Deployment gift for military service members

Do you have a friend or family member deploying to the Sandbox?  We still have troops in Kuwait; a friend of mine left in February for a full deployment.  We are still fighting a war in Afghanistan, plus we have troops deployed to less well-known stations in hot climates.  My favorite gift to deploying service members is a cool tie.  If you look up cool ties on the WWW, you’ll find several sites with instructions for making them.

My first foray into cool tie making was when my husband went to Afghanistan for 15 months.  At that time I made them for his whole brigade, which pretty much burned me out, I must say. But, that was several years ago, and since then I’ve made them in smaller bunches for friends and their comrades-at-arms.  At this point I’ve made well over 200, but that is a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to some peoples’ numbers and compared to the number of soldiers stationed in miserably hot places. (**A cool tie is a wrap that can go around your neck after being soaked in water.)

While making the cool ties for the brigade, I was sewing them the traditional way, according to the patterns I found on the web.  It was taking me forever until my serger came to my rescue.  Although I could only serge the first step, that alone saved me hours, I am certain.  Because it’s a straight seam, I can serge at full speed.  It’s pretty funny since my serger vibrates all over my table when I get it going that fast.

So, how to make a cool tie?  My version is this:

I use a Keepsake Calico fabric from Jo-Ann’s.  My favorite is a tan with blue stars. You need to use a muted fabric so service members can hide it under their uniforms.My husband wore it around his waist just above his pant waistband, but the muted colors are still important in case part of the cool tie shows at any point.

I also finally found a local source for the crystals you put in the cool tie.  Miracle Grow Water Storing Crystals that you can find at Home Depot in a small bag work great.  If you buy WaterSorb crystals on the internet, you have to buy quite a bit at one time, but the smaller bag works for smaller batches of cool ties.

Cut 5″ strips across the width of fabric.  I set my serger for a 4 thread overlock with a short stitch length, about 2-2.5mm.

I started trimming the ends at a 45 degree angle, but I got the angle going in the wrong direction sometimes, plus this took more time, so  I stopped doing this.  (Picture below, in case you want neat ends that match.) Instead I fold the fabric in half lengthwise and start serging at one end on the fold.  I angle out toward the open edge, cutting off the end, curving in some as I go.  Then I serge straight when I get to the open edge, just skimming the edge with the knife.

I stop about 1 inch before the middle of the strip (where the fabric was folded on the bolt,) serge off for about 3 inches of thread, and then serge back onto the fabric about 1 inch below the middle.

When I’m done, I tie the thread tails at each end in overhand knots, and then trim them to about 2 inches long.  I do not trim the middle loop unless it’s too short and the fabric buckles there.

This is the part that goes so much more quickly.  The rest is done on a regular straight stitch sewing machine.

I use a chop stick or some large not-too-pointy shears to turn the cool ties right side out, then I press them flat with the seam along one edge, pressing the seam allowances inside at the opening.

I am never sewing just one of these, so I have developed a system for sewing them quickly without having to measure carefully.  I sew across the tie at about the 7-8 inch mark.    I sew this seam forward, backward, and then forward again.  I found this to be quicker than backstitching or tying off at each end.  This one I measure for the first tie, but then not again.  Instead I align the second tail of the first tie with the first tail while the first tail is still under the foot, and then sew across the second tail.

(Yes, I use a regular sewing foot.  My embroidery foot happened to be on here when I took the picture.)

I measure 1/4 tsp of the Water Storing Crystals into each 1/2 of the cool tie through the opening in the middle. (It’s a good idea to make a test tie to see if 1/4 tsp or 1/8 tsp works better.) Shake the crystals down to the bottom of each pocket so you won’t hit any while sewing.

Then I sew across both tails again at about 13 inches from the end, or about 5 inches from the last seam.  I use some landmark on my machine to help me align all my ties, so I don’t have to measure each one.  Time is more important than accuracy here.

(On this picture you’ll see an extra seam out toward the tie ends.  I was trying to remember how I did this before and originally put the seam too far out on the first few I did this time.)

I add about 1/4 tsp into each side again, and shake the crystals down a second time.  I finish by top stitching the opening in the seam and stitching across the middle of the tie.  This makes two empty tie ends and 4 pockets with crystals in them.

You soak the cool ties for an hour or more, and the crystals swell with water.  You can also dry them out again after wearing, although drying takes a lot longer than soaking.  When I give these to a service member, I include instructions for use and care printed on a small piece of paper.

Feedback I have received from service members overseas is that these are very helpful against the heat.  They wear them out on a deployment!  So, if you know of anyone being deployed, this is the best gift, since it’s small, portable, and useful.  Plus, if it’s a loved one you’re sending overseas, you’ll know they will wear these close to their hearts every day.

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© Sherilyn Siegmund-Roach and Cherished Needle Creations

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