Thursday, February 20, 2014

Basic Arm Splint Tutorial + Free Pattern

Hello everyone!

So today I have something a little different for you. Its a sewing pattern/tutorial. GASP! You say, where fore is the crochet? Well if I could have crocheted these little beauties I probably would have alas, sewn works so much better!

The whats and whys and hows? Well, one of my closest friends has a grandson who was born with Bilateral Cleft Lip and Palate. This requires Master R to have a few various surgeries to repair both his lip and palate. After his operations, it was important that he not touch his face in case he hurt the area, dislodged stitches or spread germs and caused an infection. The easiest way to stop a child from touching their face, is to immobilise their arms.

Well, it turns out there wasn't a lot of options for purchasing them and the few available were pretty costly, so Master R's nan asked if it was possible to make some. That's right, I made some :D The first few were pretty scary looking, and much more complicated then need be so I kept working on them and am now happy with the final pattern.

Call me crazy, but something like this should already be a part of going in and getting the op's done, having to source and pay for a pair of childs arm splints on top of an already incredibly stressful (and expensive once you factor in travel distance, special bottles, accommodation ect!!) time just isn't right.
We've since been working on making sets to donate to the Royal Hobart Hospital, and hope to distribute more to any family that needs them.

Before I go too much further, Id like to link up a support group called CleftPALS Victoria (Aussie based group) there are many more out there, but this is the one my friend is in and so the one Id like to share :) If you'r in Tassie of Vic and have a cleft bub head on over :)

Now the size I have here will work from about 5-6 months up. I tried a pair on Miss M (below) who is now 8yrs and they not only fit, but she was unable to scratch her nose, Id call that a success. To make them smaller, just shrink the overall size a few cm's. They are not hard to do, just fiddly, especially sewing on all the velcro

Let this be a prewarning, do NOT use sticky backed velcro! It clogs up your machine's needle. I totally learnt that the hard way!

Id also like to add that as far as sewing goes, I am totally self taught with the hit n miss method! If there is a neater/simpler/better way of doing this then by all means. This is just how I did it, in my have a crack way :)

Supplies: to make one PAIR (2 splints)

Inner material - Use something thick like fleece. It doesn't matter what colour this piece is, noone will see it. Cut 2 pieces of 25.5cm x 30cm
Outer Material - This is the part you will see. Pick bright fun fabrics, they appeal more to the little ones. I use flannelette and/or cotton. I prefer to use flannelette for the back piece, as this is the side touching a childs skin, its nice to make sure its soft and won't irritate.  Cut 4 pieces of 25.5cm x 19cm
Velcro Tabs - Fabric choice is less important here, just make sure its nothing too thin or the Velcro might tear it, even once sewn down. I go with cottons and flannelettes. Cut 4 pieces of 8cm x 25cm
Velcro - Cut 8 pieces (4 of each surface) at 10cm long.

Hard pieces for the inserts: The easiest thing to use for this is tongue depressors. They are super sturdy, can take a beating and are the perfect size. If you have none (and you will see in this tutorial we had none handy at the time) you can use a few other things. We have had great success with cutting the same shape/size from ice cream containers. A depressor is 2cm wide and 15cm long. If you cut your own from anything else remember you must curve the ends so they are not sharp!! Ice cream container pieces by themselves are good for small babies, but once they get mobile, double up on them! (place 2 in each slot)
I have also made a pair by taking 2 plastic knifes (99cent bbq cutlery) turning one upside down (top and tailing them) and sticky taping them together. The size is only slightly smaller then a depressor would be. Ive just been told that jumbo craft sticks are also 15x2cm. Whichever is the best option for you, just roll with it. Just make sure your chosen material is washable, as the idea of these is to be reusable.
You will need 6 depressors (or 12 ice cream container cut-outs) to make one set of splints.

 Sewing machine/cotton/pins and some patience too.

Starting with the inner piece.
Fold your 25.5x30cm piece in half. Lay 3 depressors on top and space them evenly. Use a pen or marker to draw down each side on the material to mark where the edges of the depressors are. My marks are a little hard to see so Ive added some pins to help show you.
Sew down each line from one side to the other. This creates little pockets for the depressors to sit in.
Push the depressors into their pockets (2 per if your using ice cream containers) and then sew across the top to encase them in. Make the second one the same way. Put these aside.

