Introduction: CoolDown Neck Wrap, With a Sleek Modern Look

Even without a medical condition, the summer months carry a risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. With an illness that causes heat sensitivity, summer can be the worst time of the year.

I have multiple sclerosis, and even a brief walk from my car in the the summer heat can cause dizziness, disorientation, and extreme fatigue. I keep my body temperature down by rolling ice cubes up in a towel and wrapping the towel around my neck. While this trick does make summer more bearable, as the ice cubes melt, my shirt gets soaking wet, so it is not something I can do if I need to be in public.

I searched online for commercially available cooling neck bands, but these are incredibly expensive for what they are – basically an ice pack wrapped in fabric – and have a "medical" look to them that is visible when worn.

Many organizations (including the business school I attend) are saving energy by skimping on air conditioning. I needed some way to keep cool while still looking professional and without spending a lot of money, so my sister and I designed our own cooling scarves.

Step 1: What You Will Need

I made three scarves for less than $7 using materials that I already had on hand, but even if you had to purchase all of the materials, it would still only cost about $15-$20 for enough to make three scarves (purchasing ready-made scarves for the project instead of the fabric to make your own will add about an additional $8 or more per scarf to the project).

  • Scissors (I also recommend using pinking shear for cutting fabric)
  • Ruler
  • Thread and sewing materials (for machine- or hand-sewing)
  • Tailor's chalk, washable marker, or tempura paint and a fine brush for marking fabric
  • Iron with low-temp settings
  • Sewing machine safe fabric glue that will wash out, such as Aleene's No Sew Fabric Glue

    For the scarf or band itself, you will need lightweight cloth that has the look you want to achieve. A commercial bandanna or light scarf of sheer fabric, or even a button-up shirt (ice pouch would attach to the collar, inside the shirt) can be used - skip Step 5: Preparing the Scarf if using a ready-made item. Two fabric options are:
    • A square of cotton or other soft, lightweight fabric approximately 24"×24"
    • Sheer material such as viscose rayon or organdy, the length of the bolt (usually either 45" or 60") by 12-18", depending on the width desired
  • Ice sheet (also called ice blanket or ice wrap) with individuals ice square that are no larger than 2"×2" each, with the whole sheet about 10" wide. There should be enough space to cut between the squares of ice
  • Insulated material, such as an old lunch bag or reusable shopping bag
  • Skin-tone cotton fabric, about ¼ yd (it only needs to be skin-tone if the scarf fabric is pale or sheer enough to see through; otherwise, you can use any old scrap that you have lying around)
  • Absorbent fabric, such as flannel, that is soft enough to be comfortable against the skin, about ½ yd for a single layer, or 1 yd for a double layer. We used a double-layer of an old baby blanket, which was enough to make all three ice pouches
  • Skin-tone bias tape, extra-wide double-fold, a 3-yard pack

TIP: Choose materials that are as flexible as possible, otherwise the band can be too stiff to allow easy head movement.

Step 2: Preparing the Ice-Pack Strips

Begin by using scissors to cut the ice cube sheet into strips that are approximately 10"×2" (for me, this was 1 cube by 5 cubes). Be very careful not to nick the water packs. After cutting, test each water pack for leaks by gently squeezing. If one of the packs leaks, the strip is unusable for this project (the remaining cubes of the strip can still be frozen and used as ice).

Once the strips are cut, measure the length and width, then place at least one of them in them in the freezer. Because of the tendency of the cubes to expand upward as they freeze, you will need the measurements of the frozen strips as well.

Step 3: Making the Insulated Backing

Cut the seams off the insulated bag to make sheets of insulated material. If the bag has layers of material that separate, glue the layers together with the fabric glue described in Step 1.

Carefully glue a layer of skin-tone cotton fabric to the outside of the insulated material, then place it aside to dry.

Once you have the measurements of a frozen ice strip, you can begin measuring and cutting. This part can be a little tricky, and you should play around to see what will work best with your materials. The insulated material will form the back of an ice pouch to hold frozen ice strips (the absorbent fabric will be the front, and the whole thing will be lined in bias tape). You want the insulated material to cover the entire back of the frozen ice strip, but having too much will be a large strip of stiff material right on the back of the neck and can hinder head movement.

I have found that what works for me is to cut the insulated material slightly larger than a frozen ice strip, but not as large as a thawed one; the rest of the space of the pouch is made by cutting extra of the absorbent material, but you will need to hold the materials together around the ice pack strips to see hoe much you will need.

A note about the insulated material:
The more holes that are poked in this material, the weaker it becomes, and it may tear. For this reason, don't use pins on the insulated material. If machine-sewing in later steps, always use a zig-zag stitch and don't back-tack.

Step 4: Assembling the Ice Pouch

Measure and cut the absorbent fabric – one or two pieces per ice pouch – to the size needed to create an ice pouch for your ice pack strips with the insulated backing piece, plus an additional ½-inch seam allowance all around. Again, playing around with the materials before you cut is the best way to know the size you will need. If using a double-layer of absorbent fabric, layer them together (if needed, stitch an X across the layers to help hold them together as you work). Stitch a strip of bias tape to one of the short sides of the absorbent material, and sit this piece aside.

Glue a strip of bias tape to the short side of one of the insulated backing strips and sit it aside to dry. Read through Steps 7 and 8 to determine with attachment method you will use. If using Method 1 (Step 7), stitching will be done in a later step; if using Method 2 (Step 8), stitch down the bias tape after the glue has dried completely.

