4 lbs.) into one side of the bean bag. It was about 80% full. That was just a little bit slack for my taste, though it may suit some folks just right. I'm estimating it will actually hold 4-1/2 pounds per side, tops. I'm pretty sure you cannot cram 5 pounds into one side. If you could, it would be too stiff to form well to the lens or a car door. So my estimate to completely fill both sides will be 9 to 9.5 pounds of pinto beans (4.5 to 4.75 lbs. per side). If your bag dimensions are different from mine, then you will need to adjust your expected amount of filler.
     I specify "pinto beans" because that's what I used. If you were to use some other filler... as in larger beans, or smaller beans, peas, buckwheat, etc., ..... they will have more or less air space between each "bean" and therefore will alter the amount of that kind of bean needed, as well as the total weight. Just be aware that different filler materials will come out with a different weight-to-volume ratio.
  The Magic Bean Bag
ready to use
The finished Magic Bean
Bag with no filler
It folds up into
a small package
     This "weight-to-volume ratio" can be altered by using other filler material as well. I tried an experiment here, hoping to cut down on the weight, while still filling the bags. I have some odd "foam" that is sort of slick and plastic-like, and it's much firmer (compresses only about half as much, or less) than the dense gray foam I use for equipment padding. It's no good for padding, though it is used to make form-fitted molded spacers for products like TVs and heavy weight items in boxes. I diced up some of this stuff into little 1/2-inch cubes and mixed it in with the beans to take up space without adding weight. I wanted to see if I could reduce the weight while still maintaining a good conformity to my lenses, car door, etc.
Check out the new improved
Butterfly Bean Bag version II
     My mixture (by volume, not by weight) is about 1/3 diced foam and 2/3 beans. Instead of requiring about 9 pounds of beans, it worked out to only 6 pounds of beans, plus the 3 ounces of foam pieces and fabric. This filled my Magic Bean Bag just right. It feels like it's all beans, and conforms the same as before, but weighs at least three pounds less than using all beans. I'm extremely pleased with the results.