Velcro Tabs.
Take your 8x25cm piece of fabric for the tabs and fold in half, slightly creasing the centre fold. Unfold the piece again. Position the velcro on one side of the tab, about 1cm back from the centre crease. Sew the velcro on. I go around the outside of the velcro piece twice to make sure it stays put.
Fold the piece in half, right sides facing and sew down the long sides, leaving the end open for turning. Turn piece in the right way. Repeat for the last 3 tabs.

Velcro on the outer. 
Take one of the outer pieces of material. Position your velcro 3cm in, and 4cm up
(or down for the top piece) as shown. Sew around the velcro pieces to secure them in place. Repeat with a second outer piece.

Now its time to make a splint sandwich. This is a little complicated so lets take it step by step.

Take one of the outer pieces that has NO velcro on it and lay it right side UP.
Place your velcro tabs on the right hand side facing IN and with the velcro tab facing DOWN (use the outer with the velcro tabs to get a good position for them shown below)

Place the outer layer WITH the velcro on top, right side facing DOWN and the velcro tabs on the LEFT

Now place the inner layer with the sticks on the very top. You will see that its the same size in length but not in height. This is so it can be turned. It is very important when sewing the sandwich together that you do not catch the edge of the inner piece OR the velcro tabs in the needle.

Now starting on the top of the piece sew around, leaving at least a 15cm gap unsewn at the top. I usually reverse over the velcro tab section a few times just to make sure its all nice and secure.

Once you are done turn your splint in the right way. This can be a little tricky, especially if your inserts are depressors as they have very little bend. Once in the right way make sure to poke all the corners out. Now pin your gap closed and simply sew around the entire edge, this closes the gap and keeps everything nice and neat as well as reinforces the inner pieces and tabs into place.

Thats it, splints done! The hardest part of these is adding the velcro. Maybe its just me but it takes me a good 30 minutes just to attach all the little buggers! Still, the end result is totally worth it. Maybe you'd like to make some for your local hospital? Just give them a call and see if they need them. Ronald McDonald houses may also be happy to accept a stockpile for the families that stay there. Just please don't make money from this pattern. I know I can't police that, but its just not right to use someone's hardship like this to make a buck. 

And if you'd like to share pics of your little ones sporting a pair of these, by all means go for it, I'd love to see :D


  1. Yourself and mum have done a wicked job, im sure Tim and Sharni are impressed as well as other parents that receive these :) x

    1. So long as it helps Im happy. Was floored when your mum told me that a pair was already in use down there yesterday, blown away happy that it could help someone!

  2. Thankyou so much for this! My 6 month old daughter has severe eczema and is waking covered in blood after clawing herself to bits. Swaddling just isn't working and mittens do nothing as she rubs her face raw with the mitten instead - also wiping all the cream off at the same time! I searched for an arm splint pattern/tutorial and found yours - thanks so much xx

  3. Thank you so much for this pattern. I am in Prince Edward Island, Canada and made these splints this past winter for my son who had his cleft palate repair surgery. The pattern of the splints was perfect for our needs the only question I have is if you could suggest a sturdier material that would still work. I used flanelette and while they were very cute and the material was soft for his skin I found that he was strong enough (14 months at the time of surgery) to stretch it out enough to loosen them up. I would wash them and tighten it back up but he caught onto it pretty quick and was flipping them off after a few hours.

    1. I'd like to add that I am also a self taught, very beginner sewer and I found your instructions perfect for me. Your tip on no sticky back velcro was very helpful as that is the easiest type to buy and I most certainly would have picked it up without your advice.

  4. Hi! Any suggestions for making this adult-sized? I want to make something like this for my wife, who has an ulnar nerve issue in her elbow. She currently uses a rolled up and taped hand towel wrapped around her arm each night to keep it from bending (and thereby pinching the affected nerve) while she sleeps.

    I think this would work great, but needs to be a bit bigger. I'm trying to think of good options for the insert pieces, too.

    1. Hi Mike,

      Hrm good question! The only thing that comes to mind is a wooden ruler. They are usually 30cm/12" long and should be close to the right length, if not they would be easy to cut down with a saw.

      If you measure her arm around and length and adjust the size of the fabric rectangles you should be fine.

  5. Hi and thank you for this tutorial! My almost 3 month old had his first of many cleft lip/palate surgeries last week, and has been wearing very uncomfortable card board restraints, and I am now working on making these while he naps. We have another week of restraints, then another surgery in 5 weeks, so these will come to good use!!!