Assemble the prepared backing piece and the prepared absorbent piece so that the biased sides line up and the skin-tone fabric is facing out; glue bias tape around the remaining three sides sides and set it aside to dry.

Step 5: Preparing the Scarf

Skip this step if using a pre-made item. Before beginning, read through Steps 7 and 8 to determine which attachment method you will be using. If using Method 2 (Step 8), cut the required amount of fabric before you begin this step.

Turn iron on to a low setting to begin heating. Before using it on the scarf, test the heat on a piece of scrap fabric.

The short sides of the scarf fabric may have a selvage and a bit of fringe. If you want to keep this edge, you do not have to hem the short sides; just leave them as they are.

Lay out fabric and use of straight-edge (such as a yardstick) to check that the edges were cut straight. If not, trim the excess. Measure ¼" from the edge of the fabric and turn up a hem; iron to crease. Use little drops of glue under the hem to glue it in place. Once the glue dries completely, stitch the hem down.

N.B. It is not required that you glue the hem in place (pins can be used), but if you are working with a filmy fabric such as organdy, I strongly recommend it; it will make the sewing part a lot easier.

Step 6: Marking the Scarf to Attach the Ice Pouch

Put on the scarf the way that you want to wear it and have a friend mark where it will be on the back of your neck, marking down from your earlobe. Remove the scarf and lay it out flat.

There are a couple of methods for finding the center, the most popular being to just "eyeball" it. Lay one of the insulated backing pieces centered on the scarf next to where you marked and just trace it. This method works well if your ice pouch is long enough to span your neck from ear to ear. However, I do not recommend it if your scarf is less than 9" wide as being off center towards one side or the other may allow the ice pouch to show when the scarf is worn. If you would prefer a more precise center measurement, make a mark at both earlobes and follow the steps below. I have also attached visual step-by-step instructions.

Measuring the Center
Using the marks made while you were wearing the scarf as guides, extend the marks into two straight lines that span the width of the scarf. Make a mark halfway down each line, then draw a straight line connecting those marks (mid-line).

From the mid-line, measure up half the width of the insulated backing of your ice pouch; make a mark on each of the two vertical lines. Repeat this step by measuring down from the mid-line. Connect the lower marks to create the bottom line and the upper marks to create the top line.

Mark the center of the top and bottom lines; connect these marks to create the vertical center line. From the vertical center line, measure across in each direction half the length of the of the insulated backing and mark the top and bottom lines; connect the left-side marks to one another with a straight line, then connect the right-side marks the same way.

The box you have made in the center of the scarf is where you will attach the ice pouch; you may want to darken this box by drawing over the lines a second time.

Step 7: Attaching the Ice Pouch to the Scarf, Method 1

This method is best used for items that are made of sturdy fabric comparable to that used in making the ice pouch. It involves attaching the ice pouch directly to the scarf, which can put too much stress on delicate fabric, causing it to tear. If you don't want to pouch to be attached directly to the scarf, use the method described in Step 7.

To attach:
Apply fabric glue to the skin-tone fabric side of one of the ice pouches. Glue the pouch to the area of the scarf determined in Step 6. Allow the glue to dry completely before continuing.

Using a zig-zag stitch, sew through the bias tape, the ice pouch layers, and the scarf along the long sides and closed short side of the ice pouch. Hold the edge of the absorbent fabric at the open end out of the way, and stitch along the biased edge of the insulated backing, through the scarf.

Step 8: Attaching the Ice Pouch to the Scarf, Method 2

This method of attachment is more versatile, but can be a bit more difficult. It works well for
  • delicate fabrics;
  • odd-shaped items, such as a shirt collar, to which you may be attaching an ice pouch;
  • stand-alone pieces that may be worn without the ice pouch, and where the ice pouch would need to be washed separately
To attach:
Cut a strip of scarf fabric, or fabric that closely matches the item you are working with, about 24"×3". Measure and fold up 1" on one of the long sides, then use an iron to press it in place (if using a sturdy fabric such as cotton, you may consider using fusible tape to hold it in place); repeat for the other long side, creating a 3-layer band of fabric that measures 24"×1". If fusible tape was not used, glue layers of fabric together. After glue has dried completely, stitch length of the band through all the layers of fabric, then cut into 4" strips.

Begin at either short edge of the area determined in Step 6 (labeled as "side-lines" in the instruction graphic from that step) and mark the corners; measure out 2-½" and make reference marks on the top and bottom (long) edges of the area. Measuring from the previous marks, measure 2-½" and again make marks on the top and bottom edges; repeat for the entire length of the area, ending with the two corners of the opposite short side.

Using those marks as a guide, arrange the fabric bands to overlap the centered area through the marks; apply glue to the short edges of the strips and glue in place.

When the glue is completely dry, stitch both short ends (where you glued) of each band. For one of the bands at the edge of the attaching region, stitch lengthwise down the outer edge of the band to create a pocket (see images for a visual).

Step 9: Finishing

Soak the finished items in warm, soapy water for about 5 minutes to loosen the glue, then gently wash by hand. The ice pouch can be washed with a cloth, sponge, or soft brush; hang items to dry.

Freeze the ice strips. When the pieces are dry and the ice strips are frozen, the ice pack strips can be added. If Method 2 (Step 8) was used for attaching the ice pouch, slide the pouch under the fabric bands with the skin-tone fabric facing down, toward the scarf. Slide one of the ice pack strips into the ice pouch of the piece. 

The scarf is ready to wear and enjoy!

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